The Trip That Never Was- Part Two-Kyoto and Nara

Writing the last post left me more exhausted than actually spending 3 days touring Tokyo on foot. After resting, refortifying with miso soup, squid jerky, and sake in one of Roppongi’s ubiquitous all night ExPat bars (where one must be sure to guard both your wallet and virtuous reputation) it’s time to reconvene for the next captivating installment of our virtual tour.

Pat II- Kyoto and Nara

Kyoto entails a fast Shinkansen (Bullet train) ride an hour and 45 away west of Tokyo.

When discussing Kyoto, I get very serious, so please excuse me while I don my Edo period costumed alter ego and assume a stage voice to increase the dramatic tension.

Now let’s all huddle together in a darkened tent, with nothing but the stars for light, and I’ll shine a flashlight up my nose for effect as I begin my tale of KYOTO. Please don’t crinkle your snack packages as it ruins the ambiance.

Many, many, moons ago-oh wait- wrong story- that’s the start of my Native American act, but, the beginning is similar in this factual recount, for it was around 10,000 BC that Kyoto was first established. “Blah blah blah blah” until about the 7th century when Buddhism was introduced from China. Religion usually stirs things up. And it did. Kyoto got interesting enough to fight over as birthing a religion usually baptizes a culture with legitimacy. And so it was with the introduction of a major religion in to Kyoto that the major players followed suit- enter the politicians (Shogun) the entertainers (Geisha), the Religious (Buddhists), soldiers and protectors (you knew it was coming- my personal favorites- the Ninja), and finally the artisans headed toward the emerging culture.  The capital was born. Kyoto.

At this point in my tale, I usually pause to flicker my flashlight and move the beam around the walls of the tent in a sickening circular motion. (Our attention spans are shortening as our use of technology increases.)


A cultural and intellectual center this ancient is bound to have a provocative history- and thankfully it remains to tell the tale. A sobering fact- and one to appreciate when visiting Kyoto, was it’s close call with annihilation. Kyoto was the original target of the atomic bomb during WWII, however the Secretary of War in the US, Henry Stinson, had honeymooned in Kyoto and aware of its historical significance, changed the location. Now, Kyoto is home to 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites- the bulk of Japan’s sites. More UNESCO sites than most countries in the world. Thanks to one American man, in the heat of WWII, while the rest of Japan lay in rubble by the same hand of fate, Kyoto remained untouched by the bombs of WWII.

All righty then, let’s pick up the tour now that the background is behind us. With teenagers and Spouses, our tour  must be limited to 3 temples and shrines otherwise whininess, pouting and fits occur. Primarily thrown by me. For the purposes of this tour, I’ve chosen based on:

1) Variety of scenery.

2) Exposure to interesting UNESCO sites from a teenager’s perspective.

3) Entertainment Value- which is not the same as educational value.

Day 4- Kyoto

Sanjusangendo Temple– 1000 Buddhas lined up and standing at attention- guarded by a few of our favorites seen at other temples.

Who can resist a Temple covered in gold? Kinkaku-Ji. Be careful with your hammer and pick- I’m sure it’s been tried before in the centuries since it was gold leafed….


After two temples, I’m about done for the day. Depending on the taste of the group, there are several choices.

Option 1: Shopping is a possibility. What are the options? Kyoto is famous for:

1) Pottery

2) Scarves

3) Green Tea- matcha- a traditional green tea. Tea houses are also ubiquitous in Kyoto.

4) Incense

5) Food- there are varying types for which Kyoto is known which would be a series of post on its own.

6) Gardens

There are plenty of shopping streets in Kyoto along which a nice evening can be spent gleefully parting with one’s money. When in yen, it’s so hard to keep track of exactly how much you’ve really spent….So many zeros.

Many people peek over the fences along Gion street hoping for a glimpse of the famous Geisha. Now on the endangered list, most reside in Kyoto. If none are sighted, many places will miraculously turn you in to one for a fee. Provided you are an expert at walking in the shoes, perhaps you’ll be mistaken for the real thing and end up in a tourist’s Travel Advisor pictures.

Notice the make up on the backs of their necks

Option 2: The alternative is a Wild and Wooly ride (well maybe not really) down the river. Take the Romance train to the entry point for the Hozugawa River Boat Ride.

