18th August 2018: Plan Switching. Kyoto → Osaka → Nara

On this day I was supposed to hike up a mountain – mount Takao to be precise. But you know what? When I woke up that morning I just did not feel up to it, so I decided to change my plans. In the end when you’re on the JR Pass you can get from Kyoto to Osaka for free. For a change, I actually got to Osaka instead of Shin-Osaka which was convenient. Then I grabbed the underground to get to Osaka Aquarium “Kaiyukan” [海遊館], which is actually the largest aquarium in the world.

I had been there before, but the previous time I did not get to see the whale sharks as they were ‘quarantined’. How can anyone block a tank which is in the middle of the whole damn thing, I have no idea, but they did. This time I broke even and had a blast. Unfortunately the Aquarium was packed because this was a Saturday morning, and for some reason my back was hurting a lot. I had dropped my luggage off at a coin locker because I thought it would be better. However at some points I could not really walk straight. The weight of the camera bag was too much and I had to sit down. Found a nice place to watch the sharks from, though.

After the Aquarium I went to Kuchu Teien Observatory [空中庭園] in the Umeda Sky Building to have a look at the skyline and to get the stamp for the Japan Towers rally. I got the greatest omg-gaijin face of the trip here (and truth be told, had I known that the stamp was actually held at the reception desk and not the actual observatory, I might have skipped this). In this case the building is an attraction itself. It consists on two towers joined by some passageways and a circular platform at the top, with see-through escalators.

Next the plan was going to Dotombori, stroll down there, and eat some takoyaki before heading off to Nara where I had my hotel for the night. When I got to the station and jumped on the Osaka Loop line, it turned out that I actually was in the train that continues on to Nara… and it was air conditioned and I had a seat…

I found it a sign and decided to just go with the flow and get to Nara [奈良] on that train. Upon arriving there I checked into the hotel and I decided to go to Nara Park [奈良公園 , Nara-koen] and see if I could feed a sacred deer [鹿 , shika] or two. This was close to 5 pm by now so all the temples would be closing anyway. I did feed the deer some shika senbei [鹿煎餅] (deer crackers), and one of the does bit me. Not even the hand that was feeding her, she actually tried to snack on my tummy. Sheesh.

As I was coming back down I had a pretty sunset over Kōfuku-ji [興福寺].

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19th July 2017: Nagasaki – the perseverance of nature and the pride of man

I think this day was the worst weather I’ve ever experienced in Japan. There was a storm mid-morning which caused the atmosphere to become so heavy with water vapour that even breathing was difficult.

I started the day getting a tram pass and a map, and then set on my way to see the Peace Park first to be done with the ‘heavy stuff’ and then do other more relaxing stuff. I saw the Peace Fountain and the Peace Statue and snooped around Urakami cathedral outskirts, but it was being cleaned / renovated, so I did not walk closer. Then I looked at the Hypocentre of the Atomic Bomb. It made my heart heavy, thinking about what humans can do to each other.

After the Peace park I really wanted to see the one-legged torii of Sanno Jinja (山王神社), located less than a kilometre away from the blast site (the problem was that following the Nagasaki tourist map and signs, I had to take a huge detour). The shrine was destroyed in the blast, but the second torii did not completely collapse. The right leg and half the front remained standing, albeit, albeit rotated 30º. The torii still stands and now Sanno Jinja hosts the kami of two camphor trees that were scorched in the blast, but they survived and are now covered in leaves.

After that I took the tram towards Chinzei Taisha / Suwa Shrine [鎮西大社 / 諏訪神社] and as I was getting to the tram stop, the storm broke. It was not the rain as much as the asphyxiating heat what made it hard to breathe, even much more to climb up the stairs to the shrine.

After that, once the clouds had lifted and I had drunk a whole bottle of coke in pretty much one go, I headed off to an area called Teramachi [寺町] where two prominent temples stand. The first is Kofuku-ji [興福寺].

The second is Sofuku-ji [崇福寺]. Both of them are Chinese origin temples that at the moment feel more like tourist attractions than actual temples (entrance fee and all).

