Posts tagged ‘Kyoto’

“Bambi? You can’t eat Bambi!” (Nara)

November 18th

When you tell a traveller in Kyoto that you spent your day at the temples they look at you sympathetically, as if you have just said that you recently had your tonsils out. Much like having your tonsils out, temple-hopping in Japan’s cultural capital is good for you, and you know it’s good for you but its exhausting and painful and by the end of the day you just need a big bowl of ice cream.

There are 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto, all but one of which are either a temple or a shrine. They have a temple with a bell it takes 17 monks to ring, a temple covered in gold foil, a temple with 5km of torii and a temple with the biggest gate you have ever seen in your life. They are the biggest temples, the most sacred temples, the best temples but at the end of the day, they are all just temples.

You know what it will look like before you arrive – it will be big and wooden and impressive. There will be a sheltered iron pot out front with incense burning and people will be gathered around grabbing at whisps of smoke and rubbing it into their hair and clothes. There will be the sound of coins bouncing off of wood as worshippers throw their money into a box, ring a bell and clap twice to get Buddha’s attention. You will have to take your shoes off and put them in a plastic bag. So you go, knowing what is in store and wearing shoes with no laces and you ‘oooh’ over this Buddha statue and ‘ah’ that beautiful carving. Then you put back on your shoes, trek 100m up a ferociously steep hill and express amazement over this beautiful carving and that Buddha statue.

It wasn’t surprising then that Giles and Anne (our fearless new travel buddies) gave us that ‘Oh no, you have to have your tonsils removed’ look when we told them that we were heading to Nara to see, you got it, more temples. And it was with heavy, slip-on-shoe-clad feet that we dragged ourselves out there at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, expecting to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and wish we had stayed in bed.

What we didn’t know however, and what made the whole trip worthwhile, scratch that, a highlight of Japan, was that Nara is not only a UNESCO-holding, temple-filled tourist mecca, but also a deer park. The park is home to thousands of tame deer who wander around footpaths, chase children with ice cream and lounge on top of sacred Buddha. It made for a lot of fun.

The streets of the park are lined with stalls selling deer crackers and, after realizing that the deer want nothing to do with you unless you have a little something to give back, we bought a pack from the first vendor with thoughts to carrying them with us for the day in case we ran into any super cute fawns. Big mistake. The deer were on to us immediately and, the second the vendor handed them over, they rushed me, nudging my hip, licking my bag and sucking on my coat buttons until I handed over the goods. Terrified, I dropped them and ran (before Gary could even get a picture, much to his dismay.)

Eventually we worked out our own crafty plan and Gary distracted them while I quickly threw correct change at the little old man at the stall and dropped the crackers into my bag before hightailing it. We got away safely but as we made our way through the park, we got a little bored and started to leave trails of cracker crumbs behind us, collecting our very own assembly line of deer.

Oh yeah, and we saw some big temples and pretty stone lanterns. Who knew temple-hopping could be so much fun? Nara – highly recommended for the temple weary.

More pictures of Nara are available in the gallery


November 22, 2009 at 1:58 am 1 comment

Torii and Arashiyama

Take One
12 November 2009

Have you ever felt like you have stepped onto the set of an indescribably beautiful film and that any second the lights will come up and someone will usher you off the premises? Well we had one of those days today in Kyoto.

Our first Hollywood moment took place at Fushimi Inari Shrine when, predictably, we stumbled onto a scene from Memoirs of a Geisha. Luckily they let us hang around for a while.

Although the shrine includes the usual temples and incense, what everyone really goes for is the torii – those beautiful deep orange gates that you see on every Japanese postcard. While we had seen the odd one or two lying around since we arrived, we had been a little underwhelmed – until now.


With 4km of torii climbing up a steep mountain, Fushimi Inarii is the mother lode for anyone who likes gates. Or the colour orange. The most memorable section, and the one from Memoirs of a Geisha, is a pretty short stretch (maybe 100m long) of back-to-back vivid orange torii with black engraved Japanese letters on them. Of course, as is always the case, running the route was easier for the Geisha than it was for us. Two hours, several bottles of over-priced water and one sunburn later, our white make-up was was all over our kimono and our heavily ornamented hair was a darn sight.


Take two
12 November 2009

Our second brush with fame happened outside the north gate of Tenryuji Temple. As it was coming into early evening (and it being winter it was starting to get dark), this one was fortunately less crowded with tourists than our first stop.


After a few wrong turns we managed to locate the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama that looks exactly like a scene out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fading light gave it a great eretheral air, even if there was a gang of Japanese schoolgirls holding up peace signs while their friends took photos on their 25th century phones. The soundtrack of screaming monkeys and the wind blowing through the trees also added to the magic. Since bamboos are so tall and hollow, they make a really unique, faraway sound – the usual whoosh of leaves blowing combined with the hollow thwack of trunks banging against each other. Strangely enough it sounds exactly like rain beating against glass on a windy day.

More pictures from Kyoto are available on the gallery

November 14, 2009 at 4:09 pm 3 comments


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