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I know, more cemeteries?  Weird, right?  Well what can I say, they’re entrancing.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

Many of the temples in Kyoto have a cemetery attached, and some of them are quite striking.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

I took a brief video at one of them.  It doesn’t really capture it (it’s mostly wind noise from the tiny built-in microphone on my camera), but there was something weirdly serene and kind of eerie about the sense of quiet here; just birds chirping and boards clacking.

Then there was this odd pyramid of sorts at one of the cemeteries; I don’t know what it was, but it was certainly memorable.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

I am, however, always vaguely paranoid that I’ll accidentally knock over a tombstone or something and wind up with a Grudge-esque curse, so if I die under mysterious circumstances here, you’ll know what’s what.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

I was wandering around after visiting the Kiyomizu Temple (which was really nice, but completely overrun with tourists), and I stumbled across an absolutely amazing cemetery.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I know: the word “amazing” is not generally used to describe a graveyard, but bear with me.  As I’ve posted about before, Japanese cemeteries are more interesting than you’d think.  And this one was stunning.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Just the location itself was impressive, not to mention the way the tombstones look, and the sheer, almost endless volume of them.  There had to be thousands of graves here.  It’s a little bit overwhelming.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

And like every other cemetery I’ve been to on this trip, I was pretty much the only tourist there, and I get it, but come on.  Look at that.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I think this is one of those posts where I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking, because Nijo Castle is pretty remarkable.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

I think most days you can go inside the castle itself, which I guess is like a museum of sorts?  I was unlucky enough to show up on a day where the inside was closed, however the just the grounds around the castle are easily worth the 400 Yen admission fee.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

I spent over an hour just wandering around and taking it all in.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

The gardens are really impressive (and I’m sure they’d be even more impressive in the summer when all the leaves are still on the trees).

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

There are over 1600 temples and 400 shrines in Kyoto, which is readily apparent when you’re walking around the city.  It’s hard to walk more than a few blocks without stumbling onto a temple or a shrine, and when you’re on the outskirts of the city, they’re absolutely everywhere.

The more famous ones are certainly worth seeing, though they tend to be packed with wall-to-wall tourists, which does diminish the experience somewhat.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

I discovered some of the shrines and temples I liked best just by randomly wandering around the city.

That’s the only way you’ll find quirkier shrines like this one, which was rabbit-themed.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

More rabbits:

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

Here’s another one I randomly stumbled across.  It’s hard to argue that it’s any less impressive than the more tourist-friendly temples, and I only saw a couple of other people while I was there.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

I’m not one of those travelers who looks down on anything touristy; I have no problem staying on the beaten track if it’ll lead me somewhere memorable, even if I’m the millionth person to do it.  But there’s an amazing sense of serenity to being alone at a place like this that’s completely lost when you’re surrounded on all sides.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

And then there’s probably my favourite temple that I went to in Kyoto, the Honen-in Temple.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

This one I actually did read about (which is why I know the name for this one and not the others), but for some reason it doesn’t seem to be nearly as tourist-filled as some of the more popular ones.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

I have no idea why.  It was pretty amazing.

Shrines and Temples in Kyoto, Japan

There’s a place near Nagano called Jigokudani Monkey Park, and it gives you exactly what you’re hoping for.  So many monkeys.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

It’s about an hour bus ride from the city — you can actually get a special pass that includes the bus fare to and from Jigokudani, and admission to the park for 3200 yen (about 36 bucks Canadian).  Best 3200 yen I ever spent.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Even just walking from where the bus drops you off to the park itself is surprisingly memorable, with a really scenic trail taking you through a forest of super tall pine trees.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Once you get to the area, you can see the steam coming off the ground from one of the natural hot springs.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Then you get there, and the monkeys are everywhere.  I figured there’d only be a dozen or so monkeys, but there’s gotta be at least 40 or 50.  It’s amazing.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

They’re all just hanging out; walking around, grooming each other, chillin’ in the hot tub.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Here’s a mother cuddling with her kid.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

