Sleek. I’ll happily travel on the bullet train again.

I recently got my first COVID vaccine – or rather the anti-COVID vaccine. Apart for the slight pinch in my left arm, I felt excitement. Excitement at the thought of being able to travel again…not just yet, but if feels like it’s coming relatively soon. At the moment my second vaccine is scheduled for August 1st. Between now and then, I know I’ll be doing a lot of dreaming about where I want to head to first. Actually, I already “know” where I’m headed first….but that could change. As my current morning meditation says: “I make plans, and I am open to the surprises that life and the universe have for me”. So yes, I am “making plans,” and I’m open to whatever comes my way.

This renewed excitement about traveling got me thinking about where I’ve been the past few years, and I realized I hadn’t yet written about Kyoto. The one overnight trip out of Tokyo I managed in my time there.

I love train travel, and was excited about the bullet train. I did ride it once before, many years ago, when I was in Japan touring a French artist around the country. So I knew it would be comfortable and efficient. And even though you are moving incredibly quickly, you still get to see the countryside.

I traveled with my co-worker and friend, L. As we left Tokyo we talked about getting a glimpse of Mount Fuji on our way to Kyoto. No luck that day though, as it was hidden under clouds, as is often the case. On our return to Tokyo we got extremely lucky. There she was!

After checking into our hotel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out. We wanted to see as much as we could during our weekend and that meant spending as little time as possible in the hotel. Our first destination was the old city. We walked through its small streets and made our way up to a couple of temples.

I realized quickly how wonderful it was to be away from Tokyo’s high-rises, to wander through streets lined with buildings that felt welcoming. To not feel so small in a jungle of concrete, steel and glass.

From the old city we walked up the hill, towards the first of our temple visits. Unfortunately clouds rolled in, however that didn’t dampen the joy of being surrounded by trees and flowers.

Kiomizu-dera Temple is designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, with historic monuments of ancient Kyoto. Here, visitors pay their respects to Kannon, a deity of mercy and compassion. Kannon is said to embody “grateful hearts”. A reminder to be grateful for this life and all that we have – family, friends, opportunities like this one. A reminder to express gratitude and practice compassion – daily. Plus, it’s just really beautiful.

Like many areas in Japan, there’s a famous buddha statue in Kyoto. It’s hard to write about these things without always using the same words….beautiful, calming, peaceful – even with tourists milling about.

It felt like Kyoto had an endless supply of temples. Our next one was Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. Here what struck me was the beautiful way wood, stone, water and greenery come together.

I see this and can still hear the water flowing.
It’s always in the details for me. The stone and wood. The natural colours. Time and mother nature adding its touch.

We decided to head out of Kyoto to Nara for a day. An easy train ride away, although not without it’s adventure given the lack of Japanese spoken on our part, and the scarcity of English on theirs. I do love traveling like that though.

Nara is known for its park, and the deer that roam free. Now, I’m told they are docile, but don’t you believe it! I made the mistake of buying some cookies, from one of the many vendors, to feed the deer. “That’ll be fun,” I thought. Let’s just say they are NOT shy. After having more than one nibble on my butt, those cookies flew onto the ground. Help yourselves, and leave my tush alone, thank you very much!

Sure they are cute. But the sign doesn’t make them sound overly friendly! Does “deer mating season” make them more aggressive?

The best part of our day in Nara was Todaiji Temple, built at the request of Emperor Shomu, who hoped to position it as the head temple and Vairocana Buddha (“Buddha that shines through the world like the sun”). Inaugurated in 752 A.D., it was burnt twice during war times, and eventually restored between 1185-1133. A broad range of religious ceremonies continue to be performed here, some going back as far as a thousand years.

My favourite part of the Kyoto weekend was discovering Nijo Castle. Thanks to my brother J for that tip! It’s the only time we decided on a guided tour, which was definitely a good idea. Our guide was funny and charming, and how else would we have known that the floors were intentionally built to squeak, so that Ninja’s wouldn’t be able to sneak in! I have no idea if it’s true, but it sure does make for some fun storytelling. This was our final discovery before heading back to the bullet train and Tokyo. The perfect way to end the weekend.

Ornate gates, sculpted trees, ponds, blue skies, spring blossoms – the perfect way to end a beautiful weekend get-away. As you can see, masks were being worn. It wasn’t long before our time in Tokyo would come to an end.