End the journey with a zen stroll through the bamboo forest:

Option 3: Nijo-Jinya House- This boarding house was built several centuries ago to house visiting feudal lords all of whom expected a high level of security. As such, the house is riddled with secret Ninja hiding places, undetectable passageways, and all rooms have a concealed exit to the outside just in case one needs to make a hasty escape. Currently closed for renovation, I must admit, I haven’t been there yet. When it re-opens I’ll be the first in line. We’ll see how good the proprietors are at finding the Clampitt Ninjas once hidden and ready to pounce on one another Cato-style within the walls of Nijo-Jinya.

Time to put the walking dead to bed. See you in the morning.

Day 5: Kyoto and Nara:

Here I give the choice of two temples based on the interest of the group. The first-Kiyomizu-dera– is based on its panoramic view of Kyoto which many find a highlight- especially during cherry blossom season or the changing of the leaves. Not on the Clampitt list since the only worthwhile conversation at a view-point is speculating on the best snowboarding route to the bottom.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The second- Byodo-In Temple or the Phoenix Temple- is on the 10Yen coin. I admit it- pure photo opportunity. Vacations are made of these. Otherwise people will flat refuse to look at your pictures.

10 Yen Coin

Now, it’s time for the hour or so journey to Nara.

Who can resist a giant Buddha? I can’t. Todai-ji. I want to whisper sweet nothings in his 8 foot ear.

Giant Buddha Nara Todai-Ji

Another option for Nara is the Horyuji Temple. Famous for two points, Buddhism was introduced here by Prince Shotoku and it’s the oldest wooden building in the world. Reflecting on the day over a good drag off the pipe would be ill-advised.

Horyuji Temple Wikipedia Image

The Bell Tower

Nara is famous for tame deer originally introduced by visiting gods as city guardians. Like many wild animals used to being fed by tourists, the deer on top of their game will bow for deer biscuits. At this point, however, our wild animal of choice is the Japanese Macaque- or Snow Monkey.

Iwatayama Monkey Park is on the way back to Kyoto. Unlike a certain paranoid country of which I am very familiar, Japan’s not overly protective of her citizen’s coming in close contact with other natural beings with whom we share planet space. With a monkey encounter guaranteed and on the horizon, the Clampitts always buy every bit of available food temptation to entice any and all remotely interested monkeys our way.

Snow Monkeys

That, my friends, is more than two day’s worth in Kyoto and Nara. Time to head back for a late Shinkansen to Tokyo.

I must give fair balance, dear friends. I have checked the tour guides long since forgotten and compared my recommendations to theirs. We must agree to disagree, the travel writers and me, for what I find entertaining about Japan, and what they think one should see, don’t intersect very often.

If I still have you with me, our tour will commence again in the next few days. Check back soon…

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26 Responses to The Trip That Never Was- Part Two-Kyoto and Nara

  1. After just reading this post I’M exhausted! My favourite’s are the boat ride down the Hozugawa River and the bamboo forest. The 1000 Buddhas are quite impressive too.

    Is Kyoto considered the “food capital” too?


    • amblerangel says:

      Kyoto is worth a series of posts which I will do this summer on e I’ve spent more time there. One of the many things it’s famous for is the food – the other are the onsens. The other interesting fact is that all the gardens and plants were planted so that something would be blooming at all times – so- it’s supposed to be gorgeous year round.


  2. Alison says:

    Love your post as usual. What amazing gift you are giving us to go on this wonderful adventure with you and the kids! Keep ’em coming!


  3. Michi says:

    Snow monkeys, snow monkeys!! And gorgeous temples! (Though I believe I feel the same way about the cathedrals here as you do about the temples there). These tours are so much fun, and I’m loving the info tidbits. You’ve still got me – I’m usually that nerd that stays close to the tour guide so that I can hear EVERYTHING and ask all the questions. *ahem* D-Man likes to call me Lisa Simpson. Whatever.


    • amblerangel says:

      ME TOO! I always have to be up front! My sisters and I have pictures of me with the Beefeater tour guide in England- and the one in Italy- the list goes on….I never answer the questions though- even when I know the answers- too nerdy. Even though I am a big nerd.


