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Heading South For The Winter

It was just about this time last year when all 5 of us were in Tokyo, and it was freezing cold then!

It’s just about that time of year again, and since for the most part we’ve only packed clothes for warm weather, it’s time to head farther south to squeeze in a few more warm days before we head to the next country — Thailand.

We heard from some of the Japanese people we met, that Osaka was the shopping meca of Japan. They weren’t kidding. There are miles of outdoor malls, and each outdoor mall seems to be connected to a nearby indoor mall. And each indoor mall is flanked by streets lined with shops from major brands. And each shop is sandwiched between several restaurants. It’s amazing that all of these places manage to stay in business!

We’re aren’t much for shopping, but at least the stores here also double as funny photo-ops…

…with crazy displays mounted above the entrances…

…crazy billboards…

…and lots and lots of lights.

We did do a little bit of shopping however.

As we were walking through the isles of a technology store, past all the latest techno-gadgets and whizz-bang cell phones, I caught a whiff of a very familiar smell. A smell that brought back memories of home. As I turned the corner, I realized where the smell was coming from…

It was a Wendy’s!

Oh man! It’s been so long since I had a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and a Biggie fries from their 99 cents menu. It was one of the few cravings I didn’t indulge in during our brief visit to LA a few weeks ago. Imagine Jay’s joy when he discovered unlimited portions of ketchup! Just like back home.

I try not to eat too much food from American conglomerates while exploring the world, but this was one of those rare exceptions, and we only split a burger and fries, just for the nostalgia of it all.

One of our friends Kana (seen here practicing her WOW face)…

…was nice enough to play tour guide for the day and introduce us to some of her friends…

… as well as drive us around to different areas of Osaka to see some sights.

Like Osaka Castle…

Which has a great view of the city from the roof top terrace.

Inside the castle is a museum about the construction, destruction and restoration of the castle in addition to the details of it’s significance in Japan’s history. On the ground floor we had the opportunity to try on some ancient Japanese warrior garments. Would you want to run into these warriors in a dark alley?

I think not.

Once we finished playing around, and posing for some photos for some Japanese folks, Kana took us to her favorite yakiniku restaurant which was about a 30 minute drive outside of the city.

The staff there was awesome, and so friendly. They were thrilled to have the first foreigners visit thier resteraunt in over 10 years! It was an honor to be there, and the food was delicious! Even the tongue was tasty!

I Like Gold

And so did Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu as Rokuon-ji sits on part of his former estate. Rokuon-ji is a three story temple that contains the ashes of Buddha. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf.

The temple sits at the edge of a pond called Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond).

It’s a beautiful sight indeed.

A perfect ending to our stay in Kyoto, which started off a little rough, but things are definitely getting brighter (no pun inteded) as we make our way farther south to Osaka for a couple of days.


Today we took a little day trip out to the city of Nara, in the Nara prefecture of Japan.  The main draw of the city are the hundreds of tame deer that just roam the city streets. Tame that is unless you happen to be carrying some food with you.

They have become so acclimated to the city life…

…that they even obey the laws so that they don’t get tickets.

Other than the deer there are a few others sights to see such as Tōdai-ji…

…which is a great big Buddhist temple built to house a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

Just to give you an idea of how colossal it really is, each finger is about the same size as a human being. So ya, she’s a hefty one.

Before the sun went down we took a stroll through a nearby garden on the way back to the train.

Not many flowers were in bloom, but the changing colors of the leaves was still nice enough for a few photos.

Oh, and I almost forgot! On the way into the city we passed by a shop with these two guys kneading some dough with giant wooden mallets that was very impressive. Especially towards the end when one guy put down his mallet and started using his hands at double-speed, while his buddy (who he obviously trusts very much) kept walloping the dough with his mallet — also at double speed.

A Temple, Pagoda, Shrine, And A Million Torri

This morning we boarded a train to check out Fushimi Inari Taisha, which in case you couldn’t figure out from the name is a shrine of Inari located in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto. From the train station you can easily find your way to the shrine just by following the giant torri’s.

