Hongu Kumano Taisha to Wakayama, Japan

See a couple of new pictures in yesterdays post.

Sunday 26th May 2024
So after a big hike of 19km yesterday, we are on our way again. We are now mobile with a car and will drive the coastal road to Wakayama. First stop though is the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls. This was spectacular. After descended many stairs to the bas of the waterfall, we then climbed them again and many, many more to the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and looked to the falls. It was a spectacular view and we spent almost 2 hours enjoying the view, looking at all the buildings of the shrine and the 3 storey pagoda. It was truly magnificent.

Then after leaving the Nachi falls we enjoyed a leisurely drive along the coastal road around the southern coastline. It was wonderful to get back to the coast and see some beautiful sights. We stopped at the Hashigui-iwa Rocks, which were quite amazing. Then we continued our coastal drive to Shirahama Beach, with the most pristine white sand and blue waters. We then continued a little further to Engetsu Island, more commonly know as the hole in the rock, an amazing rock formation just off the coast. From here we headed inland to the freeway as it was getting late.

We checked into our hotel opposite the beautiful Wakayama Castle and headed out for dinner. Tonight’s dinner was another bowl of Ramen, this time garlic and sesame. They usually come with 1/2 egg, shallots and pork. This one was especially delicious. The best flavour yet.

“Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls
The Nachi Falls represent the longest plunge in all of Japan, as water falls down from three mouths of the waterfall, and has kept its form of Kumano Faith. Gathering four rivers from Eboshiyama, Okumotoriyama, Myohozan, and Funami Toge, water falls down a vertical 133m-high cliff from a 13m wide mouth of the waterfall, and is one of the most famous waterfalls in Japan. Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine located halfway up Nachi Mountain, about 350 meters above sea level. It has its religious origin in the ancient nature worship of Nachi-no-Otaki. This grand shrine is part of the Kumano Sanzan and major pilgrimage destination. In 2004 the area was designated as a World Heritage site.”

Hashigui-iwa Rocks: Rocky Pillars of Wakayama
At the southern most edge of the Kii Peninsula is one of the most unusual natural wonders in Japan. The craggy Hashigui-iwa Rocks [橋杭岩] is a group of 40 gigantic igneous rocks that form a line in the sea that is 850 meters long. The Hashigui-iwa Rocks and their pillar-like formation do indeed resemble the stakes of some long ago bridge that once connected Kii Oshima to land, hence their name the “Bridge Pillar Rocks”.

“Shirahama Beach (白浜) is an 800 meter long beach and one of Izu‘s most famous and popular attractions. People come to enjoy the sand and sun, and the area is also known for relatively good surfing conditions.”

“Engetsu Island – the official name of this tiny island (130m long, 35m wide, 25m high) is “Takashima”, but because of the full-moon-shaped sea cave in the centre of the island, it is more commonly known as “Engetsu Island” (Full Moon Island). The sunsets there in winter and summer are especially beautiful. You cannot visit the island itself as it is too small, but viewed from farther away reveals its beauty.”

Kumano Hongu Taisha, Japan

Saturday 25th May 2024
Time again for a big walk. The Kumano Kodo, we will take on part of it today in the Hongu area.

Unfortunately our late arrival yesterday foiled David’s plans as we were unable to buy any food. We had no milk for breakfast and only some green tea and nuts. The supermarket didn’t open until 8am and the bus to the end of the trail we were hoping to do left east 8.05am about a 5 min drive from the shop and we weren’t sure how to go about parking. So decided to change plans.

We will start the walk at Hongu Taisha Information Centre and do the loop trail clockwise via the Yunomine One, Kakihara-jaya Teahouse remains, Nabewari Jizu, Inohana0oji, Hosshinmon-oji, Mizunomi-oji, Fushiogami-oji and the Kumano Hongu Taisha-oji. We walked through forests of pine trees, ferns, over tree roots, cobblestones, bush trails, some roads, up and down many, many hills and saw some lovely views of the mountains from a few lookouts. We walked about 20km, up and down 900m elevation over 7 hours. It was a very pleasant walk. We start along the river and went through Japan’s largest torii gate standing 34 metres tall and 42 metres wide towers over the thick forests of Oyunohara, a magnificent sight which can be seen from a great distance away. We visited the shrine there and then headed out through the small town to the start of the trail. They had a work party ungrading the start of the trail, so fortunately that meant we got the opportunity to head up the first lot of stairs a bit slower. WE have been doing lots of walking in the cities but nothing keeps you hike fit except hiking. Anyway, we went okay.

The day passed by peacefully in the bush, we spoke to many Aussies today, as well as Taiwanese, Japanese and a couple of Americans. It was a lovely day. David even saw a raccoon  of sorts, name to follow when he works it out. It was too quick for him to get a photo.

