2024 Japan Trip Part Two: Nara, Kyoto, and Kameoka

In the first few days of our trip, we had a taste of the vibrant and stylish atmosphere (as well as the delicious cuisine) of Osaka and Kobe. We spent the next few days steeped in tradition and history in Nara, Kyoto, and Kameoka.


Nara is perhaps best known for its park, home to several prestigious temples and shrines, and over a thousand wild deer, roaming free. The roads to the park were dotted with street vendors selling crackers to feed the deer. A supplement to their primary diet of grass, these crackers are made from wheat and rice bran, with no sugar, for the deer's health.

A pack of deer crackers. Even the wrapper is safe to eat, made of rice paper and soy ink.
The deer will eat crackers out of your hand. They may also nip your coat or headbutt.
Some deer will bow back if you bow at them. Reward their manners with a cracker!


After returning to Boston, we saw an article about how some of the deer in Nara had formed a dependence on the crackers. Although it’s tempting to feed the deer near the entrance where the cracker vendors are located, consider saving some for the ones a little farther into the park, who will only get them as an occasional snack.

In our short time at the park, we were also able to see the nearby Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple consisting of several impressive buildings. 


We also took a short walk through Naramachi, a former merchant district now filled with museums and preserved traditional townhouses. One of the places we stopped at was a souvenir shop with over 350 years of history: Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, founded in 1716 making specialty woven fabrics. Today, the store is dedicated to revitalizing Japanese crafts of all kinds. Their printed tea towels are one of their signature items that are popular all over Japan. We've brought a few back with us for our souvenir event this Saturday, April 20!

Normally, we would've taken a hundred photos of every cute thing, but we were too distracted and inspired by the shop. We recommend checking out their website here.

Japanese mugwort mochi from Nakatanidou, handmade by pounding with wooden mallets
A picturesque alley in Naramachi between traditional buildings
One of the only photos we took in Nakagawa Masashichi before getting distracted by gifts

The sun was already starting to set when we left Nara for Kyoto, feeling like we'd only just begun to explore. We'd definitely have to return someday.



After settling in, our first Kyoto destination was Fushimi Inari Shrine. On the sprawling grounds of the shrine stood approximately ten thousand vermilion torii gates, dedicated to the deity of rice and prosperity, Inari. In some areas, the gates were packed so closely together that they formed a red tunnel, sheltered from the outside world.

The first gate at Fushimi Inari Shrine
The names of donors are engraved on the gates
A statue of a fox, said to be Inari's messengers


Though we didn't see any foxes in the forest, we did spot this rascal, blatantly ignoring the warning signage.

Near the shrine's exit, we happened on another street full of food stands. You know us: we simply could not resist.

Waiting for wagyu beef skewers
Steamed buns and onigiri grilled with bacon and cheese
Giant pressed cracker with seaweed and scallops


Despite our diminished appetites, we couldn't leave without at least seeing Nishiki Market. Known as "Kyoto's kitchen," the street contained over a hundred shops selling seafood, produce, other delicacies, and souvenirs.

We crossed the Kamo River on the way to the market. On one side, sleek, modern buildings and roads full of cars; on the other, wooden townhouses with gently sloping roofs. As the sun sank below the horizon, we meandered toward Nishiki Market. Many of the shops had closed by the time we arrived, but that didn't stop us from having an amazing dinner.
Shops with all kinds of fresh seafood 
Seasoned scallops, grilled right in front of us
Taiyaki, a fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste



The most unexpected highlight of our time in Kyoto was the house where we stayed. After seeing all the gorgeous townhouses on the streets, we were so excited to live in one ourselves. The couple who rented it were absolutely delightful, and even brought us desserts one day. In a massive coincidence, we learned that their daughter used to work in Boston.


Some of the postcards that we sent to customers were written in this cozy nook.

We'd only stayed one full day in Kyoto, and already we were preparing to leave (if only we had more time!). Before checking out, we caught an early bus to Kiyomizu-dera, the clear water temple. We could see the city and mountains beyond from the wooden stage of the Main Hall. At the base of the temple, we also got to drink from the Otowa Waterfall. Each of the three streams is said to grant something different: longevity, luck in love, or academic success. It's free to drink, but you can only pick two!

The West Gate and Three-storied Pagoda

The Main Hall, with gigantic wooden stage

Which streams would you have chosen?


In a moment of surrealism, sculptor Kenji Yanobe's giant space cat greeted us on the way out. This and the big blow-up kokeshi doll in the background (by artist duo Yotta), were part of a temporary exhibit for the Artists' Fair Kyoto 2024.

After checking out, the last place we visited in Kyoto was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. To say this area was packed with tourists would be an understatement. Before seeing the grove itself, we stopped for snacks and souvenirs.

More station stamps!
Hanami dango
Taiyaki's revenge


For most of our walk through the grove, there were as many heads in front of us as there was bamboo above. We did catch this one moment of relative calm, however! Busy or not, the bamboo grove felt serene and timeless. We lost track of time and had to sprint for our train to Kameoka. 


We only had one activity planned in Kameoka: an evening at a ryokan, a traditional inn and hot spring. The trip had been amazing so far, but after hurrying through five cities in about as many days, we were eager to spend a night relaxing.

Not the view from our inn, but the train on the way there
Our room with tatami mat floors
Multi-course dinner: perhaps the only time on the trip that we were truly overwhelmed with food
Breakfast: yet another overwhelming spread of food


The highlight of the inn: the hot spring!
Even though we spent as much time in the soothing hot spring baths as we could, we felt even more overloaded with new experiences than when we’d arrived. Every aspect of our stay, from how we ate, to what we wore, to how we bathed, was different from anything we’d done before.
The following morning came too quickly (as it has so often on this trip) and it was time to check out of the inn. Our next experience awaited us as we prepared to board the bullet train to Tokyo.
Continue reading Part 3 here, or skip to Part 4 or our Panthem studio tour. Or return to Part 1 here.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.