Of course, this was a bit different than the Shotover Jet River Boats in New Zealand...
With Osaka as our base we took a few days and went to two of the major cultural centers of Japan: Kyoto and Nara.
The first capital of Japan was in Nara and Kyoto was the home of the emperial family for much of its history. This all makes for too many sites to count. That's why I feel sorry that our time in this area is going to have to be condensed in one post. We are leaving Japan soon and while we have an Internet connection, we hoping to get a few posts up in the last day or two.
Kyoto is only about 30-40 minutes for Osaka by express train. However, this fact is misleading because it doesn't account for getting to the main station in Osaka or to the desired station in Kyoto. All said and done, it took about 1.5 hours each way, which was a bit of a grind.
Though it rained and rained, Kyoto was amazing. We're not huge fans of shrines and temples, but the gardens that accompany them are incredible , once you get outside of the Kyoto concrete jungle.
Ginkaku-Ji, which is a stop on the philosopher's path, was my overall favorite. Small, but intricate and very well kept.
Despite seeing many temples and shrines in Japan, this was the first time I had seen the zen gardens with carefully and almost unbelievable constructed sand structures.
Next was Heian Temple in Kyoto, or more specifically, the gardens at Heian, which you might recognize from the movie Lost in Translation:
One of the real highlights for me was seeing a couple of real geishas in the Gion district of Kyoto. I deliberated for a while and finally asked this one for a picture (in Japanese no less!)
Nara is an easy day trip from Osaka and most of the sights are all in the same park. Nara has the largest wooden structure in the world: the Daibutsu Den Hall, rebuilt last in 1709. The size of the building is quite deceptive. It's
big freaking HUGE in every porportion. Awesome.
Inside is a giant wooden buddha (nearly 500 tons of bronze) and two very cool (and scary looking) wooden statues.
The park in Nara is covered in friendly Deer, who are considered national treasures and sometimes terrify food-carrying kids.
And this completes the whirlwind tour of the Kansai region. Phew.