Food · Japan

Christmas in Japan: A trip to Nara and Kyoto

As my time in Japan began to come to a close, I took the opportunity to visit Kyoto and Nara. Due to many of my study abroad friends having gone back to the U.S. for Christmas, I ended up going alone. On Christmas morning, I got up early to go to mass at a small little church that was on the way to Nara. While not very big there were a decent amount of people. One Japanese lady tried to communicate with me though my level of Japanese was not high enough for the job. After mass a nice British man who also was there helped with translating and I was subsequently invited to a small gathering for  breakfast by the little church’s parish community. The community was fascinated by me given that I looked foreign but not what they are used to; this in turn was an opportunity for me to share my culture with them.

The small Catholic Church in a suburb of Kyoto

I was really thankful that a group of strangers took the time to talk with me and invite me to share food with them; eventually even packing me some food to eat as lunch. After conversing with the Japanese ladies in the church’s conference room, as well as a man that spoke quite good Spanish, I headed off towards Nara. The trip took about 30 minutes though I began to get worried since the farther along the train went, the more countryside appeared. However I finally arrived and headed off to Todai-ji.

There’s a lot of deer here

On the way to the temple there were a lot of deer just walking around since deer have an immense importance in Buddhism, perhaps referencing the deer park were Siddhartha Guatma’s followers gathered. Todai-ji was immense, an all-wooden structure surrounding a towering Buddha statue (the biggest bronze Buddha in the world) and yet it used to be 30% bigger before it was destroyed and rebuilt. At 57 m long (187 feet)  and nearly the same in height, Todai-ji is an immense building that dwarfs visitors. Historically the first temple built dates back to 728 AD and served as the primary center of Buddhist thought in the country until the Kamakura period. The current temple was reconstructed in 1706 and up until 1998, the temple was the biggest wooden structure on the planet but given it’s history, size, and its UNESCO reputation for its traditional way of construction it is still an incredible sight to see.

Todai-ji’s interior and the daibutsu ( big Buddha)

As the sun began to set I tried to visit one last temple but unfortunately much of it was under construction at the time and I could not see much. I walked back through a park that was now illuminated by many Christmas lights until reaching the train station. Since there were shops nearby, I tried to see if I could find some food but couldn’t find any places that had the traditional Kyoto style assorted plates. I ended up going back to Kyoto early and walked around the area since there were a lot of Christmas lights there too. It was a bit uncomfortable to walk alone because Christmas in Japan tends to be a couples’ holiday. There’s nothing that “boosts” self-esteem quite like wandering around alone while being surrounded by couples and families on Christmas, but I digress. Around Kyoto Station there were thousands of couples walking around and spending time with each other. My bus would arrive at 11pm but I got back around 6pm thereby having to kill a lot of time.


A common Kyoto-style assorted plate dinner
Christmas festivities in Kyoto Station

During my wait at the station, I was able to find a good restaurant that had what I was looking for. Afterwards I walked around some of the stations’ stores, around Christmas decorations and took pictures of the giant Christmas tree and the Christmas colors of Kyoto Tower. Despite the cold and boredom of waiting for the bus at the station, my trip to Nara and Kyoto was one of the most memorable parts of Japan.

Kyoto Tower with Christmas colors

4 thoughts on “Christmas in Japan: A trip to Nara and Kyoto

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