You know you’re finally in Japan when the first thing you see in the airport is flight attendant Pikachu! I landed in Osaka, Japan on Saturday, April 16th and spent the week in Osaka and Kyoto. I also took two day trips to Hiroshima, Mirajima, and Nara. This is going to be a lonnnggggggg blog post with many pictures so prepare yourselves!
I enjoyed Osaka; it’s a big city, but not too big in comparison to other cities I’ve been in Asia. It was also very quiet, as my hostel was in the suburbs away from the city center. It really reminded me of home. The weather was reminiscent of springtime in Ohio, with people walking everywhere. There was also a running culture, which was such a relief to see, because practically no one runs in Thailand (maybe because of the heat!). There were shrines and temples intermingled with the houses and skyscrapers, giving it a very “East meets West” feel. The temples were gorgeous and the architecture is very unique to Japan:
I also visited the Osaka Castle. It’s a pretty insane structure; there are two moats surrounding a huge castle-like structure in the middle. I was able to climb to the top of the castle and get a 360 view of Osaka. There were also beautiful gardens full of greenery and cherry blossoms! I caught the tail end of cherry blossom season and they are just as beautiful as I’ve seen in pictures.
While in Osaka, I was planning on taking a day trip to Mt. Koya, known for its Buddhist shrines and temples up in the gorgeous mountains. I had a complete travel blunder though and completely underdressed for my trip into the mountains. The temperature dropped dramatically and it also started raining like crazy on top of it, so I literally had to turn around and leave when I got to the top of the mountain. I can be miserable to a point, but if I tried to tough it out, I would have gotten sick. It was stupid on my part, but hey, I got to see a beautiful landscape, and now I have a reason to come back and visit! :)
Happy Birthday to me! Tuesday, April 19th was my birthday and, after an adventure through the Pokemon Store in Osaka, I headed to Kyoto, which is the old capital of Japan. I LOVE KYOTO. I think it is one of my top three favorite cities in the world. It is absolutely beautiful. Shrines and temples everywhere, mountains for hiking, and delicious food to be eaten. I was in my travel Mecca and I think my time there was the happiest I have been in my seven months abroad. For my birthday, I visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is the biggest shrine in Japan to the god of rice, Inari. It also has thousands of red gates, called senbontorii (“thousand gates” in Japanese), which are built all over the mountain that the shrine is located on. I hiked all over the mountain, taking in the beautiful scenery and searching for as many gates as possible. This shrine is one of the coolest places I have ever visited in the world. I want to go back so badly!!
The next day, I visited Arashiyama, which is an area of southwestern Kyoto. I visited the Tenryu-ji Temple, which means the Temple of the Heavenly Dragon. I didn’t care much for the temple, but it has one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen!
I also walked through the Path of Bamboo, which is a forest with some insanely tall stalks of bamboo.
And did I mention hiking? I accidently wandered up a mountain and got an amazing view of the Japanese countryside:
Later in the day, I went to visit the Ryoan-ji and Rokuon-ji temples. Guess who got to hike again? The temples were located very close to each other, but you had to hike progressively higher up a mountain to get to them. I visited the Ryoan-ji temple first, known for its rock garden made of exclusively white rocks.
It also has this awesome calligraphy room with dragons painted on the walls!
The Rukuon-ji temple is mainly famous for the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) with a phoenix on top and a Buddha inside.
Final assessment on Kyoto: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! It’s awesome and I can’t wait to return!
Mirajima and Hiroshima:
On Thursday, I took a day trip to Hiroshima, but made a quick stop at the small island of Mirajima while I was down there. I got to take one of the super crazy fast bullet trains (the Shinkansen), so it took very little time to get there. The main reason I went to Mirajima was because of its peace shrine, which is built in the middle of the bay. It was built as an anti-atomic bomb memorial, as the Japanese are at the forefront of advocating for all atomic warfare banned. The island itself is very peaceful and quiet; there are actually no cars allowed on the island and you are not allowed to harm any of the wildlife. There are little deer all over the place and if one happens to wander into your shop, you can’t really do anything about it. It was raining the entire time while I was there, so pictures are limited, but the island was awesome and I highly recommend going if you have the time to spare.
I spent the rest of my day in Hiroshima, specifically at the memorial site of the atomic bomb and also at the museum itself. The memorial site consists of two parts. The first part is the dome, which is the only remaining structure left from the bombing. The second part is the arch, which marks the spot of where the bomb detonated 600 meters over the city.
So I’ve been to several concentration camp memorials through my backpacking adventures through Europe. They are always very chilling and sobering to walk through; however, the museum about the atomic bomb is the most chilling and disturbing thing I have ever visited. The Japanese pulled no punches when describing the atrocity. They went into very graphic detail about what happened, even recreating wax figures of what the victims would have looked like after the blast, with burns and skin hanging off them. They had pictures everywhere of burn victims and also the famous concrete slab where there is a black shadow of where someone was sitting as the bomb went off and completely incinerated him/her. It was very eye-opening and I am glad I visited; whether it was necessary or not to drop the bomb in order to end WWII, hindsight is 20/20. The atomic bomb was one of the most devastating acts of destruction against humanity that we have ever seen and at absolutely all costs should be prevented from ever happening again.
The last place I visited during my first week in Japan was Nara, which is a small town known for its deer, hiking, and temples. There are literally deer everywhere! They are famous because when you feed them, they bow to you before taking the rice cracker. I fed so many deer, but what they don’t tell you is once you start feeding them, they’ll chase you down for more food. I literally was followed down the trail because I still had rice crackers in my hand by two deer. You when you feed ducks and they start following you for more food? Now just imagine they are the same size, if not bigger than you, and they bite!
The two main temples are the Kasuga Shrine and the Todai-ji temple. The Kasuga shrine I believe is more of a Shinto-influenced temple towards the deer and nature itself, while the Todai-ji temple is known for its giant bronze Buddha on the inside.
Well, my first week in Japan is in the books and I have to say, you might need to drag me back to Thailand! I don’t want to leave! I have one more week, which I’m spending in Tokyo, so stay tuned for more Japanese adventures!