Thursday, November 24, 2016
Happy Thanksgiving! We had an awesome day! First, we started our morning after a full night’s sleep feeling like our jet lag was gone. Next, we hopped on a train to Nara, the capital of Japan in the 8th century, filled with amazing Japanese history and sites, and most important to the boys: a popular place to feed deer from your hand. On the way, we made a stop at the Fushimi Inari Shrine to see one of the most impressive Shinto Shrines in the world. Finally, we returned to Kyoto and had a massive sushi boat fest in place of our traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is amazing, and only a 5 minute train ride from Kyoto Station. Make sure you take a local train and not the rapid train, as suggested in this article, or you will not stop in Inari. You can walk at least 3 miles (some sites say 5 miles) through seemingly endless Torii gates. The elevation gain is about 760 feet, so make sure you wear your walking shoes. Go on a weekday if you can. In 2018 we went on a weekend and felt like, for the first stretch, we were shuffling shoulder to shoulder with the masses. Our experience on a Thursday in 2016 was quite the opposite.
There are a total of over 10,000 Torii gates. Incredible! Come here if you can.
As you walk, you will encounter shrines, small restaurants, and the ever present Japanese vending machines. They are a bit more pricey than in the city, but what do you expect when the food and drinks have to be carried on someone’s back for miles? At the top there is a fairly large shrine dedicated to Inari, which means fox. If you know my boys, ask them to tell you the story of their stuffed foxes and how it relates to this site.
Along the way, there were some really good viewpoints of the city:
After finishing our hike to the top, we returned to the train and continued on to Nara. The unfortunate thing about the Japan Rail Pass is that some of the other train lines are not included, so if you want to get to the main sights in Nara, you need to take a bus, train, or walk from where the JR Line drops you off. We elected to walk, going by Nara Park, which houses tons of wild deer. We were fortunate enough to find some relatively non-aggressive deer, bought the boys some deer crackers, and let them feed the deer. They loved it!
Be warned, the deer are used to being fed, and may kick or bite if you are not fast enough at giving them the food in your hands. In 2013, one took a nibble out of my leather jacket and I was left with a souvenir of irreparable teeth marks near the pocket. Our experience in 2018 was a bit more traumatic for the boys when one deer started kicking its front legs when food wasn’t delivered fast enough. Only buy the deer crackers if you are near deer that are away from the crowds of people trying to feed them and if they look mostly full. Or, as one of our friends would say, “Don’t feed them at all.” But they are so cute, do you really want to break the tradition and disappoint the kids?
We then went to go see the historical sights of Nara. There were a bunch of temples, including the Todai-Ji Temple, which contains the world’s largest wooden building, as well as a gigantic statue of Buddha.
After a bit more wandering, that included amazing scenery and beautiful traditional Japanese buildings, we got on the train and returned to Kyoto.
Back in Kyoto, we decided to wander through Nishiki Market, where you can find all kinds of food. James and I decided to try the tiny octopuses on a stick. He made me try it first and wouldn’t go near the head, but after trying it, he said it a bit rubbery (and difficult to eat with both braces and a tongue crib), but otherwise he thought it was okay. The outside was coated in some sort of sweet glaze and the meat was quite good. I was delighted to find that the head wasn’t the gross nastiness that I was expecting, but was instead stuffed with a hard boiled quail egg. Definitely worth trying if you happen to be here.
Deciding that it would be next to impossible to have a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, we decided that it could be fun to gorge – I mean feast – on sushi at a sushi boat restaurant. 41 plates later, we declared it an excellent Thanksgiving dinner. John mostly got cucumber rolls and edamame, James focused on salmon, shrimp, tobiko (tiny fish eggs), and edamame, while Jeremy and I tried almost everything, skipping the fugu (blowfish) and the horse sushi. Yes, that is right, in Japan you can eat raw horse meat. Odd. For only $45, we were quite happy, even if the quality wasn’t as good as some of the other sushi restaurants (see the picture below), but if you are going for quantity, you really can’t get a better price without getting food poisoning.