Published: September 12th 2008September 11th 2008
Breakfast of sandwich, yogurt & Mt. Rainier coffee..."the" mountain of Seattle.
One must take oneself to Nara so that one can see the largest Buddha in Japan, housed in the largest wooden structure in Japan. To that end, Samia, Rachel and I set off for Nara, another ancient capital of Japan. It was only the capital for about 70 years but it is considered the birthplace of Japanese civilization. Many temples and works of art dating from the 7th & 8th centuries still survive, which can't be said of many places in Japan. More a large town than a city, we were able to explore most of it by foot.
We took the JR from Kyoto. Now that our passes are active, they are amazingly easy to use. Some trains don't even require an individual ticket and we are able to simply walk through the entry gate by flashing our pass at the guard. Sweet stuff. Using our passes saved us about $20 round trip. It was a 45 minute train ride and maybe my favorite part of the day. I love traveling through a country by rail. I feel like it is an easy and quick way to get an overall impression of an area. We spread out (each to
Shinkansen to Nara
Views from a speeding train.
our own seat) and chilled on the ride. The train was fairly empty and very quiet. It was good meditation time.
Arriving around 1 p.m. we quickly oriented ourselves and took off towards Todai-ji Temple...where the largest bronze Buddha lives. To get there, though, you must navigate a treacherous street full of foods stuff, cheap clothes & book, music and pachinko parlors. The distractions proved too much for us commerce-driven, sale-loving Americans and we stopped to shop. The stores were very cute (small and close together) and the merchandise was nice. I love that most everywhere is air conditioned, even if the front of the store is open to the street. It's so nice to get that cool wafting breeze as you walk by the shop.
I purchased manga today! I got two volumes of series that I read in English...neither of which is available in N.A. yet! Of course, that means they're in Japanese, but they are still cool. I "read" the Fullmetal Alchemist volume on the way home on the train and could mostly cipher what was going on. I got lots of looks while I was studying it & I wonder what they were thinking?
Japan Rail Pass
Japanese instuctions inside, English on the back. "If there is a discrepancy b/w J & E texts, J text will rule."
Maybe they were jealous because it was hot off the presses? It has a publication date of Sept. 22nd, which seems impossible, but there you go.
The girls both bought some very kawaii clothes and Rachel got a hat as well. I tried on my first clothes on this trip and, wonder of wonders, they actually fit! It's pretty weird for me and Rachel to both be trying on "L" and have my choice fit and hers not. I'm like six times her size! I didn't buy anything, but it gives me hope for Shibuya and Harajuku. Maybe I'll squeeze into something uber-trendy and bring it home. Shoes are still a no-go. Turns out I really should have bought sneakers before I came. I even hit some American outlets while in Yokohama (Adidas, LL Bean, etc) and all the shoes I looked at only went up to 7.5 or 8. I figured I couldn't get clothes here, no problem, but now I have ginormous feet as well? So sad.
After stopping in several shops, getting vending drinks and slowly wandering, we finally made our way to Nara-koen. On our way in we stopped in front of the Five-Storey
Pagoda (official name) to take photos. The pagoda belongs to Kofuku-ji, one of Nara's temples.
We made our way through the park stopping periodically to take pictures of the semi-wild deer. These were originally regarded as divine messengers of a Shinto god and anyone who killed one was likely to get the same treatment. They are absolutely not shy (quite pushy, in fact) and they leave their precious droppings all over the place. There are several cart vendors in the park selling sembei (crackers) to feed to the deer...these are the places to avoid! We didn't feed them, but at one point they seemed to smell the food Rachel & Samia were carrying and came over to get some. We also saw a lady being pursued by the deer she had just been feeding & she was getting quite freaked out! (Sorry, I laughed...what is a deer going to do to you? Nuzzle you to death?)
We finally got to the main entrance of Todai-ji, which is Nandai-mon (Great Southern Gate). Stopping around this gate, I took lots of photos of school children (there were several different school trips going on). I also did my part to help
Keirindo, Nara Bookstore
Rows and rows of manga. So segoy!
people get pictures of themselves...you know, using their camera to let them all be in the picture. Pretty universal gesturing anywhere you go. The best was the Goth-Loli girls who were super appreciative. Samia suggested me being in a photo with them, which is why you'll see it here. They were totally cute and nice. At one point later in the day, the girl in black stopped me to ask a question, but I'm still not sure what was going on. She had a rabbit purse (w/a pirate patch!) and I think she was asking if rabbit was the English word. I agreed "yes, rabbit" and added "usagi, ne?" They were both surprised and then all smiles. "Hie, usagi, hie!" So what else could I say but "kawaii!" (cute). They were quite the highlight...not at all like the disaffected goth folk you'll find in the US. Here, it is much more a fashion statement & costume.