After a while, the kid suddenly angled himself butt-up towards his mom, and without missing a beat, she started grooming him.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

More grooming.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

And I guess because these monkeys have spent their whole lives surrounded by gawking tourists, we’re just a part of the landscape to them.  It’s like we’re not even there.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

You can get surprisingly close to them, and they’ll completely ignore you.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

And they’re amazing.  I mean, look at them.  They look like tiny little people wearing fur coats.  They’re almost absurdly adorable.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Suffice it to say, if you’re in Japan and you’re anywhere even close to the vicinity of Nagano, you’ve gotta go see the monkeys.  It’s amazing.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Yeah, I know, yet another Tokyo park post.  But this is the nicest one yet, so I think you’ll just have to put up with one more.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

It actually costs 200 yen (a bit over two bucks Canadian) to get in, and I was like, what’s this?  I have to pay to get into a park?  What do I look like, Warren Buffet?  I almost turned around.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

I’m glad I didn’t, though.  The park is huge, impressive, and certainly worth two dollars.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

I think this is the point where it’s best just to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, JapanShinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, JapanShinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

Want an amazing view of Tokyo?  You could go up the Tokyo Tower and spend a whopping 1600 yen (!), or you could visit the Tokyo Skytree, which costs as much as 3090 yen (!!!) to go all the way to the top.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

Or!  Go to Tokyo City Hall, spend a grand total of zero dollars, and get an absolutely magnificent view of the city.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

The view from up there is breathtaking.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

When you’re just walking around the city, it’s easy to forget that it’s one of the largest in the world.  Seeing it from above is a palpable reminder of its size; it’s just unending city stretching all the way into the horizon.  It’s kind of insane.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo seems to be pretty good about making sure that the city has a bunch of green space mixed in with the in-your-face modernity of the majority of the city.  I’ve been to a few of these areas so far, though I think the Imperial Palace East Gardens might be my favourite.

My visit started quite memorably — the place is formerly a castle, so it’s surrounded by a watery moat.  There was a heron standing in the water, staring intently at a specific spot.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

In one impressively quick motion, he suddenly had a fish in his beak, and then he just sort of hung out for a few minutes (I think he was trying to figure out how to eat the fish without dropping it in the water).

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

Eventually, he made a few skillful moves, and that fish went right down his gullet.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

The rest of the visit wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was no less memorable.

The place was quite impressive, so I think I’m just going to shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

And speaking of birds, I saw these two guys on my way out.  I have no idea what they were doing; they were just standing there flapping their wings, like a couple of old guys doing calisthenics in the park.

I mentioned the Meiji Shrine in a recent post — one of the city’s many other shrines is the Nezu Shrine, and though it’s not nearly as popular, I’d say it’s equally worth visiting.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

The Meiji Shrine is pretty deep inside Yoyogi park; it feels like you’ve gotten out of the city, even though you really haven’t.  The Nezu Shrine can’t compete there; you’re always only a few steps from the street.  But that doesn’t make it any less entrancing.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

I love that Tokyo makes room for places like this throughout the city, though obviously these shrines aren’t just for goofy tourists like me; they’re holy places.  Which, as I mentioned before, makes me feel a little bit awkward.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

Not awkward enough to forgo snapping a bunch of pictures, but awkward nonetheless.

Walking around cemeteries is becoming a bit of a theme on this blog, isn’t it?  What can I say?  It seems like a weirdly dark thing to do on a trip (and yeah, it kinda is), but it’s also really interesting.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

I mean, it’s basically like walking through a park, only with a bunch of dead people and tombstones.  So… not really like walking through a park at all.

I’m not really selling this, am I?

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

Well, the Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo (which is enormous) is especially interesting, if only for how different it is from Western cemeteries.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

The tombstones look completely different, and there are these long wooden boards — they look like they were pulled from a fence — all over the place.

Plus, it’s grim, obviously, but there’s also a scenic beauty there.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

I wouldn’t say that a trip isn’t complete until you visit a cemetery, but if you’ve got some time, it’s probably worthwhile.