Day 3. I woke up early again, but the exhaustion was creeping up so I woke up later than usual…at 7.30am. If you know my regular routine you will admit this is a stretch for me ^^ We were slated to cover three more temples during the day, and the day promised to be a hard hitting 35C with humidity reaching 80%. That didn’t do much to dissuade me since I was all set, a small electric fan in hand, hat on head and the promise of vending machines at every corner.
We started in Kyoto heading to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. It was a considerable walk to get to the shrine, since buses aren’t allowed to park just anywhere. So we got off, crossed two railroad tracks (very exciting!) and walked past rows of shops before reaching the main gate.The shrine is famous for its 1000 bright orange gates leading all the way up Mount Inari, and a main hall flanked by foxes. Each of the gates, as I later discovered, have been donated by people so each gate bears the name of the person or business who donated it. It takes a couple of hours to reach the top of the mountain where we were assured there were fabulous views of the city. Being pressed for time though, we enjoyed walking through two sets of gates and after a much needed refreshment break of water and Oronamin C, we headed back down to the shopping area.
There are all sorts of souvenirs you can there but the most popular by far are fox-themed souvenirs since that’s what makes this temple special, the fox being a messenger of the Inari god.
As we headed back some people even tried Inari sushi- sushi for the masses ^^. Before we could reach the train crossing to go back, we were faced with a massive crowd of people waiting for the crossing to open- which it didn’t for quite some time. At first we thought there had been some sort of accident on the tracks, but luckily it was only a case of impatient people trying to cross quickly by pressing the emergency stop, which meant the rest of us had to wait till all crossings were checked and reopened. The wait was not as bad as the heat was and I realized the electric fan was nowhere near as effective as the regular hand fan. So not making this mistake again! To further complicate things, we realized that not all the group had managed to make it back to the bus and so had to stand outside in the heat, as this particular bus stop had a no engines running policy. I think we should been smart enough to walk to Lawson’s to stay cool, but we weren’t so we just waited till everyone showed up which they did eventually. At this point I realized that there are only 3 things you need to survive a Japanese summer – a hand fan, a bottle of water and a small hand towel. Voila- you have a make-shift cooling unit. ^^
Our next stop was Nara, about an hour or so away where we were going to visit the Todai-ji Temple situated in Nara Park also known as the deer park. I’d never seen deer up close before so I was really excited. The deer although wild, are used to being fed and petted by visitors. When feeding, we were warned though, not to spoil their habits by simply giving them food. Instead we were to make them work for their food by getting them to bow politely 3 times, which they surprisingly do if you just ask them to! We got to see the deer lazing around in the shade right at the entrance of the park all the way to the main gate of the temple. I realized that the deer are already pretty spoilt and would just walk up to you, nuzzle you looking up with their big watery eyes asking for a treat. Really, how can you say no?
We managed to remind ourselves that the deer were not the highlight of the visit (or maybe they were ^^), but rather the temple, which is the biggest wooden structure in the world and one of the oldest. As we walked towards the temple we passed through the main gate, known as the Nandaimon Gate (narrowly avoiding stepping on a large stag with massive antlers) flanked on either side by massive statues of guardians which are, along with the temple, considered National Treasures.
At the first glimpse of the temple, I was simply in awe. The structure is not only massive, but beautiful with immaculately manicured gardens on either side as well. What’s even more amazing is that this structure is only two-third’s of the original size, having been rebuilt several times following fires and earthquakes.This temple houses the statue of Buddha, commissioned by the emperor in the mid-700s. The statue is about 15-20m in height, an imposing figure, which was built mostly by the Chinese, who had the skill, at the time, in metalwork to make such a big statue. The statue is so big that a small child can fit through its nostril, a feat we saw being attempted, successfully, by many small children squirming their way through a hole in a pillar the size of the nostril. I passed on attempting it, despite promises of good luck and such, for fear that I would get embarrassingly stuck inside.
As we walked out the temple, we came across a number of small souvenir shops, but there was one souvenir that our sensei showed us that proved to be my favourite souvenir throughout my trip. It’s a small vending machine, with different coins that you can buy, each featuring some view of the temple or park. Not only can you buy the coin, but can have it engraved with your name or any other message that will fit, along with the date, for a bumper price of 30 yen. Oh, and you can fit it in a keychain too. After such an epic souvenir, I was beginning to think that whoever told us Japan was expensive was lying.We returned to the bus famished and ready for our next Japanese lunch at Matsumotoya, situated right next to the Horyu-Ji Temple.
Stay tuned for Day 3 Part 2