On to the temple and tons of photos of the Dibutsu-den (Great Buddha). I don't know if it's because I was just in Kamakura yesterday or what, but this one did not seem bigger and definitely not more impressive. I think maybe the
Keirindo, Nara Bookstore
I got two volumes of manga for $10...what one costs in the states...
fact that Kamakura's is outside and more accessible made a big impression on me. The Nara temple was super impressive as well as the statuary, but I might be getting a bit temple & shrined out. At any rate, photos were allowed and everything was very orderly.
There is a pillar with a hole in it said to be the same size as the Buddha's nostril. You gain some enlightment if you can pass through it...though Rachel's guidebook suggested skipping this if you aren't a spry, skinny 14-year-old! There was a school group sending everyone who wanted to go through and a photographer capturing each child's image upon their exit. That was very cute. Also, they were causing a bottleneck and people were slow moving but as soon as people saw the children it was smiles and laughing all around. I love it here! :)
So, then we wandered some more. Rachel and I took a break while Samia explored a nearby garden. We winded our way back through the town and had dinner at a curry place. INCREDIBLE! I had an egg salad & cheese curry. OMG. It was all so good. They had a menu available
Maybe I am yakuza afterall...a shady character at the very least.
in English, Russian, Arabic, Italian and Korean. Super fast and fairly cheap...we all ate for ¥2700.
Then a tiny bit more wandering, but the stores were closing up. It's definitely the kind of town that rolls the streets up before dark. So, stopping for a honey-infused vanilla ice cream cone at a local cosmetics store (eh?!?) we made our way back to the station. It was just as easy getting on the train, but a totally different experience coming back to Kyoto. The students and businessment were making their way home (and how crazy is it that students don't make it home until 7 pm or so?!?) so the train was crowded and loud. Very cool, though. Very high energy and lots of jostling and joking around. A girl sat down across from Samia, pulled out a standing mirror, and started going to town on her make-up...false eyelashes, blush, lip stick, the whole 9 yards. That was pretty entertaining to watch.
Got back to the hotel around 7:30. They had assigned us new rooms and already moved our luggage...so efficient. Sadly, the mystical shower is gone. We are no in a no frills room. But I'm happy because
Motorcycles, bicycles, mopeds...oh my!
it's just Rachel and I again and we bump along much better than three to a room. That really wasn't working for me. Samia can't sleep with any light or noise so when she decides it's time for bed, that's it. Personally think that's BS as we're sharing the room, but I have been trying my darndest to be agreeable...maybe that's why I'm so tired! :)
Samia and I headed out to use the pool. This was very exciting for me as I have a new swimsuit, as yet unused. Here's the deal with the pool: Three things...
1. It's open until 9pm, but you have to check in by 8pm. We arrived at 8:03 and couldn't gain admittance.
2. It costs ¥1050 to get in. That's not terrible (c. $10) but we didn't know & didn't have money with us.
3. We had the attendant show us the pool to see if it's worth coming back to tomorrow. She was behind us on the way back out & saw my tat. She says, "you have real tattoos?" I said, "yes." She said that I would have to tape over my tats before getting in the pool...but hastily informed
Such cute girls. The fitting room is a tiny circle with an inch all around protected by curtains. Yipes!
us that they have tape at the desk.
So, we're probably not swimming while we're here. Though, I am quite curious about this taping idea and might go down tomorrow just for that. I knew tatttoos are still taboo here (as a sign of the yakuza) and I'm probably pretty lucky they'll even let me in the pool at all.
We headed outside for bottles of water and snacks. Samia and I went into a pachinko parlor and figured out the process but it was so loud and smoky that we headed out again. Talk about sensory overload! How do those guys sit in there for so long? I'd lose my mind!
Back to the room for some blogging and then to bed. It was another great day and we did it all on our own. It was our first day of the three of us touristing together for the whole day and it went very well. Tomorrow (Thurs) they are doing a school visit to check out the lunches. This means I'll be on my own in Kyoto. We'll see what trouble I can get into!
There are more photos below