Okay, just a little more catching up to do before this blog is actually up to date for once. Starting from the end of December!
For winter break I didn't travel anywhere...because my brother came to visit! We had a great time. It'd been ages since I had seen him, and even longer since we had much time just to hang out by ourselves. Reid stayed at my apartment in Sonobe, and we took a zillion day trips into Kyoto and its surrounds. (Plus one relaxing Sonobe day, where we just visited my school and took a walk around town.) I don't remember the exact order we did things in, but here's the basic list!
Sanjusangendo -- You may remember this place and a few of the following from the recap of my parents' trip. A really long and old wooden hall, filled with 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon...and that's not even counting the assortment of other important figures.
Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion) -- Literally coated in beautiful gold leaf, this was originally built as a summer palace by some important guy whose name I have forgotten, but after his death, the guy's son converted it into a shrine. This is one of my favorite spots in Kyoto, especially on sunny days, when there's an equally lovely reflection in the pond next to the pavilion.
Yasaka Shrine -- Just a little Shinto shrine that leads into Maruyama Park. This is a great way to enter the Higashiyama district, which is famous for several shrines and temples, plus some great traditional streets that really preserve the atmosphere of old Kyoto.
Kiyomizu Temple -- Probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, which is saying something. It has an iconic stilted deck, and provides great views of the city.
Nara Park and the Daibutsu (Big Buddha) -- I really love Nara, if for no other reason than the deer. Nara Park especially is infested with these totally unskittish deer, and the population can't be thinned because they just so happen to be sacred deer. You can buy deer crackers to feed them, and will immediately be swarmed. Don't let them eat your pants, even though they will try. Also, the Big Buddha at Todai-ji is always cool.
Fushimi Inari Shrine -- Another of my favorite places. A shrine that literally covers an entire mountain. There is a central shrine at the base, and various paths lined with sacred orange torii gates lead up to other mini-shrines and a spectacular overlook. Reid later cited this as his favorite place that we visited.
Universal Studios Japan -- It was really busy on the day we went, because it was a national holiday, but we got to do everything we wanted. (Well, except for seeing the Waterworld show. But maybe I'll go back one more time before I leave Japan.) I may have liked the Back to the Future ride the best, though our boat captain for the Jaws ride was pretty hilarious.
Arashiyama Monkey Park -- A bit of silliness. Haul yourself up this little mountain, and there are at least a hundred Japanese macaques lounging at the top, running free. You can feed them apples and peanuts and such, but only from inside a fence, so that the monkeys can't all mob you. (Thank goodness!) Also, you are strictly instructed not to look the monkeys in the eye, or they will lash out. Danger zone! It was a funny time, though, and Arashiyama was kind of pretty through that day's falling snow.
Osaka Castle -- The stronghold from which Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan. The inside has been converted into a museum, but the outside is still a gorgeous and imposing castle structure. We went here with one of my coworkers, Ueda-sensei, who is young and adorable and has the best English pronunciation of all the teachers at my school.
Koga Ninja Village -- This was a weird little park out in Shiga. It took forever to get there, and was sort of strangely dilapidated, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. The best part was probably the preserved ninja house, which had all sorts of neat booby traps and hideyholes. In other news, turns out that I am awful at throwing shuriken ninja stars.
...And those were our main stops during the trip. Other than that, we mostly chilled in my apartment and watched an obscene amount of Doctor Who. (I got Reid hooked! Success!) Even though we were busy pretty much every day, there was just enough time in the evenings to watch all four seasons of the new show, plus a few specials from the last year. We may be crazy.