Exploring the sacred grounds of Kyoto and Nara
I dream of traveling the world -– experiencing rich cultures and learning new things. Walking past innately sculptured ancient architecture, smelling their local dishes and taking a leap of faith by embracing their traditions.
You’ll never know what realization you will get until you start your journey.
I decided to go back to Japan after visiting Tokyo two years ago. This time, I lost myself in the old streets of Kyoto and Nara.
The cultural charm of the place envelopes you wherever you go. So just brace yourself, and trust your gut -- take a big gulp and prep yourself up to have an adventure because Kyoto and Nara nurse a number of World Heritage Sites -– each with its own story.
Kyoto: Temples, shrines and a geisha flashback
The Kinkaku-ji Temple (Rokuon-Ji Temple), which was the villa of Kintsune Saionji back in 1220, also known as the Golden Pavillion, no matter how many times you've seen its image, will surprise you with its astounding beauty when you first view it in person.
The crystal-like water together with a blast of sunlight creates a wonderful reflection. The rich green garden path around the area is perfect for snapping away and capturing the moment. It can be encapsulated by the word "Zen" -– as they say, simplicity is key.
Kinkaku-ji Temple: 1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; tel. +81 (0)75 461 0013; Open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Admission: ¥400 (general), ¥300 yen for elementary and junior high school students
Kyoto has so many impessive temples that even in a week I found myself busy.
At the mighty Heian Jingu Shrine there was a large student population celebrating the Intercollegiate Festa featuring music competition, fashion exhibition, parades and a food expo with a smorgasbord of delicacies from all over the world.
Besides temples viewing it allowed me to try and taste treats made from scratch by these local kids.
The event also featured traditional dances with a modern twist prepared by students. The fierce movement captured the quintessential Kansai culture mixed with the youthful glow of the performers that kept the audience glued to their seats.
Not to mention its movie appeal, as it was the setting for one of the scenes in "Memoirs of a Geisha."
Heian Jingu Shrine: Nishi Tennocho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto; tel. +81 (0)75 761 0221; Visit www.heianjingu.or.jp for opening hours and admission fees.
Another must-see is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It houses thousands of never ending toriis -- a sight to behold that visitors find numerous ways to capture.
The complex is composed of five shrines spread out over the complex.
Fushimi Inari Shrine: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto; tel. +81 (0)75 641 7331; Open all day; Admission: free; inari.jp
My favorite part of the whole trip was exploring Sanjusangendo, which means "Hall with 33 bays." Its exhibit ground will amaze you with its vast collection of national treasures -– 1,001 Kannon statues together with 28 guardian deities.
Sanjusangendo Temple: 657 Mawari-machi, Sanjusagendo, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto; tel. +81 (0)75 561 0467; Open daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (November 16-March: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.); Admission:¥600; www.sanjusangendo.jp
Nara: Sharing inner peace with nature
In search of the perfect torii, I found the nature trail of Nara, a former capital city of Japan from 710-784. Nara's eight temples, shrines and ruins are a collective UNESCO World Hertage site, 50 minutes by direct train from southern Kyoto in their shared region of Kansai.
Deers stroll along with you as the cool breeze brushes your face. Hours of walking will surely take its toll -– but worry not, there are food stops along the way. I urge you to reward yourself with a green tea ice cream. It’s worth it!
I encourage travelers to find the perfect charm in Kyoto and Nara. There are a lot of temples selling a little bit of luck for every need –- for expecting mothers, health, to pass an exam, reach your goal, and, of course, for love.
You may or may not believe in them, but having one surely makes your trip worthwhile -– it can just be your souvenir or a gift for friends back home.
You can also write a wish on cardboard blocks.
Follow Ara on Twitter at twitter.com/acsam.
Ara Charissa submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.