A Travellerspoint blog

Kyoto, Japan

More temples than you can shake a stick at

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The second major city on my tour of Japan was the historic city of Kyoto. All the guide books rave about this place as being the spiritual home of Japan and how beautiful the place. On first impressions the place is like any other large Japanese city. It's big, it's awash with unspectacular functional buildings and it seems to be an ever expanding urban sprawl. Indeed as you travel on the bullet trains between cities you realise there is very little actual countryside between the cities. It's as even all the cities are slowly merging into a single metropolis!

Kyoto's charms though are hidden behind the concrete jungle and neon signs. The city is awash with temples, shrines and idyllic gardens. The problem was not find a beautiful and serene spot to marvel at some incredible temple or shrine rather the problem was not becoming blasé and taking the spectacular sights for granted. In the last few weeks during my travels through China, Tibet, Korea and Japan I've seen Buddhist (every possible sect and derivative form), Taoist, Daoist, Confucian, Shinto, Bon, Zen and even Muslim temples and shrines. At this stage I'm nearly yearning for the Gothic or Romanesque stylings of Christian European cathedral.

Having said all that some of the places I saw in Kyoto were simply breathtaking. I'm not going to bore anyone with a description of any of these temples or shrines as I simply wouldn't be capable of describing the tranquillity and gentle beauty of these places. The places that stood out for me were the Dajokii temple with the golden roof and spectacular gardens and grounds. The famous (in Zen Buddhism circles I assume) garden of Ryokan. It was essentially 15 rocks placed randomly (or perhaps not so randomly, the designer never explained his rational) on manicured gravel. Despite the austerity and plainness of the garden and its relatively small size I still found myself sitting and staring into the garden for quite a long time. I became to understand somewhat the appeal of such simple areas and how they can evoke calmness.

On a more modern note the city is also famous for its Gion area which is essentially it's nightlife district. While not a frenetic, wild or as famous as the nightlife in Osaka it is still the standard Japanese collection of bars and neon signs. What set the place apart is the high density of Geisha bars. Apparently in the late evening you can often see the notoriously shy and private Geishas moving in this area as they scurry from one appointment to the next. Hence the reason that a few of us were prowling the area with our cameras at the ready trying to capture a surreptitious photo of a Geisha. I felt like I was on safari again as we kept our eyes peeled for a Geisha as we moved through the area. Fortunate was with me and I managed to get a few sneaky snaps of a Geisha. A truly unique Japanese sight!

Posted by ronanm32 16:59 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Osaka, Japan

Welcome to the land of the rising sun

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After much frantic searching in Shanghai I managed to find the ferry port. There is so much construction in that city at the moment nothing is where it should be. There are currently in the process of building a new ferry terminal which added to the confusion. Anyway no big deal I found the ferry and soon I was entering the East China sea on my 46 hour boat journey to Osaka in Japan.

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Japan is certainly different to China. There might be less people but they are more densely compacted. Thankfully the transport system here is top notch. The train service is unbelievable. Trains run every couple of minutes, leave on the second they say they will, drop you on the particular section of the platform they say they will and are generally incredibly clean and efficient. Iarnrod Eireann could learn a thing or two (or more like thousands of things)!

Osaka isn't the most beautiful of Japanese cities so I only stayed a few days. I saw most of the major sights such as Osaka castle. While it certainly was impressive looking I prefer my history a little more authentic. The castle was destroyed in the 1800s and the Japanese government restored it the 1990s which means its authenticity is in question. Any castle that has an elevator isn't that historical in my mine. It's more a museum that looks like a castle in my opinion. Still it was an interesting place to visit and the grounds were quite beautiful.

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I did make one journey out of the city to the ancient capital of Nara. This is an impressively ancient place. The huge park is full of ancient Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples. The park itself is particularly idyllic with beautiful lakes and gardens and all the paths are cloaked by majestic trees. It's also home to 1200 deer who roam wherever they want.