We came home at about 4pm and enjoyed a rest, then our first visit to an Onsen which is a public bath. Designated rooms for individual genders and no swimmers. I did a little research about Onsen etiquette last night, so was a little prepared for the process. I had no-ne in the ladies when I went there and David had one man, so he was able to copy what he was doing a little. The bath was beautiful and relaxing. The water was so hot but perfect for my aching body.

Next stop was a new adventure, dinner in a non-English speaking restaurant with different food than what we have been having., We weren’t even sure what to order. We managed to order chicken skewers for an appetiser and then I ordered the nicest tofu, a boiled egg, some glass noodles and hot soup. David managed to get a bowl of rice, chicken and a raw egg thanks to his neighbouring patron. She helped him understand the menu. I also order a small bowl of rice and some more skewers. We entertained the chef and waitress with our imperfect, minimal Japanese and we gave them a bit of a giggle. All in all, the meal was very good and a funny end to a long lovely day.

We will move on to somewhere else n the morning.

“The Kumano Kodo is the birthplace of the country’s spirituality.
The Kumano faith is rooted in the worship of the natural environment, in Shinto deities like ancient trees, and in waterfalls believed to be manifestations of Buddhist entities, making the Kumano Kodo a place that brings salvation to the pilgrims.”

“The history of the Kumano Kodo Trail
Our Kumano Kodo Trail walking holidays follow in the footsteps of pilgrims going back thousands of years. Pilgrims who have sought out not only the three magnificent Kumano shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, but also the spiritual influences of the mountains en route. Because these peaks and valleys of the Kii Mountains, straddling the Kii Peninsula south of Kyoto, have long been a focus of worship in themselves, as they are considered to have a sacred power, according to the doctrine known as sangaku shinko. This 258km walking route and the shrines that line it evolved during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185) when emperors and their entourage emanating from the ancient capital city of Kyoto sought spiritual solace in nature and mountains.

Pilgrims still follow this route to visit the main holy shrines but also many other temples and small Oji shrines that are perfectly poised among bamboo forests, with views overlooking the Pacific or mountain valleys. There are also small, traditional villages to visit en route and ethereal landscapes all around, whether you worship a deity or not.”

“Yatagarasu crow, the messenger of the gods
Yatagarasu is the mythical three-legged crow known as the messenger of the gods, and its symbol can be found in various places around Kumano Hongu Taisha. In Japanese mythology, the crow is said to have guided Emperor Jimmu from Kumano to Nara, and has been regarded as the common guiding god for the Kumano Sanzan shrines. On the Kumano-go’o-shinpu, a unique amulet offered at the Kumano Sanzan shrines, letters are designed using 88 crows. Yatagarasu is also famous as the symbol of the Japan Football Association.”

Kyoto to Kumano Hongu Taisha, Japan

Friday 24th May 2024
Well we are on our way again. It is time to leave Kyoto.

We left at 10am and travelled by Semi Express train from Omiya to Osaka-Umeda where we caught the limousine bus to Kansai International Airport and hired our car. After a little time getting acquainted with the car, plus a little more time we were on our way. David amazes me how well he copes with the ever changing environment. He just hops in the car and drives. Lets not forget the 3 hours last night he did researching the road rules, the expressways, tolls, etc. He was fantastic, he knew we needed an ETC (Electronic Toll Card) which enables us to just drive through the toll gates and we get billed when we drop the car back. A little scary that we will not know the tolls we will have to pay for 2 weeks. Oh well! Onwards and upwards.

Once we were out of the airport the traffic wasn’t too bad. The GPS navigation worked well and within not too long, we were out in the countryside, pine tree covered mountains, rivers and quiet little towns. Back where we belong.

We finally arrived at our hotel at about 6pm, David was quite weary as he had driven some very narrow, winding roads. The pressure is off a little as the main speed limit on regional roads is only 60km and expressway 100km/h. So it took a while to go a shortish distance but at least he had time to get used to driving in Japan.

Our hotel is okay and we have futon style beds. Luckily my polite request for a non-smoking room if possible was granted as our original room was for Smoking. Phew.

Well tomorrow we have a walk planned along one of the Kumano Kodo (Nakahechi) pilgrimage trails. A 16km loop trail from Kumano Hongu Taisha.

Train costs
Omiya to Osaka-Umeda – 410Y each
Airport Limousine Bus
Osaka tro Kansai International Airport – 1800Y each
Car for 13 days
Kansai International Airport – Honda – 1229AUD

SOME SHRINE AND TEMPLE INFORMATION
“What’s the difference between shrines and temples?

Doesn’t seem like a hard question at first sight, but even many Japanese people aren’t aware of the answer. There are two easy ways to tell them apart. Firstly, shrines have a simple gate, called a torii, that separates the human world and sacred ground, while the gates of a temple, called a sanmon, look more like a large house rather than a gate. Secondly, temples almost always have Buddhist images and statues, while shrines do not. Thus, to sum up the differences in a single sentence, gods reside in shrines, while Buddhas reside in temples.

