Nara can be an eye-opening experience. The enormous 50-foot bronze Buddha statue in Todai-ji was dedicated in AD 752 by having a priest symbolically “open his eyes” by scrambling up and painting them in (the original paintbrush remains at the temple); strings dangling off the brush allowed the dignitaries on the ground to hang on and participate in the action. The sense of “more is better” continues at Kasuga Shrine, where a thousand intricate bronze lanterns hang prettily off the building. Don’t bother the wild deer roaming the adjacent Nara Park — once considered messengers of the gods, they are still a nationally protected treasure.
Nara Park, Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Shrine
Kyoto Guided Sightseeing Tour
With over 2,000 Buddhist temples and shrines still intact, Kyoto shines as one of the best preserved Imperial cities in Japan. Visit the famous Zen Buddhist Temple Kinkakuji, or Golden Temple, that gets its name from the pure leaf gold that covers the top two floors. Next, head to Inari, the main shrine of the god of business, and see the thousands of red torii, or Japanese gates, that snake their way up the hill to the inner shrine. The Sanjusangendo Temple offers visitors an unusual and unbelievable sight. Its main hall is filled with 1,000 life-size statues of soldiers of the Thousand Armed Kannon which stand to protect the main deity of the temple.
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) visit, Visit Fushimi Inari Taishya, Visit Sanjusangen-do
Few museums are as hands-on as this old elementary school turned shrine to manga, or comic books, and its collection of some 300,000 comics and manga-related exhibits. Visitors can read any piece of manga they fancy from the towering wooden bookcases that line every wall and hallway. Some read propped up against the walls or sitting crossed legged on the floor; others hunker down with a coffee at the museum’s wood-decked outdoor café. The eclectic and universally transfixed crowd is a testament to how much a part of mainstream Japanese culture manga has become.
The museum is a one-minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station on the Karasuma and Tozai subway lines. Admission is ¥500 and it’s open from 10am to 6pm. Closed Wednesdays and New Year’s holidays.
1. Kyoto International Manga Museum
Karasume Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan; 81-(0)75-254-7414 kyotomm.jp