Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Awesomeness of Japan: Kansai

Back in the fall, I embarked on a brief adventure in one of the places I've most wanted to visit since coming to Japan: the Kansai region. This area includes Kyoto (temple and shrine central), Osaka (um...huge city), and Nara (more temples, and a huge park full of roaming deer). I have no concrete statistics on this, but I'm pretty sure this is the most touristed part of Japan, besides Tokyo. And for good reason - Kansai is just full of awesome things.

Nara park
So many deer, wandering free! The deer are believed to be sacred. You can see the deer, pet the deer, be the deer (what?), buy special senbei (crackers) to feed the deer,  photograph the deer, run away from deer who want your deer senbei and are trying to bite your leg...
my first deer sighting

Buddhas and deer. That's what they've got here.

Ok deer, this is getting awkward, now I'm just feeling attacked...

"No more! You ate them all!" Nikki is exasperated by the deer.
This park is also home to what I believe is the world's largest wooden structure - Todaiji, a temple housing a giant buddha.

This deer wants to buy some deer-themed souvenirs

Shiga, a more rural prefecture, is home to the Shiga Ninja Village, which may not be quite as interesting as it sounds (unless you're under 10 years old), though it does make for some memorable photographs.
There are seven ninjas in this picture. Can you spot the untrained one?

Nikki the Ninja

Bet you didn't know that scroll was a secret door!

Masked ninja
 We almost accidentally signed up to participate in the World Ninja Competition, which just so happened to be held that day. The event we watched involved the talented ninjas racing around a course, scaling this wall, jumping over another roof, and edging along a narrow ledge (only about one foot off the ground). It also seemed to involve lots of bright, ridiculous, un-ninja-like outfits.

She takes her craft seriously.
A delicious Japanese-style "pancake", famous in Osaka, made by mixing any toppings you like (meat, seafood, veggies, kimchi, cheese, potato, mochi etc.) with a batter and cooking it up over a grill at your table. Usually it's topped with lots of dark brown sauce and mayo, though we asked them to go easy on the mayo. Side note: one of the biggest food-related surprises when I came to Japan? I had no idea Japan was so into mayonnaise! They dump that stuff on just about anything - okonomiyaki, salad, fried stuff, pizza...ehhhhhh. Weird.

Despite such a brief time in the city, I liked the vibe better than Tokyo. It seemed a bit more laid-back, and vibrant. Though it's hard to say in such a short time. We wandered around Dotonbori, one of the busiest areas, full of restaurants and with lots of shopping and bars nearby. It was loud and almost chaotic, with so many people milling around, hundreds of bikes parked in the middle of the street, giant crabs and sushi and gyoza hanging above the storefronts, and people yelling and handing out flyers for their respective eateries.
tiny ramen shop
Popluar kushikatsu restaurant (fried stuff on a stick). Featuring a frightening representation of the chef, holding a TV showing a video of the chef. So meta.

While we were photographing the canal, this Japanese guy lingered awkwardly. Eventually, in Japanese - "is it ok if I take your picture? Is it ok if I stand in the picture? Is it ok if I stand in the middle? Is it ok if I put my arm around you?"

Just chilling.

Cool Kyoto temples and shrines

Heian shrine

The gardens of Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion, which is not actually silver)

Yasaka pagoda

This is the first pagoda I've seen in Japan that you can go inside. We climbed the pagoda. It smelled of cedar and had very rickety ladders.

Kiyomizudera - built without a single nail

Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion, which was definitely gold)

A famous rock garden at Ryoanji - I'm pretty sure it represents something important about life. You're meant to sit and look at the stones and ponder.
My favourite shrine in all of Japan - Fushimi Inari

spot the fox

Crooked, narrow streets of Kyoto

I am pretty sure the "maiko" we spotted weren't real Maiko - on account of them being out in the middle of the day, and taking pictures of each other at tourist sports, and checking their phones while they walked. But still.

Arashiyama Monkey Park
The best part is: the monkeys aren't in a cage; the humans are, watching them from behind wires as they roam free!

Nikki, making some friends

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