How to visit a shrine
– Bow slightly before entering the torii gates, and keep in mind to walk on the side of the path to the shrine rather than in the middle. The middle of the path and the torii are for the gods, not for humans.
– On the way to the shrine, you will see a small pavilion with a basin filled with water; this (called the chozuya) is where you purify yourself before approaching the main shrine. Fill the ladle with water and pour some water on your left hand, then right hand. Next, clean your mouth by holding the ladle in your right hand again and pouring some water into your left hand and rinse lightly – don’t wash your mouth directly from the ladle! Finally, hold the ladle vertically, allowing for the remaining water to trickle down the handle and cleaning it. If you’re visiting in the winter, don’t skip this step just because it’s too cold!
– When you reach the shrine you are now finally ready to pay your respects. This process can be divided into several steps.
– Bow slightly.
– Gently toss a coin into the box in front of you. The amount of money does not matter; just because you used a 500 yen coin, it does not mean that there is a higher chance of your wishes coming true. Many Japanese people believe that using a 5-yen coin increases their chances of finding a significant other, since go-en is homophonous to the Japanese word meaning “relationship.” However, this is nothing more than an urban legend; gods existed before the yen currency did.
– Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times to signal to the gods that you have arrived.
– Deeply bow twice (until you reach a 90 degree angle).
– Clap twice, with your left hand slightly in front.
– Pay your respects, remembering to thank the gods as well.
-Deeply bow once.

How to visit a temple
The same rules apply as those of visiting a shrine – bow slightly before entering, walk to the sides, and purify yourself at the chozuya; however, the manner in which you pay respect varies.
– Burn incense (usually provided at the temple); the scent of incense is food for the Buddha. Lighting your own incense stick off the burning sticks of others is a no-no, since it means taking on their sins.
– Bow slightly.
– Gently toss a coin into the box in front of you.
– Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times.
– Bow slightly and pay your respects, putting your hands together but DO NOT CLAP. It is recommended that you hold a string of beads or rosary while you pray. Don’t forget to thank the Buddha!
– Bow slightly.

Next steps
After paying your respects, at shrines you can purchase ema, which are small wooden plaques in which you write your wishes and then hang them to be received by the gods. Hamaya, which are “holy arrows” that people decorate at home to ward off evil spirits, and different kinds of omamori, or amulets, such as for road safety and easy baby delivery, are popular souvenirs. Commemorative stamps called shuin are offered at both shrines at temples as a memento of having paid your respects.

Ema votive tablets
Ema votive tablets (Photo: Komal Khiani)
Furthermore, for usually only 100 yen, you can purchase an omikuji, a slip of paper with fortunes written on it; depending on your fortune, you can either keep them or tie them to a rope. While mostly in Japanese, some shrines offer English copies of the fortunes as well. Omikuji fortunes are classified as follows (from best to worst):

dai-kichi (大吉) – great blessing
chuu-kichi​ (中吉) – middle blessing
sho-kichi (小吉) – small blessing
kichi (吉) – blessing
sue-kichi (末吉) – ending blessing
kyo (凶) – curse
dai-kyo (大凶) – great curse
Additionally, omikuji have advice for different aspects of the upcoming year, such as travel, relationships, health, and wishes.

 

Kyoto, Japan – Day 2

Thursday 23rd May 2024
We started the day early again today but not as early as we had hoped. First stop today was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This has its own little private train that runs from Shijo-Omiya right near our hotel. We were hoping to beat the crowds but didn’t quite achieve that. Although I think the crowds make for a great atmosphere. It is quite intense though and I am sure without the crowd you would get to immerse yourself in the magnitude of this amazing bamboo forest. We walked around the forest a couple of times then headed to the Okochi-Sanso Garden which was spectacular. It was a lot quieter than the Bamboo Forest but gave amazing views and the garden was beautifully kept. We enjoyed a cup of tea in the tea room overlooking the forest. Also the open-air museum dedicated to Denjirō Ōkōchi and an observation platform. It was a lovely visit. We then walked back through the bamboo forest, through the crowds which had grown significantly whilst we were in the garden, from here we walked down the street to the Oi River and across the bridge which offers a splendid view up and down the river. There were many options to see the river – by boat, powered by men or yourself. We just enjoyed a stroll along the path.

We then caught the train back home and had lunch and a short rest before the afternoons roam. This entailed a Broady’s walking tour, first stop was the Nijo-jo Castle with its magnificent castle, amazing gardens and a Main hall with beautiful interior rooms which were explained and decorated beautifully. One of the rooms depicted where the Shogun met with feudal lords and was portrayed with life-size models all sitting on a lower level to the Shogun. The paintings on the walls were magnificent and the timber fretwork between this room was ornate and made from 35cm thick timber that had been carved with a different scene on each side. One side had a peacock carved in to it. The internal rooms were amazing and definitely worth a visit. I also went to Painting Gallery which was a single room that displayed the original paintings from one room of the Main Hall. It was a great tour destination.

