After futuristic Tokyo, Kyoto, Japan’s former Imperial Capital, was a nice change of pace. There are shrines everywhere, and so many sights, we knew we’d never manage to see them all. Rather than try, and risk becoming what I call “templed out”, we chose the main sights in Kyoto and Nara.
We saw Ginkaku-ji, the 'Temple of the Silver Pavilion. This temple was supposed to be wrapped in foil but never was. Instead, it was a peaceful place where we were able to stroll the beautiful gardens, and take in the views of the city. Visiting this temple was where I realized how western my approach to monuments is. All throughout Japan, I was waiting to blown away by a fabulously ornate or ostentatious structure. Mostly, I was left wondering whether that was it. I hindsight, I realize that the beauty of monuments in Japan lies in the complete harmony the structures have with nature. The gardens, the artificial lakes, rock gardens and sand gardens all merge what is man-made, and man-managed into a harmonious whole.
Nara was a short (free with our JR Passes) trip from Kyoto. With 8 UNESCO world Heritage sites, I knew I didn’t want to miss it. We made our way to the Nara Park area, where all the sites are located.
Todaiji Temple is the main reason to come to Nara. Considered by many to be in Japan’s top 3 sights, it is one of the largest wooden structures on earth. The gates are guarded by imposing wooden demon-like statues that are some of the most intricately carved wood I’ve ever seen. Inside the temple is a massive brass/gold (not really sure) Buddha that is enormous. I am not sure I’ve ever seen anything as a big, and after a number of days of being underwhelmed by temples, I was awed.
After the temple, we visited a number of other structures, including one of Japan’s largest pagoda temples. I can imagine going back in the spring, and having a much better time — it was just too cold to be outside for hours on end.