Week 3 in Japan: Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and the end of the trip in Tokyo

As soon as it has begun, the USF Japan study program has soon come to a close. The experiences, sights, and the insight they have given me won’t be soon forgotten. Aside from the small amount of Japanese I have picked up in order to survive – let alone be respectful in the culture that requires vast amounts of it – I have slowly begun to catch on to the unwritten rules of Japanese culture. While knowing and being taught that Japan is a collectivist culture, it can be difficult to identify and practice the responsibilities that are a consequence of this. Little things like holding your backpack in front of you on the metro lines and constantly paying attention to others while drinking tea in a group settings can easily be overlooked; however, slowly I feel like I have identified their place of ritual respect in society and have come to practice them better. With all this being said, with the program coming to a close we would take the Japan Rail lines from Kyoto to the nearby towns of Nara and Osaka since they were a short train ride away, and would finally go to our final stop in Tokyo

In Nara we would see the Todai-Ji Budhist temple, walking through the parks nearby to get to it. The town itself is known for the deer that inhabit its parks (much like Miyajima island) and we would get the chance to feed and interact with them as we passed by. As cute as they were, some of them do get fairly aggressive when they spot a human holding food. The temple itself, however, was grand in a way that demanded respect, it’s towering Budha monument looking over the steady stream of visitors. The next day of Kyoto began with a Zen Budhism meditation and finished with the Golden Terraces. While the itinerary was short, many students on the trip including myself appreciate the brief respite. The many hours of walking were taking a toll on us, even if few of us wanted to admit it or fall behind because of it.

Following the necessary rest, the group would go onwards to Fushimi-Inari shrine and Arashiyama with it’s bamboo forests and river. The Fushimi-Inari shrine is the historical head shrine of the diety Inari and primarily known for its over 10,000 Tori gates that line the pathway to the shrines on the peak. Being a tourist destination, many people would be walking its paths, but seeking solitude three members including me would break off to a side path that took us far away from the tourists. A peaceful walk to the top was interspersed with steep stairs and bamboo forests, all by small houses tucked deep into the mountain. The town of Arashiyama that we went to afterwards was even more peaceful with us taking a boat ride along the river, and resting for hours by it afterwards.

Osaka would be a short journey away and turn away from nature. There we we would visit Osaka Castle – a rebuilt structure transformed into a history museum – and then the malls in South and North Osaka – both displaying the disparity in working class and luxury consumerism of Japan.

The next day would be a the journey to Tokyo, and a visit to the Sky-tree and Akihabara district. The Sky-tree was a heavily tourist influenced mall area, which let us easily find so top-of-the-line deserts. As for Akihabara, the district was so densely dedicated to anime/manga culture that it felt difficult to even explore as one who was only moderately familiar. I plan on returning with my free time in the following days after the trip. The next few days including today would encompass the Yokohama area with the Cup Noodle Museum (where we made our own instant ramen), a late night visit with old students of Nozu Sensei, a visit to the Tokyo City hall observatory, and an afternoon exploring Harajuku and the nearby Meiji-Jingu Shrine.

With all that I’ve experienced, Tokyo still has much to offer. I’m still reviewing all thats left for the few days I have to myself. With the knowledge I’ve gained so far I feel confident that in exploring on my own – and I look foward to it.

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