Next stop was the Samurai and Ninja Museum. This was held by an English speaking guide who explained the hierarchy of the Japanese and where the Samurai and Ninja fit in this hierarchy. It was very interesting. We saw models of their armour and their swords and were given the opportunity to throw a ninja star into a cork wall, albeit made of a plastic. We both managed to get them to stick in the wall, although I din’t make the target like David. We then got dressed up as Samurai for a little photo shoot. It was a really good tour.

Next stop the Nishiki Markets – the Fresh food market street in central Kyoto. Unfortunately for us, the market stalls were almost all closed. We should have had dinner there as we walked through before the Samurai tour but at least we saw the action there even if we didn’t get to choose from the wide variety at the food stalls. We managed a crab tempura and some pork dumplings.

On the way home from the markets we went via the old streets of Gion, unfortunately the locals have requested no tourist photos, but it was an enjoyable walk all the same. We can’t believe how busy the streets are at night. Then it was time to head home for a not so early night. A quick train ride and we are there, via the cafe for a small ramen, DB had soba noodles this time.

Tomorrow it is time to try our next mode of transport. This time it is a car. David has been reading the road rules. Blood alcohol limit here for everyone is zero. Pedestrians and bikes have right of way and there is a minimum speed limit on the freeway.

“The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world. Immersed in the emerald green of the bamboo forest. Located in the village of Sagano on the west side of the city, the path through the Arashiyama bamboo grove is short yet immersive. There’s something almost magical about the light dappling on the forest floor.”

“Ōkōchi Sansō Garden (literally “Okochi Mountain Villa”) is the former home and garden of the Japanese jidaigeki (period film) actor Denjirō Ōkōchi in Arashiyama, Kyoto. The villa is open to the public for an admission fee and is known for its gardens and views of the Kyoto area. Several of the buildings are recorded as cultural properties by the national government.
The grounds of the villa encompass approximately 2 hectares and feature multiple buildings, including a Japanese-style home, tea houses, and shrines, amidst carefully maintained Japanese gardens. They were built up over a period of 30 years by Ōkōchi to function as one of his residences. They were opened to the public after his death in 1962. The main structures were built in the 1930s and 1940s except for the Jibutsudō, which is a Meiji Era building that was moved to this site. The gardens were designed to show off each of the four seasons.[1] Since the villa is on top of a hill, the city of Kyoto, Mt. Hiei, and the Hozu River gorge are well visible from points on the grounds.”

Ninomaru-goten Palace in the Nijo-jo Castle The Palace consists of six connected buildings, and is archetypical of the shoin-zukuri architectural style, which was perfected at the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1867). The Palace is designated as a National Treasure since it is the only surviving example of a fortified palace complex. The interiors of the Palace are magnificently decorated with wall paintings by the Kano School, intricately carved transoms between the rooms, and exquisite metalwork fittings, befitting the Kyoto residence of the Shogun.”

Nishiki Market  is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specialises in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi. Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores range from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialise in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.”

Train travel
Shijo-Omiya to Arashiyama and return 500Y each
Karasuma to Omiya – 170Y each

 

Kyoto, Japan – Day 1

Wednesday 22nd May 2024
Today we had a slow start to the day. After a late night trying to book a car, we finally got it done at 2am. So sleep in was on the agenda for this morning.

We didn’t go sightseeing until well after lunch. We started with a bus to the Kiyomizudera Temple. This was amazing – from the millions of people, with many of them in traditional dress, the amazing shrines, lanterns and scenery. It was a fantastic experience. David would have liked less people, but I feel like the people made the experience amazing. He did agree that we could have sat for hours and just people watched.

We then followed the tourist walk down Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets. The old cobblestone streets of Sannenzaka have prospered since ancient times. These sloping streets are lined with historic Japanese-style buildings that typify Kyoto, also including many souvenir shops. These narrow streets are a part of a popular sightseeing route centring on Kiyomizu Temple. If you head towards the Temple, you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Kyoto, with Kiyomizu’s three-tiered pagoda overlooking private houses and scattered temples as you ascend the gentle incline.

We then continued the walk through the local streets to Kodaiji Temple Shrine and the walked to the Maruyama Park, the Yasaka Shrine. Next stop was through the giant Torii gate to the Heian Shrine. Unfortunately the gates closed in 2 minutes so I was only allowed in a few steps to take a quick photo.

We then walked passed Lake Biwa and along its canal, which we think has beautiful cherry trees lining the walkway. Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake and all-around water playground. We then followed along the water course to the Suirokaku Aqueduct, an amazing structure. Next stop was the Nanzenji Temple, an amazing structure with many wooden columns. We enjoyed its grounds as the sun started to set.

We then followed the Philosopher Walk which is lined with cherry trees, it would have been nice to see this in daylight instead of late twilight but we were once again running late. We had two more stops to make it to the end of the trail but it was getting darker and they were both closed. These were the Honenin Temple and the Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and they were both in darkness. Int was now 8pm as we walked to the bus stop to take a 40min ride back to our hotel.

