Our first stop of the day was Fushimi Inari which is located a little ways South of Kyoto via the train. We took the Shinkansen to Kyoto and switched to a local train to get to Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is a very famous temple that is known for its thousands of orange torii gates. It was one of the first things we put on our list to see when we started planning our trip. We got off the train around 9:00 and were not disappointed. The shrine is basically right at the exit to the train station, so it was super easy to find. We headed up to the main entrance which has several large orange buildings.
Fushimi Inari Entrance
After you get past the main buildings there's a large path which is the beginning of all of the torii gates.
I read somewhere that most of the torii gates are sponsored by companies because they are supposed to bring success and good luck to businesses. You also see quite a few statues of foxes as that is the symbol for the god Inari.
Walking through the torii gates
The path continues on for several miles up the side of a small mountain. We continued on it and it goes to a nice little lake surrounded by several small shrines and more torii gates.
Fushimi Inari Hike
We continued on up the mountain following the torii gate lined trails and climbed many, many steps until we got to the top. On our way, we saw several people running the steps of the shrine for exercise including what looked like a high school baseball team.
The top of the mountain at Fushimi Inari
We found a place to sit down and had a little snack. The view of the city from the top was pretty impressive.
Looking out over Kyoto from the top
After a short break, we headed back down the mountain towards the train station. We had started this day with plans to visit Fushimi Inari and them spend some time walking through Kyoto seeing some other shrines and temples, but once I realized how close to Nara we were while at Fushimi Inari, we decided it would be better to see that instead. We had Nara on the list as something to maybe do, but decided it was more convenient than going back to Kyoto and navigating the poor public transportation. As it turns out, Nara was one of our absolute favorite things on the entire trip and we are so glad we didn't skip it.
We got to the station and took the train about 40 minutes to Nara. The main tourist sites in Nara are all located in Nara Park which is about a 20 minute walk from the JR station. We got off the train and started walking towards the park. It was close to lunch time, so we were looking for a place to eat, but couldn't find much. Eventually, we came across a covered side street with lots of shops. We figured we could find a restaurant there, so we turned down it. We almost stopped at an Italian looking cafe, but kept going and found a Tonkatsu place. Tonkatsu is a breaded port cutlet that is deep fried and usually served with rice, miso soup, a special sauce and a salad. Erin really wanted to try a Tonkatsu place and we were all hungry, so we headed in. The hostess was able to convey to us that it would be a few minutes before we could sit down as the place was packed. We didn't have to wait for very long before we were seated and the waitress dropped off some English menus. We all ordered Tonkatsu in various different sizes and waited for our food to arrive. The waitress delivered our food and we each ended up with a tray full of items.
She also brought a page of instructions in English that showed how to properly make the sauce. They gave you a little thing of sesame seeds and a mortar and pestle. You are supposed to crush the sesame seeds and then pour in a sauce that was at the table. The sauce had a great flavor and you could really taste the freshly ground sesame in it.
How to make Tonkatsu sauce for dummies (foreigners)
We finished our lunch and began walking towards Nara Park. The park is large and has many historical buildings and museums in it. We were heading to the far side to see a particular temple, but stopped to take pictures along the way.
Historic Nara Buildings
The other thing that Nara is famous for are the deer that are all over the park. The deer are very accustomed to humans and you can buy food to feed them. We came across our first of many groups of deer and Tyler went over to see them up close. They immediately sniffed his pockets to see if he had any food.
Nara Park deer
We continued on towards the temple and the deer became much more numerous. They were always quick to sniff for food in pockets and bags.
More deer in Nara Park
There were a lot of signs with maps on them (and even in English), so we pretty easily found our main destination, the Todaiji temple. We stopped for a quick picture in front of the main gate.
Gate to the entrance of Todaiji temple
As you walk through the gate, there are two huge statues that look like they are some kind of guardians for the temple.
We walked through the gate and walked the grounds on our way to the main temple building. They were nicely landscaped and there were a few cherry blossoms starting to emerge.
We bought tickets (¥500 per adult, ¥300 per child) and got a great view of the main temple building.
The Todaiji temple is one of the the world's largest wooden structures and the current building dates back to 1692! Just think it is almost 100 years older than our country. Even more impressive is that this version of the temple building is only 2/3rds the size of the previous one and the temple was originally established back in 728.
Enjoying our temple visit
We walked up and entered the temple building. The building was built to house one of Japan's largest bronze Buddha statues. The Buddha is just over 50 feet tall and was finished in 751. It and the building that houses it is absolutely amazing and one of the most spectacular things we saw in Japan.
We walked around inside and I tried to take a couple of pictures to show the scale of the building and the statue.
Inside the main temple building
There are a couple of other large statues in the building on the outside walls.
I took a picture from the side to show how much detail there was even on the back of the statue
Side view of the Buddha
They also had a couple of models showing recreations of the various buildings that have been here over the years.
Model of the original buildings
We walked all the way around the building and I grabbed a couple of closer shots of the Buddha's face.
Buddha up close
We stopped at a small gift shop and bought some postcards, then we headed back outside. Here's a good view of the grounds from the main temple exit.
One last picture of the main building.
We left the temple and started heading back towards the station. I had to stop and take a picture of this sign warning you about the deer. The graphics on it just made Tyler and me laugh.
Beware the deer
Then there was the deer that seemed to enjoy eating the fence's metal chain.
We decided to buy some food to feed the deer. The deer see you purchase food and come running over to make sure they get fed. They are quite pushy.
Feeding the deer
Tyler and Erin got quite a bit of attention. I could barely hold the camera still because I was laughing so hard at the deer 'attacking' them.
The Nara deer aren't shy
We finished walking back to the train station and caught a train back to Osaka. We relaxed a little and then went out to find an Osaka specialty for dinner, Okanamiyaki. Okanamiyaki, is a kind of cabbage based pancake that you can order with all kinds of different toppings on it. You can either cook it yourself at your table, or they cook it and bring it out and put it on the grill to keep it warm.
While we were waiting for our Okanamiyaki, we also ordered some fried squid. Tyler and I thought it looked great and dug right in. It wasn't like calamari you get in the U.S. where it is similar to onion rings. This was straight from the tentacles and was chewy like the Octopus we had eaten earlier in the trip. The batter was really good and the squid had a great flavor to it. Tyler and I loved it.
Fried Squid Tentacles
We finally convinced Erin to try it. Look at the before and after photos and see if you think she liked it.
Before trying squid
After trying squid :)
Finally, our Okanamiyaki arrived and we all tried it. I had mine with the full complement of fried egg, dried shrimp and a barbecue like sauce. I loved mine, Erin and Tyler ate the toppings off the top of theirs and refused to eat any more.
Erin and Tyler waited for me to finish and then we left and went to Burger King so they could get something more to eat to fill them up. After BK, we walked around the Namba area some more and headed back to the hotel to go to sleep.
This day turned out to be one our favorite days of the entire trip. We almost skipped Nara and are so glad that we didn't. I can't recommend it enough.
Continue to Day 8
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