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The deer have been there for 100s of years as they were considered scared due to a visit by one of the gods of the Kasuga shrine. They are very tame that is until your biscuits run out then they get a little more forceful. It was funny to see them butt kids who teased them or chase kids who had food. One of the most impressive sight sin this park was the temple of Todai-ji.

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This shrine is the largest wooden building in the world and is home to the largest statue of Buddha in the world. The size of the thing is incredible and is hard to see the scale of the statue from the photos.

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One of the supporting posts in the Great Buddha Hall has a hole—apparently the same size as one of the Daibutsu's nostrils. Legend has it that those who pass through it will be blessed with enlightenment in their next life. After watching all these kids fly through it we had to have a go! The hole looks quite big until you actually try to worm your way through it :-(.

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Did I get stuck? Well lets just say I had a tin of Vaseline that I was using for lip balm – I don't have any left now! In good news though the next life is looking pretty good form me (I assume being dragged through it by two other people still counts)!

I also visited a few other sites around the city and just soaked up the manic pace of life in Japanese cities in general. I still haven't visited the trains or subway at rush hour, I value my personal space too much. The city at night is just awash with people and is lit up with flashing neon and lights. There is a real buzz about the place at night which was somehow different to anywhere else I've been.

Anyway next stop Kyoto!

Posted by ronanm32 10:39 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The little things when travelling

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Well I've left the squat toilets behind and arrived in the country of the heated toilet seats! Bliss!

It really is the little things :-)

Posted by ronanm32 18:12 Archived in Japan Tagged lodging Comments (1)

Shanghai

A city under construction

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Well I've reached my final destination in China – Shanghai the Pearl of the Orient. It probably wasn't the best time to visit as the city is under construction in preparation for the Expo 2010. It was also during a national festival called the Dragon Boat festival so the place was mobbed as everyone in China was travelling home.

Anyway the place is like nothing else in China. It's so modern and the cityscape is dominated by huge skyscrapers, each more impressive than the next. I did make a trip up the recently opened “bottle opener”, which is now the highest building in the world. One of the coolest party of ascending to the top was walking across the observatory walk way where you can look through the glass floor all the 492 metres to the ground. A little freaky at times but an experience none the less.

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One of the most spectacular things I did during my stay was a visit to a Chinese Acrobats show. It was a breath taking show of the most gravity defying acrobatics I've ever seen. The things those guys were able to do was unbelievable, it was as close to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as you're likely to get to in reality. The finale of the show was aptly named the Ball of death. They had this giant metal mesh orb in the centre of the stage, maybe about 5 metres in diameter. On comes this smiling guy on a motorbike and he proceeds to enter the ball and does his stuff. His stuff included driving at speed around the centre of the ball before starting to do 360 revolutions. I understand the physics of the operation but it still left me thinking he's about to fall at any second. If that wasn't amazing enough a second guy comes out and enters the cage and they both start flying around the cage. I can't believe they didn't collide. As I was just beginning to comprehend the spectacle a third guy comes out and enters the cage. Now I am almost looking through my fingers waiting to see a scene of carnage but yet defying my perception they continue to weave in and out of each other doing 360 revolutions. Next thing you know the lunacy continues when yet another smiling Chinese guy on a bike enters the potential scene of mass carnage. There are now four guys riding at high speed around this cage weaving through each other as they complete their 360 degree revolutions. That might sound amazing but all times they weren't even holding onto they handle bars. It was hypnotic to watch them as they seemed to miss each other by centimeters every time. I could barely believe my eyes and then.............you thought I wasn't going to say another Chinese guy entered the cage. Well you're wrong that would be madness! Instead a woman in black leather enter the death zone and joined the fun! I don't think I'll ever see anything like it again!

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Posted by ronanm32 17:47 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Goodbye China

Hello Japan

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Well today is my last day in China - tomorrow I board a ferry in Shanghai that will take me into Osaka in Japan.

And so starts the next phase of my trip :-)

Posted by ronanm32 10:39 Archived in China Tagged boating Comments (0)

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