We were the only people on the bus for a little while, which is quite unusual. A quick dinner at a local Ramen restaurant and home for a rest. Another big day, 8km of walk the east of Kyoto.

Bus travel
2 x bus trips – 230Y each per trip = 460Y each

“Kiyomizudera Temple – Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside. The stage affords nice views of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. Successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.”

“Heian Shrine (平安神宮, Heian Jingū) has a relatively short history, dating back just over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto. A giant torii gate marks the approach to the shrine, around which there are a couple of museums. The actual shrine grounds themselves are very spacious with a wide open court at the center. The shrine’s main buildings are a partial replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period, built on a somewhat smaller scale than the original.”

“Suirokaku Aqueduct – An aqueduct bridge of the Lake Biwa Canal built in Nanzenji Temple precincts. Sakuro Tanabe designed the bridge, with consideration for the scenery in the precincts. The arched abutments are made of bricks and granite. The suirokaku Aqueduct is a popular tourist site. A lot of tourists come to see the arched brick abutments, and the water flowing through the aqueduct bridge.”

“Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺), whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger.
The history of Nanzenji dates back to the mid 13th century, when the Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa at the temple’s present location and later converted it into a Zen temple. After its founding, Nanzenji grew steadily, but its buildings were all destroyed during the civil wars of the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573). The oldest of the current buildings was built after that period.”

“The Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi) is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city’s most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots. Approximately two kilometres long, the path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path got its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.”

Nara to Kyoto, Japan

Tuesday 21st May 2024
Well we are moving on this morning. Next stop Kyoto.

We packed up and were on our way We managed the first part of our travel from Nara to Kyoto oaky but then struggled when we got to Kyoto to find the subway. We spent about 15mins trying to find our way underground and then went outside to get our bearings again. We then found our way to the subway quite easily. Then to our hotel which is directly across the road from the subway exit. Another great location and reasonably cheap one at that for a city stay.

We checked in some luggage and were on our way to explore.First stop, was to the supermarket to buy some lunch. For under $11 we had sushi, some mine bacon  scrolls and I had some prawn broccoli mix. We found a little park just up the street to eat lunch as there is no eating allowed on the street. They also have many other polite habits. Basically don’t do anything that will interfere with others. There is also no litter which is quite surprising as there is also no bins around. Everyone just takes their rubbish home with them.

After lunch we successfully caught our first bus. At the bus stop I spoke to a young man there. First in Japanese and then English. He explained that you get on the bus at the middle door and scan your IC card as you exit via the front door. It all went off without a hitch. Our first sightseeing stop was to be the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) but David found another temple just across the road from the bus stop for us to visit first. So we climbed up to the Takeisao (Kenkun) Shrine . This was quite deserted with only a couple of Japanese tourists there which is quite amazing as it is only a five minute walk from the Golden Pavilion. There was a beautiful view of the city at the top and an interesting shrine.

We then headed to the Kinkakuji, and it was so overcrowded and it was difficult to capture a good photo due to the crowds. It was an amazing sight, a golden shrine, it was very beautiful. It cost 500Y each and we did a loop trail and then exited, only about a 30min walk at the most. There is no way to get back for a 2nd look as you would be walking against the flow of traffic and it would be impossible, which was a shame. I tried to go back in via the front gate but because I had my ticket in my hand before I got to the ticket box I was turned around. Oh well, it was worth a try.

As we were finished at the Golden Pavilion by about 3pm, David threw another side trip in before we headed back to the apartment. Although part way on the bus he was sorry he had as he was falling asleep, we then caught another train. It was called the Fushima Inari-taisha Shrine. We finally arrived and were amazed at the crowds here as it was very late in the afternoon. We did a 4km loop walk up to Mt Inara and the Inari Shrine as well as walking through all the tori gates. This was incredible and also impossible to capture as there were so many people, you were forever dodging peoples photos and as soon as you were ready to take a photo someone jumped in the way. We saw many shrines in the higgledy piggledy stairways.

On the way home we got on the wrong bus at Kyoto and instead of a quick 15min bus trip, we went about 30mins and arrived at the Yasaka Shrine where we did a quick lantern photo trip around the grounds before heading back top catch 2 trains back home.

It was once again a massive day and David was happy as he thought we only had one more day to do the rest of the Kyoto sightseeing. He forgot we had 2 full days to go. Maybe we can go a bit slower tomorrow. We had a quick bite to eat at the cafe style restaurant across the road where we had teriyaki chicken and rice with soft boiled egg. The egg comes still in its shel, you crack a gold in the egg and it is soft enough to just fall out the hole. It was quite a yummy dinner and different to the ramen we have had for the last few nights.

