Back to bed on time the previous night, we were able to get a nice morning start to our last day in Kyoto. We headed off to Kiyomizu-dera, an amazing wooden temple in a lovely traditional district of Kyoto near Higashi-yama. Tired of carrying around our large umbrellas when it had hardly rained the day before, we left them at our guest house. Of course, as soon as we climbed the hill to the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera, it began to rain. Luckily, much of the structure and grounds have overhanging eaves so picture taking wasn’t too big of a problem. The temple is simple yet elegant, and is nestled in the hills that line the east of Kyoto, so you feel like you have left the city altogether. The rain brought a cooling, misty reverence to the beautiful water temple, and as soon as we left the rain cleared up.
One of the best parts about Kiyoumizu-dera is drinking from their wish granting waterfall. Kiyoumizu literally means “pure water” in Japanese and the temple was so named because of the waterfall of the same name at the temple site. At the bottom of the temple you can reach out with a long metal cup and get some awesome water. At the time we didn’t know the water was supposed to grant wishes. No genie like water for us.
A short walk slightly north through Higashiyama took us to the Ryozen Kannon. This is a large Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in Kyoto that is dedicated to the tomb of the unknown soldier and soldiers who died in World War 2. There are four such monuments (all different) spread out around Japan. With your admission you get an incense stick that you can plant in the shrine if you like. You can even go inside the 84 ft tall Kannon. Inside are 12 different Buddahs that represent the different animals of the Chinese Zodiac calendar.
We wanted to make another stop at Toji Castle, the tallest pagoda in Japan, but we still had to visit Nara on our way to Osaka, so we decided to head to the train station. A forty-five minute train ride brought us to Nara and we made our way directly to the Daibutsu, a huge carved Buddha that sits among an equally huge temple. While we have seen many a large Buddha before, this site is definitely majestic. There is also something unique about the large grounds and park which surround Nara. Hundreds of wild deer roam free, meandering across the streets, lying beneath the trees or gathering around the tourists stupid enough to feed them. I was regrettably one such tourist.
The parks sell special “deer senbei” rice crackers, and for some reason I thought this would be an interesting experience. Soon I was surrounded by many deer too eager to wait for rice crackers who decided my clothing would be just as tasty. A rather aggressive male with sizable horns also took a nip at my bum, causing me to throw all my senbei in the air and make a run for it. Even with all the crackers gone, it was hard to shake the trail of deer that continued to follow us. They really are just like large rodents…
We headed back to Nara station by way of Kofuku-ji. Kofuku-ji is one of the tallest pagodas in Japan (second tallest according to a local, the only pagoda that is taller is Toji castle in Kyoto which we skipped earlier in the day). As soon as we arrived at Kofuku-ji a massive thunderstorm began gathering in hills behind the temple and five story pagoda. We walked around for a couple minutes but decided we didn’t want to see if the storm was going to unleash a deluge while we were trying to be good tourists. Also The East Golden Hall (the other main attraction besides the five story pagoda) is under scaffolding until 2018.
As we arrived by train to Osaka we were a bit confused about how to get into the area of Osaka we wanted. While there are many trains that run to Osaka, the city is quite large, and ending up in a station far from your hostel means more time on the subway. The subway system for Osaka is efficient, but also a bit confusing, so more than once we ended up at the wrong station or the wrong platform. After an extra hour of transportation chaos, we managed to find our “hostel” near the Shinsaibashi area of Osaka. By hostel, I mean two rooms in what was actually a Japanese office space. One room was filled entirely with bunk beds, spaced a few inches away from each other. The second room was a common area with one toilet and one shower.
But it had a great location and was cheap, and as we always spend our travel time out and about, not a terrible place to crash at the end of the night. We also managed to get a load of laundry done for free, bonus!
The best thing about this hostel was its proximity to Dontonbori, the famous neon district of Osaka that resembles the world of Blade Runner. As the sun set, we walked through Dontonbori, stopping to eat fresh takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings) as we searched for a restaurant offering nomihodai (unlimited drinks for a period of time). We found a nice yakitori joint and decided to experiment with ordering chicken cartilage and chicken ovaries. The former was virtually inedible, but the latter was quite interesting. We also found restaurants offering fugu (blowfish) and horse in Osaka, although we didn’t try them. Maybe on the trip back…
Still hot and surprisingly thirsty, we found a late night spot with cheap beer and delicious gyoza. Finally satiated, we walked back and tried to enjoy what little respite our bunk beds would offer. Goodnight Osaka, see you tomorrow.