There were a few other points of interest during my trip to Japan, all involving the beauty of the natural landscape in Japan, despite it being the tail-end of winter bleakness.
Nara, the ancient capital, is very famous for its free-roaming deer. Our hotel was just two blocks down the street from Nara Deer Park, so during our short stay I managed to wake up early one morning to check out the Deer Park. The deer are wild, but they act quite tame and are on the lookout for humans who can feed them. I came across an old lady who was selling "deer crackers." These were flat brown wafers, and the deer definitely know what they are! As soon as I bought a small pack, deer started surrounding me and nosing into the wafers. They can be quite aggressive, though it doesn't seem like they are dangerous.
When it is obvious that you don't have food, they are very content to just continue on their own business and ignore you. I got a few close up shots without disturbing the deer at all.
On my last day in Kyoto, I went to the Arashiyama area. It's gorgeous, with temples, a famous bamboo forest, preserved streets with little shops and restaurants, and trails through parks. I visited Tenryu-ji, a big Rinzai temple. There were some blossoms coming out! Well worth the 500 yen admission.
This bamboo forest is where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed. The bamboo stalks are so dense and tall; it's such a peaceful short walk.
We wandered across a smaller temple. It looks so lush and green, even in the winter, because of all this moss that covers the ground. Apparently the moss is actually quite delicate and prized.
Though we went to so many temples over the nine days, probably spending around $100 in total for various entrance fees, each one of them had such distinct character - a combination of location, topography, architecture, and plants. I don't know how long one would have to spend in the city to get a good grasp on the layout of all the temple complexes. I didn't get to see some of the more famous ones such as Kiyomizu, but I did get to visit Kodai-ji, Daitouku-ji Complex, the Yasaka Shrine and Heian Shrine, and a few outside of Kyoto as well.