  4. The Tourist says:

    Wow! What a treat to read while sipping my coffee in “the quiet room”. My two must see items for my fall trip are rafting the hosugawa river, and visiting those cute little snow monkeys! Tdiddy is hunting today and ready to send me off in a fed ex package to Japan for all my whining on how much I miss you. I’ll keep whining so the trip will actually happen. For the time being the blog is great. I felt the warmth of your flashlight in my face as reading through the post. 🙂


  5. This was both hysterically funny and informative at the same time. Clearly, you should write a travel guide! You think I’m kidding? I am completely serious! Surely there’s a market for this, my friend! I hope we come to Japan, cause I know I would love hangin’ and laughin’ with you!


  6. Emiel says:

    Emily, an epic way of writing about Kyoto and Nara. Fabulous story, really. I love the part of the flashlight, it made be read and absorb every word of the story.
    Kyoto is great, I love the city (although last visit was in 2002 something). I knew the story about Kyoto being spared during World War II, but never because of a honeymoon! Actually (and it’s kind of a secret) I wanted to get married with my wife in Kyoto! My penpal from Kyoto sent me brochures of temples where the marriage could take place, but we chickened out (not the wedding, just the place) because we were afraid too many people could not attend. We changed locations….
    Anyway, I love this post and the incredible pictures. Look at me bumping into a geisha (or maiko) in Gion in 1996 (like a zillion years ago..):


    • amblerangel says:

      Emiel- That is a FANTASTIC picture! How amazing and lucky! Thanks for adding to your comments! Of course you would know the story- that’s no surprise to me at all. I find that story amazing that in the heat of war people can still themselves to make a decision that saves something of such value to the enemy- and ultimately the world. As you can tell, to get this group of banshees even close to anything that doesn’t involve a bungee chord, I have to weave a pretty good yarn to keep everyone from mutiny….


  7. Stephanie says:

    I’ve always thought Japan was pretty! I love your pictures! Beautiful!!


  8. Fio says:

    Loooove your post, as usual! I actually have to kids, ages 11 and 16, so all vacations must also be planned with them in mind. Once when visiting NYC I read tons trying to pick the right musical. Both and them and my hubs complained the whole way to the theater………….. in the end they love it, of course, I picked Blue Man Group which is perfect for teens. For the Japan trip in June, I must keep and eye out for all things Manga, and anything to do with swords. We’ll see if I’m successful ;-P Thanks for this guide, it is coming with me to Japan in June!


    • amblerangel says:

      They’re great ages to come over- they’ll really enjoy it. Send me an email before and I’ll send you some specifics. I’ve got another post in the works that will be good for them… Thanks for reading and I’m glad this looks like a good itinerary!


  9. Stephanie says:

    Hi! I mentioned you in my blog!! Go check it out!!


  10. jacquelincangro says:

    You are one great tour guide! I can’t wait for the next installment.

    I love those snow monkeys. I’ve heard that there are many of them in Hokkiado. Have you had a chance to go there before the earthquake?


    • amblerangel says:

      It’s in the works!!! Honey- I’m like a woman on a mission- and the mailman- no wind, rain, nor attacking dogs can stop us while we’re here and trying to see it all!


  11. Thanks for another fun tour, Amblerangel! I love Japanese art and antiques…I might have to come for a visit sometime after I win the lottery!



    • amblerangel says:

      Funny you mention it- on the agenda for today is a GIANT antique sale at the Tokyo Dome and I CAN”T wait- will be the first in line. I might have Andretti-san steal a large truck while I’m driving hard bargains just in case we need lots of cargo room for the ride home…You should check out the TokyoJinja link on the side of my page- she covers Japanese art and antiques- I follow her like a slobbering puppy and am getting ready to physically force her to lead an antiques tour…


  12. Olga SE says:

    I enjoyed the virtual trip, Emily. 🙂


  13. Dana says:

    I’m finally getting around to this virtual tour, even though I’m sure you’ve long since packed up your bags and headed back home! Such a beautiful place, Japan is– thanks for being the intrepid tour guide, flashlight and all! 🙂


    • amblerangel says:

      I wondered where you’d been- will be over soon to read your latest… I’ve actually been really sick- someone on the tour gave me the flu… Probably one of the fomites- (the Offspring)


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