Takeisao (Kenkun) Shrine is also known as the Kenkun-jinja Shrine. This shrine is to worship the god of fulfillment of major warfare, breaking through, and good fortune. The deity is dedicated to Nobunaga Oda to commemorate the way he lived his life as he pushed forward bravely and unwaveringly towards the unification of Japan. One of the four shrines that protect Kyoto in the four cardinal directions, it protects Kyoto from the north. Oda Nobunaga, a daimyō and key figure in the unification of Japan during the late 16th century, is deified and buried inside. It was established in 1869 and founded by Emperor Meiji.”

“Kinkakuji ( Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later. Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955. Kinkakuji was built to echo the extravagant Kitayama culture that developed in the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto during Yoshimitsu’s times. Each floor represents a different style of architecture.”

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 metres and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

“There are several theories about the origin of Yasaka Jinja Shrine. According to the record of the shrine, the history of Yasaka Jinja Shrine may go back as far as 656 (Asuka Era), the second year of the reign of Emperor Saimei. Irishi, an errand from Korea, brought the spirit of Susanoo-no-mikoto to this place.
Besides this vies, in Jogan Era, 876, a Buddhist priest from Nara Prefecture, Ennyo, had built a temple, and enshrined Susanoo-no-mikoto, the deity of the region.

Train travel
Nara to Kyoto (Shijo Omiya) – 940Y each
Explore Kyoto – 1330Y each

Nara, Japan – Day 2

Monday 20th May 2024
Well if you thought we were going hard the last few days, we just went harder.

We were up again early and on our way by 7.30ish. First stop is the Kasuga Grand Shrine, this was about a 3 km walk. It was an amazing shrine but we were on a mission, so only a look from the outside today. It was fascinating to watch the young workers in their traditional gear, go about their early morning preparations for the onslaught of the tourists. I had wanted to attend the prayer ritual, but was a little nervous, so gave it a miss this time.

We then had a change of plans. David had decided on stage 2 of the Yamanobe-no-michi Trail, which is a 35km an ancient road through the countryside. So Stage 2 was about 17km and he was able to route a trail and he couldn’t really find that facility for Stage 1. As the start of Stage 1 was at the Kasuga-Taisha temple, we decided to do this as well which meant we would walk 35km today, or so we thought.

So off we go, it took us a while to find to the first trail sign but we did find one still.  That was a bonus.  The walk left the temple grounds through a lovely lush like forest and we came out on to local suburban streets. We meandered left and right hoping we were going in the right direction as signage was minimal. We passed a couple of local shrines, the Shin Yakusiji shrine and then continued on, the we took a side street to the Byakugoji Temple, where we thought we would just have a look on the outside but the gatekeeper who was a very old little lady came over to charge us. She had no English so we just paid for the privilege of seeing inside the temple. It was very beautiful and in the end we were happy to give a donation as it was a private viewing and they probably don’t get many tourists there. We also enjoyed the beautiful view down to the city.

We then carried on passed the Shirayamahime and Shimada Shrines, the Enshoji and the Yamacho Shrine (which sat in a big pond and looked beautiful) before we took a wrong turn up behind the pond for about 2 or 3 km in the wrong direction. When we realised our mistakes we headed back the same way and found our way back to start over. We walked through old streets, passed old and new homes, farms, rice paddies, bamboo forests and shrines. It was a very interesting day with many problems with navigation. We went up to the Shoriyakuji temple which was 3km in to find it closed and we had to walk 3km back. At this temple we saw a sign which showed we could have followed our previous wrong turn a little further and come out at the Shoriyakuji temple. Our 17km 1st stage became 35km and we did’t have time for stage 2. Our last shrine at the end of stage 1 was the Isonokami Jingu Shrine which was incredible. We looked in many different shrines today of all different sizes. It was a very interesting day. After walking so far we then caught the train back 12km from Tenri to Nara, grabbed a quick bite to east and fell exhausted in to bed.

Kasuga-Taisha, also known as Kasuga Grand Shrine, was established in the year 768 to protect the Heiji-kyo national capital and bless its citizens with peace. The shrine houses four deities – Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto, Futsunushi-no-Mikoto, Amanokoyane-no-Mikoto, and Himegami – to whom visitors can offer prayers.

One highly recommended activity is attending the chohai morning worship ritual, which was opened to the public to celebrate the 1300-year memorial of the capital’s transfer to Nara. The morning ritual is a sight to behold, with unmatched purity and beauty.

The Yamanobe-no-michi Trail (山辺の道) is an ancient road in Nara Prefecture and the oldest road mentioned in Japanese records. Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail through rural landscape, connecting multiple shrines, temples and other sites of interest. The most popular section stretches approximately eleven kilometers from Omiwa Shrine in Sakurai City to Isonokami Shrine in Tenri City, from where the trail continues northwards to Nara City. It is predominantly a dirt trail, but sometimes becomes paved as it meanders through small villages. Red signs point the way at various points along the trail (sometimes not enough).

