We decide that today we will take a day trip to Nara, which we read was the capital of Japan in the eighth century. It is about an hour by train south of Kyoto.
We get off at Nara station and walk through the city towards the main attractions. We stop for breakfast. The restaurant has finished serving breakfast, so I order a pizza. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a pizza for breakfast before. It is excellent and is certainly the best pizza I’ve had since we arrived in Japan. That said, it didn’t have much to beat. The only other pizza I’ve had here was a disgusting blob of melted cheese on a non-existent base.
We keep walking. We‘re a bit surprised to see some deer standing on the footpath, and in a small park next to the footpath. We then remember that we’ve heard about Nara’s deer before from one of Emma’s friends. She said that she came here from Kyoto, and then had a lot of trouble finding her way back, because one of the deer ate her map. There is a man selling biscuits to feed to the deer, and we see people
feeding, patting and sitting in amongst them. They are ridiculously cute. They’re clearly Japanese; they bow when you feed them. There are signs warning that they are wild animals, and that they might bite or claw you, or knock you over, but it doesn’t look like anyone has told the deer about this. There’s nothing to stop them wandering onto the very busy six lane road that is a few metres from the footpath, yet I can’t see any evidence of splattered deer on the road. I didn’t think that deer would be smart enough to know not to wander onto a road, and from what we’ve seen of the drivers here they’re not too shy about driving at human pedestrians, so I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate to line up a stray deer. All this becomes a bit clearer when we read that the deer are regarded as sacred messengers of the Shinto gods, and until 1637 the penalty for killing a deer was death. We suspect that Nara‘s motorists have got long memories, which might explain the lack of deer splattered roads. We see a group of deer sitting on the footpath outside some shops. The shops are completely
open, yet the deer don’t seem to have any interest in going inside. I think that this is probably just as well for the shopkeepers. It might be a bit hard to decide what to do if you were faced with the choice of the death penalty for killing a deer, or running the risk of having it run amok and trashing your shop.
We walk on to the very pretty Isuien Gardens which were originally developed in the 1670s.
Next stop is the Great Buddha Hall of the Todai-ji Temple, which we read dates from the early eighth century. We walk into the massive hall and our jaws hit the ground. It is stunning. There are three statues in the hall, and the main one is the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. Photos can’t do this place justice.
We walk on uphill through Nara Park to Nigatsu-do Hall, which is part of the Todai-ji Temple complex, and get great views from here out over Nara.
We walk on through the Park to the Kasuga-taisha Shrine. This is also stunning. It was established in 768, so is currently celebrating its 1,250th anniversary. It is particularly notable
for the three thousand stone lanterns along the paths through the forest around it, and for the many bronze lanterns that we see inside the Shrine. We go into a darkened room full of lanterns with candles inside them, and lots of mirrors on the walls. It’s very attractive, but our collective eyesight is really bad, and we find it very hard to see what we’re doing in the darkened room. Issy plays it safe and stays near the door where it’s a bit lighter while I stumble around in the dark trying to find the path that zigzags through the room. We are very happy to escape without having planted our noses on the concrete floor.
We walk back to the station. We decide that Nara is our new favourite place in Japan, and that today has been a real highlight.
We’ve noticed that the views out of train windows in Japan seem to be very different from those back home, and we’ve now worked out why. There’s no graffiti; none at all. This is quite a bit different to urban Australia where every square inch of available space on buildings and walls next to train lines
is smothered with questionable artwork. We’re not sure whether it’s linked, but one other very noticeable difference between people here and back home is that virtually no one here has any tattoos. We’re led to believe that all the local mafia members, or yakuza, are covered in tattoos, but we haven’t come across any of these gentlemen so far, or at least not that we've been aware of. We wonder why tattoos and graffiti don’t seem to be part of life here. We know you can’t get into an onsen if you’ve got any tattoos, so maybe that’s enough incentive to stop your average Japanese person getting themselves inked up. I wonder if you get the death penalty here for doing graffiti, and that’s why you don’t see any. They had the death penalty for killing deer, so I can’t see why they wouldn’t also have it for the equally heinous crime of slathering your unwanted artwork all over the place.
We’re tired when we get back to the hotel, and by the time we’ve regained enough energy to go out for dinner it’s after nine o’clock. Japan mightn’t officially be on daylight saving, but when you’re woken by
the sun blazing through your bedroom window at 4.30am, we suspect you’d probably be pretty keen to be in bed by now. We go into a few restaurants and are turned away because they’re closed. We’re hungry and running out of options, so we go back to the Coles cafeteria type place we were at a couple of nights ago. They tell us that they’re closed too, but if we want some food we’re welcome to go up to their beer garden on the top floor overlooking the river. The views from here are excellent. I tell Issy that whilst I love Japanese food, the meals generally aren’t all that substantial, and I'd be keen to get something a bit more voluminous. I spy a hamburger on the menu and start drooling at the prospect of a juicy cake of grilled minced meat, sandwiched between two big buns, and smothered in tomato sauce. The burger comes out. It is a very small piece of grilled minced meat, without any buns around it, and it’s smothered in gravy. I know Japanese food is supposed to be healthy, but I want volume, and pizzas without bases and hamburgers without buns just aren’t
doing it for me. To add to our frustrations, our waiter seems to be having an off night. Issy orders some rice which never arrives, and I order a second beer which also fails to materialise. We get sick of waiting and decide to leave, but when we go down to the ground floor to settle the bill we find ourselves in a debate with the cashier, who is expecting us to pay for our missing orders. She makes some phone calls to the beer garden, and the dispute is eventually resolved in our favour. In the meantime our waiter has run down the stairs from the fifth floor to apologise. The cashier looks daggers at him, and we suspect that he won’t be enjoying the subsequent conversation.
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