Japan has been at the top of my list in terms of places in the world I would like to visit for a long time now. The culture, the design, and the food have always called to me from across the seas. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard our Departmental Field Study was a trip to Japan. Shiawase!
Here’s a brief overview of our day-to-day adventures:
The first full day of the 9-day trip began in the beautiful Western district of Kyoto, Arashiyama.
While in Kyoto, we had the unique opportunity to stay in the Village Kyoto Hotel located in the Nakagyo Ward. The hotel is a charming accommodation with friendly staff that speak English, a lovely onsen, comfortable rooms, and breakfast delivered to the room each morning. The location was a perfect, short walking distance to the subway and a 15-minute walk from the hotel to Shijo-dori (the centre of Kyoto).
On our second day of adventures in Kyoto, we decided to skip the train and grab a taxi directly to Kiyomizudera. Once we arrived in Kiyomizudera, we walked directly to the “Pure Water Temple” at the top of the hill. Although this UNESCO world heritage sites was under renovation, we were still able to walk along the wooden terrace overlooking Kyoto.
Our next daylong excursion took us to the Arashiyama District of Kyoto, where we visited the Iwatayama Monkey Park – a scenic plateau located along the top of Mount Arashiyama.
Ghibli Museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Japan. Located on the west side of Tokyo, the museum showcases the work of Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. We made sure to book our tickets in advance, knowing that there was limited capacity in the building to avoid the strain of crowds.
On our fourth day in Kyoto we roamed through the city, finding our way to the Nijo Castle, Imperial Palace, Nishiki Food Market and Teramachi Street. Our ohotel was perfectly located for this leisurely day of cultural discovery on foot.
Twenty miles south of Kyoto sits the quiet city of Nara, a location wholly unique from the other cities we visited in Japan. It feels like a shrine to days past with rolling hillsides, preserved temples, and nearly 1,200 tame deer roaming the streets.
The story goes that a deity named Takemikazuchi arrived in the old capital of Nara on a white deer to act as its protector… and 1,300 years later… the deer of Nara are still considered sacred with complete reign over the city. What a lovely day spent with these dears (wink, wink).
We took a train to Tokyo on our sixth day in Japan and I was blown away by the size of the city. is huge. To give some perspective of the size, it takes a little over an hour to travel the entire Yamanote circle by train. Luckily there is also an expansive subway system that runs all over the city. During our stay, we primarily focused on the Yamanote Circle, the area of the ‘central’ city that is defined by the JR Yamanote Line which runs in a circle.
Walking the Shibuya crossing scramble is fascinating. This is the most frequented crossing in the world with about a thousand people moving from the same place at the same time. It’s like walking into an awesome movie battle scene and coming out alive. People weaving together into a huge mass, celebrating the modern fun that is Shibuya. No old buildings to marvel at like Kyotoa – Shibuya was the authentic cultural experience of Tokyo.
We spent our last full day at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, the head shrine of Inari (located in Fushimi-ku). The shrine sits at the base of a mountain, also named Inari, sitting 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines. 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 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.