Shin Yakusiji shrine Founded in 747 by Empress Komyo to pray for the recovery of her husband, all that remains after several fires is the main hall housing a seated Yakushi Nyorai, believed to heal the sick. The Buddha is surrounded by statues of the Twelve Heavenly Generals, the oldest examples in Japan, and famous for the exquisite quality of their carving. Smaller structures including the main gates, the Ojizo hall and the belfry are architecturally significant. The belfry is part of a local legend; it is said an oni (ogre) that terrorized the town was ambushed by the belfry and chased away. Large scratch marks on the bell are said to be the oni’s claw marks.

Byakugoji Temple   is said it was built on the ruins of a mountain cabin of Shiki no Mikoto, the seventh prince of Tenji Emperor. There are several Important Cultural Properties at the shrine such as the sitting statue of Amitabha Tathagata and a sitting statue of Yamaraja, the Judge of the afterlife. The precinct at the top of the 100 steps stone stairway is also known as a scenic spot overviewing Nara City. Founded by the monk Hodo in 705, the principal object of worship is a hidden hibutsu image brought from India of Yakushi Ruriko Nyorai. The temple was destroyed by fire during Akechi Mitsuhide’s attack on Tamba but was rebuilt in the late 1500s. Along with cherries and azaleas, the temple features a wisteria variety known as kyushaku-fuji with clusters reaching as long as 180 centimeters. They spread along a 120-metre wisteria trellis that’s a sight to behold when in full bloom. The Kyushaku-fuji Festival is held to coincide with the flowering of the wisteria and sees a flood of tourists come to the temple every year.

At the southern end of stage 1 of the trail stands Isonokami Shrine, surrounded by trees. It used to be the family shrine of the Mononobe Clan, a leading, conservative clan during the early stages of Japanese history that was ultimately defeated by its more progressive rivals. The shrine still stores some of the clan’s ancient weapons, but they are not put on public display.

Tenrikyo Church Headquarters is the main headquarters of the Tenrikyo religion, located in Tenri, Nara, Japan. This establishment is significant to followers because it is built around the Jiba, the spot where followers believe the god Tenri-O-no-Mikoto conceived humankind.

Train travel
Tenri to Nara – 210Y each

Nara, Japan – Day 1

Sunday 19th May 2024
Well, today we changed the program. We set the alarm and we were up and on our way by 7.15am. A new record this holiday.

First stop today was to Todai-ji Daibutsuden (The Great Buddha Hall). The aim was to get there before the million people arrived. The gates open at 7.30am and we were there by about 7.45am. We were not the first people there but we were definitely one of the few. It was great to be there and able to take some photos and enjoy the spectacular Great Buddha Hall with only a few people. It was very peaceful. The grounds were magnificent and the open space makes the Hall seem even more amazing. The Great Buddha was incredible in size and detail. The spiritual significance and respect shown by the Japanese is incredible. They have such a quiet and solemn demeanour and approach the statues with reverence. I enjoy watching them. There were many buildings to see including the Nandai-mon Gate, the Daibutsu-den Hall, the Belfry, the Shunjo-do Hall, the Sammai-do Hall (Shigatsu-do), the Hokke-do Hall (Sangatsu-do), the Kaisan-do Hall, the Nigatsu-do Hall, the Tegai-mon Gate, the Kaiden-in. We spent all morning here as the crowds grew. We walked around the whole grounds of the temple, through some of the buildings. I spoke to a teacher who was there with a group of students (we had seen quite a few school groups over the last few days) and they were on a two day school trip. Like all kids, they were excitable with the deer and some were afraid. We were really happy we made the effort to get up early.

We then walked through the grounds and went further afield to the Tegai-mon Gate. By the time we reached here there were no more tourist, just us roaming the streets. We were fortunate when we arrived at “Goko-In Temple” that the gates were open and a lady allowed us in. It was magnificent and the statue and altar was adorned in gold. We had a lovely conversation in English with the lady who had been to Sydney and had an English teacher from Armidale. I tried out some Japanese as well. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

We then headed back via the shopping street and decided on a hot lunches it had been raining all morning and was a little cool. Last nights ramen for me and fried rice and pork dumplings for Dave. Then back to the hotel for a well earned rest. We have walked 14km over the last 5 hours.