As I had taken down such a detour for Sanno Jinja and underestimated the distance between Kofuku-ji and Sofuku-ji I was running a little behind schedule, so I decided to change my original plans. First, I made a brief stop by Megane Bashi [眼鏡橋] (the Spectacles Bridge) over the Nakashima River, which is the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, built by the same Zen master who established Kofuku-ji.

After this, even if I was a step away from Chinatown, I took the tram to the Nagasaki Koushibyou, aka Confucius Shrine and Historical Museum of China [長崎孔子廟 / 中国歴代博物館] because I wanted to be there before it closed. That was really and quite unexpectedly cool.

Again due to timing, I backtracked to Dejima [出島]. This is / was a small artificial island in Nagasaki bay established in 1634. This served as the opening of Japan to the Western world through trading with Dutch merchants. The recent renovations have restored the buildings in the island and established a museum to show how the Westerners lived. One of the things that grabbed my attention was the skeleton of a cow which had apparently been used to grow vaccinations. And there was a stamp rally, which only added to the fun. As a matter of fact I have to say that most of Nagasaki was more interesting and fun than I had expected, especially after the Peace Park and the heavy heart it caused.

I finally could backtrack to Nagasaki Chinatown (Chuokagai [中華街] in Shinchi Machi.

After Chinatown I walked up to the former Chinese Settlement, or Tojin Yakishi [唐人屋敷], where I saw Dojin-do [土神堂], Fukken Kaikan Hall (main gateway and Tenko-do) [福建會館], and Kannon-do [観音堂] which are remaining Shinto shrines in the area. Tojin Yakishi is the area where the Chinese merchants were confined, much like Dejima was for westerners.

To end up the day I wandered around the Seaside Park [長崎水辺の森公園] and backtracked to the station to head off to my next destination. All in all, I got the feeling that unlike Hiroshima, Nagasaki is trying to move on from the bombing and cultivate everything that it has to offer.

25 August 2015: Arashiyama & Nara

Today was a delayed day, actually, as I apparently took over the plans I made last year when VAMPS had the secret live and I skipped back to Tokyo to attend to it. Then again, as I had changed plans from yesterday to today, everything came a little jumbled.

After a nice chat with the Tourism Office lady – in broken Japanese, as I did my best, the fist thing I set off to do was visit the bamboo grove in Arashiyama, which is a nice little town adjacent to Kyoto (yep, not a neighbourhood. A town all on its own. That’s Japanese urban planning for you). I had been wanting to visit the area for a while now, and finally made it there. After a nice detour – because taking the wrong turn in Japan always yields to something interesting (then again, people, placing sings of ‘bamboo grove this way’ right behind the map is not helpful, Japan) – and a couple of temples I ended up where I wanted to be, and boy was it impressive.

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In the middle of the bamboo grove we find Nonomiya Shrine, a nice little shrine which was at the time overridden by Chinese tourists.

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After a couple of hours wandering the bamboo grove I head back to Kyoto station and once again took the Nara line, only this time I would not be stopping in Inari as I have done before, but took the express to Nara itself, which was something else that had been on my list for a while.

Yet another nice Tourism office lady, and way too many Spanish tourists later, I was on my way towards Nara Park to visit Todai-ji temple, and the huge Buddha it hosts. This is one of the things Nara is famous for. The other one is… deer. Hundred of ‘wild’ deer which chase after tourists to get shika senbei (deer crackers) and eat maps when said crackers are not available. Very cute, very… adamant XD

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But not my main visiting goal, never mind the creepy American dude who wanted to take a picture of me with them. I really wanted to see the Daibutsu (giant Buddha) and the whole complex around it. Todai-ji did not disappoint me at all. It is a very solemn, very special temple and I enjoyed it.

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I wandered around the Nara complex for a while and visited Kohfuku-ji on my way back. They have a very famous Ashura sculpture, and a thousand-arm Buddha statue, but no pictures allowed, so I can only show you the exterior.

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After some dinner on my way back, I headed off for Kyoto and the hotel which I was to leave the next day to head off to Kobe.