Up a few stairs and along the outer wall of the shrine were hundreds of ema (small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshipers write their prayers)…

…and below them were long bundles of origami ropes of different sizes, shapes, colors, and styles.

From the awning of the shrine hung bells with long sheets of cloth for worshipers to tug on after their donation and before their prayer.

Inari’s shrine is an important one, as he/she is responsible for fertility, rice and worldly success. It is for this reason that the grounds of the shrine are filled with millions of these torri snaking all over the mountian side. Each of these orange gates was donated by successful business men, merchants and manufacturers as their way to give back for what Inari gave them.

The gates start out really large at the foot of the mountain…

…and get slightly smaller as the elevation increases…

…until they split apart…

…forming long orange and black corridors.

Once you finally emerge from the halls-o-halloween, you will find smaller shrines with even smaller torri…

Naturally, the smaller the torri, the more you can fit on, near or  around a shrine. There are so many torri they needed to create a large torri just to hold all the little torri!

Some of the other shrines strayed from the norm a bit, and were slightly more unique in their design. Some using different materials…

…others using different shapes…

…and others using different colors.

One thing is for sure, if there is one person the certainly deserves a few torri (if not their own shrine) it’s the owner of this vehicle who wins the award for worlds best parallel parker.

And worlds skinniest human bean too from the looks of it!

They must have melted themselves with water just so they could get out of the van.

Probably the dragon water…

…from Kiyomizu-dera.

Get this… that temple right there, is built entirely without a single screw or nail to hold it all together! How do ya like them mortis tenon joints!? Eat your heart out Norm Abram!

In addition, that platform that you can see all those people standing on, is where people used to literrally “take the plunge” and jump 13 meters to the ground below. If you survive, you are granted one wish. If not, well, maybe you should have wished for something else! Two hundred and thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now prohibited. Drats. Those are pretty decent odds too!

I guess we’ll just resort to the more modern wish granting practices of hanging up an ema or two.

It’s sort of sad to see the temple get all of the attention when on a nearby hillside this deteriorating pagoda gets no love.

It’s still a very pretty structure. Maybe they used Elmers wood glue to put it together and that’s why nobody cares about it.

As the sun began to set in the distance…

…it was time to head back towards the entrance…

…for a shot of the fading sun.

Nijō Castle

During our last trip to Japan in December of 2007, we primarily stuck to the Tokyo area (except for a day trip to Hakonne). This time we’re exploring some other cities in the south. For example, today we took the bullet train down to Kyoto.

Boy is that sucker fast!

As a quick aside: I just recently read the good news that California will soon be getting it’s very own high-speed train from SD to SF/SAC. Good move Cali! Trains are for sure THE BEST way to travel.

As our health is starting to stabilize, we can start to resume normal sight seeing. So today’s place of interest was Nijō Castle. It’s a massive 275,000 square foot ancient palace smack dab in the middle of a bustling city. And it’s protected from invading city folk by a wide moat around the outer wall.

Once past the moat you can see that the palace is made up of two concentric rings of fortifications.

And inside the 2nd ring is Ninomaru Palace.

Photographs were not allowed inside of the palace, so you’ll just have to visit it yourself. But really quickly, a couple of cool facts…

  1. The palace is built with a floating floor and each and every floor board squeaks when pressure is applied. This squeaky design is on purpose in order to alert the residents of any intruders. These days however as tourists pass through it sounds like there are millions of little birds trapped beneath the floor.
  2. The shoguns of the Tokugawa family instructed all of the feudal lords from Western Japan to help build the castle, hence uniting much of Japan.

The rest of the castle ground are filled with various other buildings, and some amazing postcard-like gardens

Quite a magnificent piece of land. It’s no wonder it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site.

As my energy levels were dropping below a safe operating range, it was time to call it a day and get in some rest to try and complete this recovery.

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