The first city that we traveled to from Kyoto was Nara, a short 45 minute train ride away. Our Aussie friend Julian, who had hiked the Peruvian Inca Trail with us a few months prior, had traveled to Nara and had great things to say about it as a destination. We knew that Nara was an historical city with many temples and shrines to explore... and it did not disappoint!
We spent the afternoon wandering the city and exploring it's many ancient attractions. Nara was actually the capital of Japan from 710-784 and is said to be the place where Buddhism flourished in the country. The majority of our time was spent in Nara Park, famous for its temples and shrines designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The highights were definitely the Kofukuji Temple and it's three and five story pagodas, the Todaiji Temple and its giant Vairocana Buddha (located in the largest wooden building in the world), and the Kasuga Grand Shrine and its thousands of stone lanterns spread throughout the forest and temple grounds. We were also treated to hundreds of wild deer roaming about the park and temples, with a good number begging for food from tourists... of course, Nicole could not resist the opportunity to feed wild deer.
Nara was a fantastic place to get out of the big city and travel back in time to historical Japan. It allowed us the opportunity to see another side of Japan, the cultural and traditional side. We were lucky to be at one of the temples just before sunset and had panoramic views of Nara city. One can quickly see why these areas were selected as places of worship. We finished our day of exploration in a quant sushi restaurant, before boarding our train back to Kyoto for a hot bath in our ryokan hotel.
The next day we travelled to Osaka, Japan's second largest mega city with over 17 million in population. Given the sheer size of Osaka we made Osaka Castle Park our primary tourist attraction for the day. The castle was very impressive and housed the Osaka Castle museum, a great place to learn about the celebrated battles and ancient periods of rule in Osaka and Japan. The highlights of the museum were the antique artifacts, including a variety of ancient warrior protective gear. It also had an observation deck with spectacular panoramic views of Osaka City.
We completed the day of sightseeing with a fantastic dinner eating shabu-shabu, a Japanese style meat fondue. Thinly sliced meat, along with vegetables and tofu are dipped into a hot soup broth to cook to your liking... a unique and fun way to eat! Then it was back to Kyoto for another evening cruising the city streets and people watching.
The next day we planned to wake up early to take the rapid express to the resilient city of Hiroshima...