Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kyoto & Nara, Japan: Cherryblossoms

Japan in the springtime. My memories of Japan conjure thoughts of cherry blossoms in bloom, wooden structured Shinto and Buddhist temples, pagoda style architecture, uniformed school kids, ramen shops and hints of tradition, peppered into a menagerie of modernity; bright neon lights, power lines, mural sized advertisements and high rises. These are what I remember when I recall Japan.
Needless to say, Japan was hard hit this past spring, experiencing the worst earthquake and tsunami ever seen to date. The thought of it still blows my mind. In remembering Japan, I'll acknowledge its' uniqueness and beauty, instead of the fragility of Mother nature.
It was April of last year that I traveled to Japan for the second time in my life, first, visiting Osaka, then Kyoto, Nara and Yokohama. The trip was brief, our stay being only two weeks, and our days full. Touring with Lady Gaga, we had scheduled dates to perform outside Osaka at the Kobe World Memorial Hall and later in Yokohama at the Yokohama Arena. The energy and buzz around the show was electric. The Japanese fans, like all others, were thrilled, excited and devoted "Little Monsters" eager to be swept up in the "magic and awe" of the two hour show.

We arrived in Osaka after a three week stay in Australia and were ready for the change of scenery. For us, Japan marked the beginning of a two week countdown until our return "home", to the US, for a much needed break.
This time in Japan, much like my first, the temperature was frigid, a drastic change, coming from summertime and the sunny skies "Down Under".
Our first night in town, a small group collected for a fine dining experience in Kobe, a short train or taxi ride away from our hotel, for none other than the renowned beef, hence the name Kobe beef. Considered a delicacy, it is one of the more tender, succulent and flavorful cuts of meat, significant to this particular region of Japan. I didn't taste it, so I can't actually speak from experience, but I did hear that dinner was amazing. I opted to stay in, to regroup, catch up on rest and plan for the following day.
Laura and I had planned ahead, choosing to spend our time in town as "tourist". The next morning we woke early with plans to venture to nearby Kyoto and Nara for some history and culture. We were up at the crack of dawn and made our way to the designated meeting site where we were met by an unassuming, slight Japanese women with a very strong Japanese/English accent and more tourist. We quickly took her direction, following along like ducks in a row and found ourselves suddenly submerged in the Japanese morning rush hour and on the subway for a short ride to another pit stop. In a word,....."INTERESTING."

Once back above ground, our first stop was Kyoto. We carried on by bus traveling through the streets to see the major tourist sites.  My first visit to Japan years ago took me to urban Tokyo and industrial Fukuoka. I had always heard that if ever in Japan, seize the opportunity to see Kyoto. It presents a better chance to get a sense of old world Japan.
Our tour began at the Nijo Castle, an architectural marvel constructed of mostly carved wood. On the grounds of the Castle were lots of cherry blossom trees in bloom, fragrantly coloring the backdrop in a gorgeous pale pink. It was beautiful.

We carried on to The Golden Pavilion. A breathtaking sight, surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens, including bonsai trees.
The grounds were busy with tourist and Japanese school kids on field trips. I've learned that the Pavilion is the most visited site in Japan.
Unfortunately for us, the weather was not our friend that day. We were drenched head to toe from the periodic downpour, though we didn't let it dampen our spirits. There was too much to see and such little time.

Before continuing on to Nara's Todaiji Temple and Deer Park we took time out for a scheduled lunch. It was after that that we transferred to another bus that would transport us for the remainder of the day. The Todaiji Temple was a sight to behold, grand and palatial, it is significant for being the largest wooden structure worldwide and houses the largest buddha statue in existence. Upon entering the grounds of the temple, we were encouraged to hand feed the meandering deer in exchange for photo opts.

To end our visit at the park, we were encouraged to roam more of the temple grounds where there were again more deer, and one hundred year old trees, signs of this obvious by the exposed roots. There were romantic pathways to follow, and many rows of moss covered stone lanterns of varied sizes, a traditional symbol of luck and well wishes. It was the perfect serene setting to the end of a long and full afternoon.
I am glad to have had this opportunity to see Japan for a second time. There is always something new to discover and learn.   It is a beautiful country, with a rich culture and history.  I've enjoyed learning more about it each visit and look forward to the day I return. I'll remain optimistic.....

No comments:

Post a Comment