After spending 10 days in Tokyo last week, we hopped on a train and headed south to another amazing Japanese city: Kyoto.

While Tokyo is known for its skyscrapers, fast pace and bright city lights, Kyoto has a totally different vibe. Up until 1868, Kyoto was actually the capital city of Japan. For this reason, it is full of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. And when I say full, I mean FULL. Like over 2500. For this reason, our time in Kyoto was mostly spent exploring these sites and enjoying the views along the way. Kyoto is much smaller and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. We spent a lot of time hiking these mountains as many of the shrines start at the bottom and continue to the top. We loved it.

Overall, we probably saw between 15-20 different large temple and shrine sites along with their sub-temples and and smaller shrines within them.

Within eastern Kyoto, some of the major ones we visited were the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the Kodai-ji Temple, the Kennin-ji Temple, the Nanzen-ji Temple and the Hohen-in Temple.

We spent time in the Arashiyama area, which is tucked away in the Arashiyama Mountains in west Kyoto. There we spent time walking through an amazing bamboo forest that was so cool. We also saw the Tenryuji Temple located next to it.

We hiked to the top of one mountain in Arashiyama to visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park where wild Japanese macaques roam freely. It was definitely a tourist attraction, but the monkeys were pretty fascinating to see just walk around, and the views from the top of the mountain were unbelievable.

We were able to see amazing views of the Katsura River that winds through Arashiyama under the Togetsukyo Bridge.

And we visited a picturesque garden called the Okochi Sanso Garden and Villa where we enjoyed green tea in a tea house and walked around the gardens of a former Japanese film star.

In the southeastern part of Kyoto, we visited the Golden Pavilion, the Ryoan-ji Temple, and the Sanjusangendo Temple. Each of them were so unique and interesting to see and explore.

We also visited one of the most interesting and well-known shrines: Fushimi Inari-taisha, where we hiked up Mount Inari and saw thousands (some sources say over 10,000!) of orange torii gates that line the path. We started just before sunset and came down at night, which made for a different perspective on the shrine.

In between our hikes and temple/shrine visits, we spent time walking through the city seeing the homes, streets and views along the river. And of course, we continued our trend of eating by seeking out some delicious Japanese food. We ate bento boxes, sushi, gyoza, kushi dango, miso soup, tonkatsu and so much more. We walked through the Nishiki Market, which is filled with different kinds of street foods. And we found (unofficial) icees so my heart about exploded with happiness...

We went to the Nijo Castle, which was built in the 17th Century for the first shogun of Japan. It was used by the Tokugawa shoguns until the 19th century when Japan shifted back to imperial rule and it became an imperial residence. It was so different from the other castles that we have seen throughout Europe for the last month, and although it was different, it was still so beautiful in it's own unique way.

The afternoon of our last day, we took a scenic train north to Kurama where we hiked Mount Kurama and saw the Kibune and Kifune Shrines along the way. It was so lovely and definitely reminded us of home in the Smoky Mountains in many ways.

We are sad to see our time in Japan come to an end. Although our time here was brief, I think I can easily say that we fell in love with the Japanese culture. It is full of history and traditions that I hope we have a slightly better understanding of, and more impact-fully, the country is made up of a people with kindness unlike many places in the world. Time and time again, Perry and I were amazed by the kindness of strangers that we encountered throughout our stay there. Individuals offered help when we needed directions or assistance in any way, and they always seemed to do it with a smile on their faces.

Reflecting on these encounters, their kindness reminded me of Philippians 2:3-4 that says: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but instead to the interests of others." It made me think about how I treat others, and how often I might see someone in need but walk on by because I'm in a hurry or too busy. Japan, a country dominated by Shintoism and Buddhism, reminded me of the importance of looking more like Jesus to the world than I often portray. It's sad, but true. So today, I'm praying for a heart with less self ambition or conceit and more humility. May I value others and lend a helping hand when needed. And may we all show a little more kindness to those we encounter each day.


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