“Todai-ji, is an ancient temple complex in Nara, Japan. Founded in 738 CE and officially opened in 752 CE when Nara was the capital, the temple is the headquarters of the Buddhist Kegon sect. The temple has a 500-ton sculpture of the Buddha, best known in Japan as the Nara Daibutsu, which is the largest bronze statue in the world, housed in the largest wooden building in the world. Todaiji is also home to thousands of precious art objects and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“The Great Buddha Hall is the Main Hall (kondō) of Tōdai-ji. Built first in the Nara period it has been destroyed twice by fire in 1180 and again in 1567. The present structure, dating to the Edo period, was built under the direction of the monk Kōkei. The original hall and the one rebuilt in 1195, were both eleven bays wide; the present structure, however, was reduced in size to seven bays because only limited funds were available. Nevertheless, the height and depth of the structure remain the same as those of the original. The Great Buddha Hall is the largest wooden structure in the world. [Dimensions] Width 57.012m, Length 50.480m, Height 48.742m”

The Bell Tower which soars conspicuously into the sky was built between 1207 and 1210 by the Zen priest Yōsai (1141-1215), who succeeded Chōgen, the figure who made the greatest mark in restoring the temple at the start of the Kamakura period, as Chief Solicitor. The elegant structure combines certain aspects of the Zen style of architecture with the “Daibutsu style.” The bell, which weighs 26.3 tons, dates from the time of the founding of Tōdai-ji. One of the Three Famous Bells of Japan, it is known for its long ring.

“The introduction of Buddhism – How Buddhism Came Down to Japan
Buddhism is the teachings of Sakyamuni born as a prince of the Sakyas living on the border between India and Nepal in the 6th century B.C. (or the 5th century B.C.). When he was young, Sakyamuni became a priest, deeply worried about the life, aging, illness and death of man. Through self-mortification and meditation for about 6 years, he became awakened as Buddha. He spread the teaching that everyone has a possibility to become an awakened one, as well as the way to Buddhahood (spiritual enlightenment). At that time, Japanese people lived in pit-houses, hunting animals and collecting plants, which is called the Jomon period. Sakyamuni preached the teachings for 45 years, and passed away at the age of 80. Then, his disciples spread Buddhism throughout India. Around 270 B.C., Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty recommended Buddhism, and it became widespread. It is said that Buddhism came down to Japan in 538 (or in 552) from Baekje via Gandhara and Bamiyan through the Silk Road.”

Osaka to Nara, Japan

Saturday 18th May 2024
Thank goodness we had a bit of a slower day today.

We were hoping to get David’s phone screen fixed this morning as he dropped it yesterday. The shop opened at 11am, so we started out a little late. Unfortunately it couldn’t be down this morning so we started on our way. It is time to move on from Osaka. David took a while to determine if we needed a special ticket or we could use the IC card, which is just like a tap on tap off Opal Card. I went downstairs and checked with reception (answer YES) whilst DB read copious amounts of information online.

Next stop Nara.

Once again, the Osaka Loop Metro line had us fooled. David found the correct entrance okay, albeit on the wrong side of the road but we still couldn’t find directions to the Osaka Loop Line. We both had different options for our travel today. I wanted to go via the Misujodi line with 1 change at Namba because we always found this platform easier. David wanted to go with the no change option from the Osaka Loop Line. Easier with no changes, just finding the starting platform was once again a problem. I get a little stressed and too cool for school David, just goes with the flow. I worry about missing the train, he just says we will get the next one. Once again we finally managed to find the platform, we were at the right entrance just need to go further in to the station to get more specific direction. We still managed to get the train on time, although we did give ourselves extra time allowance, an extra 30mins than google said. The platforms were so organised, coloured lines for the destination line you were travelling on. We also managed a seat together after about 15mins.

We had a quiet train ride to Nara, via some countryside. On arrival we had some lunch from the train station. This always poses a problem as you never see anyone eating in public. Also it is the cleanest country we have been to so far, but there are no rubbish bins to be found. Lunch done, we walked to our hotel. Love the new packing system, no wheelie bags, Just our backpacks and a sling for me. It is so easy, especially on the trains and walking the streets. Love it! When we arrived at the hotel. No human service. We checked our bags in at an automated baggage hold. Another new experience and then went for a walk around town.

First stop – to check out the supermarket then to the Kohfukuji Temple, very busy and we just had a look at it from the outside. Then on through Nara Park where we fed the deer. Then on to the Yoshikien Garden which were so beautiful. The Japanese are so proud of their gardens. We then headed to the Todaiji Temple which houses a big buddha. After this we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. Woohoo! This afternoon we just did a quick tour of the area and will go back for more detail tomorrow.

After a restful afternoon we headed out for some dinner in the street food plaza. Just the usual stuff plus more, squid and octopus on a stick, cotton candy, lollies on a stick. We decided on a sit down meal in a cafe/restaurant where we ordered on a screen again. We had some very tasty ramen plus a small fried rice. It was a very nice meal. We did some more groceries and headed back to the hotel. Unpacked and in bed by 10.3pm. Yeah!

“Kohfukuji Temple – With a history of more than 1,300 years, Kohfukuji is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous Buddhist temples.”

“Yoshikien Garden – There are three unique gardens within Yoshikien: a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden.”

“Todai-ji Temple, known for its “Daibutsu-san,” or Great Buddha, is a representative temple in Nara, with an imposing appearance of the largest wooden structure in the world. This is a famous temple of the Kegon sect and was founded by Roben. It is one of the most impressive temples in Japan, and plays a major role in Japanese history through the ages.”

Train travel
Osaka to Nara – 820Y each