Nat Geo Northern Route First Stop: Nara Is Awesome!


Make Nara a priority: the Todaiji Temple (above) with its enormous Daibutsu Buddha and Kasuga-Taisha, the most celebrated shrine in Japan are absolute must-sees. PLUS: the grounds are home to about 1000 deer!

  • If coming to Kyoto, avoid the weekends. Absolutely the worst time for visiting the shrines/temples. Chock-a-block with tourists all armed with selfie-sticks. Not pleasant.
  • But if you are coming to Kyoto, 2 must-sees are Sanju-Sangendo, the Buddhist Temple of 1000 statues – absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately no photography allowed.
  • The other must-sees are the Red Torii Gates that line the path to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I would not bother attending any ceremonies – it feels extremely touristic and I’m not even sure the monks are the real deal. However, the gates are beautiful.

Read on below for more standouts from this trip to Japan.


  • I’m a sucker for Japanese cuteness – it’s often most apparent in signage – from road construction to food. See pics below.



  • On the weekends it is common to see young women (and some young men) show up in traditional kimono attire.
  • I was told that most are tourists from other Asian countries but that the kimono industry is attempting to become more relevant by offering people free admittance to shrines if they wear kimonos. They can also get free taxi rides (since it is difficult to walk in kimono gear).



  • I find the whole concept of geishas (or geikos) fascinating and incomprehensible.
  • Based on what we were told numerous times by our guides, it costs up to $300K for a girl to go into training to be a geisha.
  • The girls live with a mama-san who trains them and is essentially their agent.
  • We had a dinner with geisha entertainment and were invited to ask them questions. However, the girls don’t speak English and I felt the answers we got from the translators were not accurate.



  • Love this hotel. A great vibe and very beautiful and comfortable rooms.
  • We all commented that the feng shui of our rooms was excellent.
  • Most of us had issues figuring out how to turn off the lights etc but once that got straightened out, it was amazing.
  • Has to be one of the very best hotels I’ve ever stayed at – definitely better than the Seattle Four Seasons where we began our trip.



  • So impressed by how clean and well-maintained everything is in Japan.
  • Roads are in great condition.
  • Cars and trucks are sparkling clean and there is no trash or garbage littering the streets.



  • We had an amazing local Nat Geo guide who added immeasurably to our knowledge and was super fun. Highly recommend him.

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