This month, I used my accumulated overtime and compensatory time off to carve out some time to explore the Kansai area to the fullest. My sister and mother, who had never been to Kansai, were able to join me for part of my journey so the travels were particularly meaningful because it meant I could spend some extra quality time with them.
I have fallen in love with the city of Kyoto. The historical and religious architecture alone is breathtaking, but I was able to visit during the period of “kouyou” (the changing of autumnal colours) and so the entire landscape was lit a bright red and orange. Every day I would walk over 30,000 steps and yet always found myself reluctant to call it a night because I wanted to stay out to explore. I think Kyoto reminded me a bit of my hometown in Italy, where some streets feel like you’re stepping into the 1400s because of how intact some historical buildings remain. Furthermore, as someone who is personally interested in Shintoism (Japan’s primordial religion that is deeply enmeshed in Japanese culture), being in Japan’s cultural and historical centre was incredibly satisfying.
Kyoto is also known for its traditional culinary delicacies so I had a chance to try so many different kinds of treats during my time there. My favourite was the world-renowned Uji Matcha.
My favourite memory from my time in Kyoto was my visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha (officially my favourite place in Japan) at night. While the pathways through the sacred mountain are usually absolutely packed with visitors, after sundown, there wasn’t another soul in sight (or so we thought! More on this later). Walking through the dimly lit vermillion torii felt was an unforgettable experience. In the silence of the night and with only our shadows to keep me company, I felt like I could better feel the sacredness and power imbued in the mountain that has been worshipped since the 5th century.
Much to my surprise and delight, part of our walk was accompanied by some (very social and seemingly well-fed) cats. They led us through an offshoot path to a clearing surrounded by bamboo, smaller torii, and alters where we were met with even more very affectionate cats. One of them even took the liberty to jump on my lap while I was crouched down and took a quick power nap while it was there.
I only spent a couple of hours in Nara, but I was luckily able to see its major attractions. Of course, my favourite was interacting with the sacred deer. Fun fact: if you bow to them (especially if you’re holding treats), they’ll bow back!
It was a bit out of the way but I was able to also make my way south to visit Himeji Castle and its surrounding gardens.