Side Trips from Kyoto: Arashiyama and Nara

by mjcarney

After visiting the Toji Temple Market, we hopped a train to Arashiyama. (It was only about a 20 minute ride.) Sam planned a lunch at a really cool soba restaurant, Arashiyama Yoshimura, overlooking the Oi River. We took our shoes off at the door and headed upstairs to a perfect window seat. The view was beautiful. On the other side of the river, the sun shone on the lush trees covering the mountains.  We were first brought warm washcloths (everywhere in Japan gives you these) and served steaming cups of green tea. The green tea there isn’t really like the light green tea we drink here. They drink the strong, BRIGHT green tea. When I say bright green, I mean like the color of spring grass. It’s really delicious and slightly bitter. Sam ordered a special that came with hot soba, cold soba, tempura, rice and miso. I went with a tempura dish. Both were great, but as usual, I ended up sneaking lots of bites from Sam’s order. I couldn’t be at a soba restaurant and not eat soba! SONY DSC A woman, in her kimono, checking for directions SONY DSC Arashiyama Yoshimura SONY DSC Such a beautiful view, even (if not especially) on an overcast day SONY DSC The soba came with lots of condiments of sorts. You could make it spicy, salty, or onion-y. SONY DSC Tempura….yummmmmm SONY DSC The hot soba. I didn’t get a good picture of the cold soba, but the noodles were served separately and you dipped them into a different broth to eat them.  SONY DSC We headed across the Togetsukyo Bridge to make our way to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Neither of us had big expectations for the Monkey Park and were just going because we were planning on going to the bamboo forest in the same area.  We were both imagining monkeys in a cage, but it was anything but that! It was such an incredible experience. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC It’s quite the hike to Monkey Park. Once we got to the entrance, we were told it would be about a twenty minute hike up the mountain and it was every bit of that. The stairs were steep and then there was a nice winding path that is supposed to be quite beautiful in the fall with the changing leaves.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Caution Do Not Touch–the hand rail. That makes sense…

As we neared the top, we started to hear a noise overhead. We both imagined they’d be quite sad and locked up in cages, so imagine our surprise when we saw a monkey just hanging out on the tree above us! As we wound up the path, we spotted more monkeys lounging around, grooming and doing general monkey things.  We even witnessed a monkey fight over two males–one was getting too close to the other’s baby/baby momma. (Side note: Monkeys DO NOT like when you get too close to their baby/baby momma. Learned that one the scary way.) The view from the top of the observation deck was pretty spectacular. Not to mention, there were monkeys lying around everywhere. If you wanted to feed the monkeys (duh), you could go inside of a little enclosure to safely feed them (we’re still talking about wild animals here). It was the reverse what we’re sadly used to–the people were in the cage and the monkeys were free to run wild this time. You could easily see why they did things that way. The monkeys went wild over the food. We had nuts and apples to feed them. They preferred the apples (I did a test). Monkeys are pretty magical little creatures–they are covered in fur but still have these amazing little hands and beautiful eyes.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Have you ever seen a sweeter sight? SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Look at his little hands!!  SONY DSC After we’d taken a million monkey pictures and emptied our change on apples, we headed back down the mountain and across the river. We stopped for mango ice cream along the way. I’d burned too many calories on the hike and clearly needed to get back to even.  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC And we made it to the Bamboo Forest. The thing I’d always wanted to see. It was even more magical than I’d ever imaged too. The bamboo is so tall and grand and it’s incredibly peaceful on the path. When the wind blows, you can here the sways of the stalks rubbing together and the sun peers through and you can’t help but understand how incredible it is that you are in that exact place at that exact moment. We took our time and tried to soak it in as best as possible.  SONY DSC SONY DSC 2.4 Arashiyama bamboo forest SONY DSC We wound our way through the Forest for about an hour and came out the other side into beautiful bits of country. Serene rivers, and vast fields and little country houses greeted us along the walk and despite being exhausted from all the walking, we didn’t want to stop wandering.  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC
The next day, after we visited Sanjusangendo and met the sweetest little girls, we headed to Nara. I didn’t know much about Nara, outside of the fact that it held the second tallest pagoda in Japan (the tallest is at Toji Temple, remember?) and that Nara had a particularly special national treasure. Nara is filled with deer that roam the town freely. That’s clearly all I needed to know to hop on the 45 minute train ride. The town was clean and quaint and everywhere you turned, you saw cartoon pictures of deer. Even the Man Hole Covers where stamped with cute deer! SONY DSC SONY DSC 4.3 Nara kids Kawaii school children posing for the camera. SONY DSC SONY DSC
Someone was selling deer wafers on the street, so we bought a few packs. The wafers turned out to be very instrumental in getting photos with the deer. The deer were actually quite aggressive when they wanted a wafer–they would stand on their hind legs and one even nipped at Sam’s shirt. We got rid of the wafers as quickly as possible to try to avoid being a victim of Nara’s first deer attack. When you caught one lying down, they were actually quite gentle and enjoying being scratched, just like a dog. SONY DSC SONY DSC Frisky little fellas. The one on the right was nudging me and in the photo below, the one on Sam’s right had just nipped at his shirt. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC