After spending a few days in the old capital of Nara, we took a 15 minute train ride into the mountains. Angela had booked us a temple stay at Senju-In, which was a really neat experience. We did have to take a cab to the temple after arriving on the train; cab rides in Japan are expensive and should be avoided at all costs. It was very cold when we arrived, and we discovered that we were the only guests. I guess winter is not a popular time for people to visit this temple.
The nun who helped to check us in was extremely helpful, although nobody had very much English, and we have zero Japanese. She did manage to tell us that dinner was at 5:00, and the famous fire ceremony that the temple is known for would be the following morning, after breakfast. Breakfast was at 7:30 AM. The importance of these details will be apparent later on. We had thought that the fire ceremony was at 6:00 AM sharp, and dinner was at 5:30 PM based on something that we had read somewhere along the line.
After getting checked in, we realized that we were not going to have anything to do for the rest of the day because we were staying in a very cold, secluded temple, of which the inside reminded me a little of ‘The Shining’. Everyone was really nice, though. We decided to walk around the temple grounds, which turned out to be substantial.
The temple was very serene and beautiful. We saw a few monks, and several other visitors who were saying prayers at various locations. On a whim, we ended up hiking up a small mountain for about 30 minutes to reach the top.
After exploring all of the temple grounds, we came back and hung out in our small and simple room. We went down around 5:00 PM for dinner, to be told that it would be 30 more minutes until dinner. The nun misled us! Actually, I think it was probably because neither of us could communicate effectively. I should have known to have questioned the post-breakfast starting time of the fire ceremony at this point. Eventually we were seated at a lavish and extravagant dinner for two.
After dinner, I took advantage of the temple’s onsen before calling it a night. We were awoken at 6:00 AM by a phone call from one of the monks that said it was time for the fire ceremony. The nun lied again! We threw on some clothes and hurried down to witness their fire ceremony, which was really neat. They chanted and said prayers while burning a bunch of pieces of wood with prayers written on them. The ceremony has happened every morning at this temple for 100 years. After the ceremony, a young monk gave us a tour of the temple grounds. As we walked past the path that took us to the top of the mountain the previous day, we saw a local rugby team that was running up the path as training. The coach said they had a tournament in Kyoto, and tried to get some of the girls on his team that evidently spoke English to talk to us, but they were too shy. He took us to the main hall, in which there was a secret passage. He told us it was very dark, and that we must walk through it. While walking through, we were supposed to use our right hand on the wall as a guide, and at some point there would be a glass window with some buddha statues in it, and a lock that we were supposed to touch in the dark for good luck. It was pitch black, maybe the darkest place I have ever been. It was strange, but the wall was curved so it was easy to walk through, albeit a little freaky. We found the statues and the lock on our way. After our tour, we had a breakfast that rivaled our previous dinner in deliciousness and then left for Osaka.
It was another 15 minute train ride to get to Osaka, Japan. We stayed at a place called Hostel 64 that was pretty expensive for how basic it was. We visited a few different places in Osaka as we had arrived really early, and as we were sitting at a cafe decided, on a little bit a whim, to go immediately to Universal Studios, Osaka.
Our primary goal was to go to Harry Potter land. There are only a few of these in the world, and Osaka is one of them. We had to get a time-ticket, that meant we had to enter this part of Universal at a certain time. We entertained ourselves while waiting by going to ‘Backdraft‘ and ‘Jaws‘. ‘Backdraft’ was cool because there was a lot of fire and explosions. I’ve never seen the movie, but it looks pretty intense. I had been on the ‘Jaws’ ride before, but with our boat-driver screaming frantically in a language that I could not understand while a huge shark robot jumped out of the water at me, it felt a little more scary. After those rides, and some reasonably priced giant turkey legs, we went to Harry Potter land.
The Harry Potter ride was a mixture of 3D and robots. It was pretty good, but it gave me a headache. All in all it was a fun day.
With our remaining day, we went to the Kuromon Ichiba fish market in Osaka. We had some sea urchin and giant clam. It was delicious.
After eating some fresh seafood, we visited Osaka Castle. It was closed, as New Years is an important holiday in Japan and so we had to settle with looking at the exterior.
We ended the night by going to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is a remarkably good aquarium. We took a ride on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel just outside, and then went to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, Osaka.
Our hostel had paper thin walls, and so I fell asleep listening to all of the intimate conversations of our neighbors. Osaka was a cool town to explore, but I think a couple days were plenty for us at least.