|From Tokyo we took the Shinkansen, or bullet train, to Kyoto. It was expensive but it got us there pretty quickly.|
|Departing from Tokyo.|
|Watching Fuji and the Japanese countryside scroll past.|
|Once in Kyoto, we settled into our hostel (which, fortunately, had much bigger rooms than the one we stayed in at Tokyo), and headed for Fushimi Inari Shrine.|
|A torii, or traditional Japanese gate, the first of thousands that we would pass through.|
|Many of Fushimi Inari's buildings and structures are painted in this distinctive orange-red tone, which really gives the shrine a unique appearance.|
|Ringing a bell for good luck.|
|The coolest part of the shrine are its infinite tunnels of torii, which are donated by Japanese businesses, and number in the thousands.|
|These pathways of portals run through woods and up a mountain, and it takes a couple of hours to walk through them all.|
|Along the way there are various sub-shrines and prayer spots filled with candles, votives, and of course, more torii.|
|Making our way back down the mountain.|
|Back in central Kyoto, we explored Gion, a famous Geisha district filled with machiya (Japanese townhouses) and ochaya (teahouses).|
|For dinner, we had shabu-shabu, a traditional Japanese dish of thinly sliced meat boiled in water. It tasted good but it was really expensive, and we couldn't help thinking that we could get a meal equally as good in Korea for a quarter the price.|
|Exploring Gion by night.|
|The next morning it was pouring with rain, but we had to visit perhaps Kyoto's most famous site: Kinkaku-Ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion.|
|There were a few nice garden areas to walk around but it seemed the main draw was the golden pavilion, so we didn't stay for very long.|
|Back in Gion, admiring its pretty avenues and traditional houses.|
|After this, we got a little tired of the rain and hung out in our hostel until it was time to take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.|
|Now in Tokyo, we are spending our last night in Japan in a capsule hotel, which is an essential Japanese experience that we didn't want to miss out on.|
|My capsule (unfortunately we couldn't share one), with a tiny TV. It's actually pretty cosy.|
So, that's it for Japan. In all honesty, this country hasn't impressed us quite as much as we were hoping it would (we've met a lot of people who've raved about it, so we had high expectations). We've been to some cool sights - Fushimi Inari and Mount Fuji being the most impressive - and the people here have been very friendly and polite, which I've appreciated. But I struggle to think of a really strong reason to recommend it as tourist destination, especially given that most of its best qualities can be found for much cheaper in nearby countries like China and South Korea.
Having said that, we were only here for a week, and so who knows how much it may have grown on us had we stayed longer and seen more of it. Based on what we saw in Hakone, and from the Shinkansen train between Tokyo and Kyoto, its countryside appears to be very beautiful, and perhaps it's there, away from the big cities in which we spent most of our time, that Japan really shines. Or perhaps a year and a half in Korea has just made us weary of temples, bright lights and quirky East Asian stuff, and perhaps those aspects of Japan would have impressed us a lot more had we arrived under different circumstances. Or perhaps it's a simple fact that some countries click with you and some don't, and there's no rational way to figure out why. It's hard to say.
Either way, we still had a lot of fun, and we will remember it fondly. Right now, though, we're eager to move on to our next destination. Thailand is a place we've both wanted to visit for a long time, and given the hype and praise it receives, we're keeping our fingers crossed that it won't disappoint. At the very least, it seems a lot different to Korea, so hopefully we won't feel like we've "been there, done that" like we did in Japan a little. Plus, the plan is to stay there for a month, so we'll get to know it a lot more intimately than we did Japan. Oh, and we're going to be there for Songkran, the Thai water festival, which is pretty exciting.
Expect some blog entries on Bangkok very shortly!