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Nara, the historical capital of Japan; Northern Higashiyama

Todaiji Temple

5 July 2008

We took a JR Nara line from Kyoto to Nara, it is about 45 minutes. Nara is the first capital of Japan, it is famous tourist destination, it has many UNESCO world heritage sites and most of them are in very compact area. So it is possible to pack most of the must see sights to one day. Our plan was to follow the suggested route from Lonely Planet guidebook.

The walk starts near Kintetsu (one of the Japanese private railways) station. As we were JR railpass holders we needed to go from JR station to Kintetsu station, it is about 10-15 minutes walk. Near the Kintetsu station starts Nara koen - a pleasant park in Nara city. The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer who are considered to be the messengers of the gods in Shinto. We bought some cookies for deers at the gates (cost 150 yen).
Deer in Nara Park

Walking in Nara Park was very interesting - a lot of small temples and shrines. First bigger stop was at Todai-Ji temple, what is definitely on of the Nara's star attraction. The entrance to temple cost 500 Yen. The temple itself is very beautiful - the World's biggest wooden building. In the temple there is a 15-meter high Buddha, cast in copper and coated with gold. The temple was quite packed with tourists and pupils.

We also visited Kasuga Taisha, the most celebrated shrine in Nara. Kasuga Taisha is famous for it's many lanterns. There are many bronze lanterns within the shrine and the hundreds of stone lanterns donated to the shrine by individuals as an expression of their faith. Each one is inscribed with the name, date and special wish.During the Latern Festivals in February and August all the laterns are lit.

The walk in the Nara park was really nice, although the weather was very hot. After a late lunch we went back to Kyoto, arriving at the station at 4PM. We went to Tourist information center to obtain advice how to get most out of Kyoto. The lady at the counter gave us a walking maps for different areas in Kyoto. As most of the temples and shrines close at 5PM, she suggested to start with Path of Philosophy in Northern Higashiyama.

The Path (or Walk) of Philosophy is a very good walking, away from city noises. Cherry trees are planted along most of the over one kilometer long path, so we could only imagine how beautiful it is during hanami (cherry blossom season). Even without cherry blossom, the walk there was wonderful, in July a lot of hydrangeas blossom and in the canal we saw many colorful fishes.
Lanterns in Kasuga Taisha

After the Path of Philosophy we walked in Maruyama Park. It was Saturday evening and we found the park quite packed with well-dressed people, lots of them wearing Kimonos. Maruyama Park contains small orchards, stroll gardens, rest houses, Japanese restaurants and much more. It is the perfect place to sit for a rest after a morning or afternoon spent touring the many sights in the Higashiyama area. Maruyama Park has lots of cherry trees again.

The last sight for this day was Kodai-Ji temple. It was promised from Tourist Info that this temple will be open and decorated, as celebration starts on Sunday. It was open and lots of people, mostly locals spent a evening there. Within the temple grounds, there is a bamboo grove and tea houses.

After seeing so many interesting sights in one day and walking about 30 000 steps we were quite tired and we decided to visit the public bath in our ryokan. Japanese style public bath means genders are separated. So we went in to different sections in the bath. The bath complex included All the different types of baths such as air bubble bath, sauna, utaseyu (bathing while hot water cascades onto your shoulders like a waterfall), neyu (stretching yourself in the bathtub), and so on. Washing yourself was interesting experience - in Japanese style bath one wash the body with soap at a water tap, while sitting on a stool, not standing. This was very convenient. We both tried also the sauna, this was as hot as we used to - 90 degrees. In the male section there was also the outdoor pool. This was truly relaxing experience.

After sauna we had a dinner in Ryokan's restaurant. For 1600 yen we got a large plate of delicious seafood with vegetables. The dinner was perfect concluding for a perfect day.