Following our adventure in Hiroshima, we made our way west to the ancient city of Nara, Japan's first capital. This, as I said is a very ancient city, home to the world's oldest wooden standing structure. The city is home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many including the temples and shrines.
The first day in Nara was a free day for us to explore and wreak havoc (just kidding, lol). Anyways, we all split up and made our way through the city, taking in the amazing and historically rich sites that Japan is known for. Joe and I headed towards Nara Park, where, again, hundreds of deer live harmoniously with people. After nearly 5 miles of walking and roaming, we arrived at the park. Of course, there were a lot of deer just chillin'. We walked deeper into the park and started seeing temples including an amazing Pagoda. The architecture that embellishes these historic buildings is uncomparable to anything I have ever seen. No matter where you are in Japan, the Pagodas, temples, and shrines each have a unique look to them, each one trying to outdo each other.
After a few hours, we headed back to the JR Station
to wait for the buses to come and take us to the Ryokan. Where we were just staying one night in Nara, Noda sensei wanted us to experience an authentic Japanese- style inn. These inns are very popular thoughout Japan but, however, are extremely expensive. This specific one that we were staying in was over $250 per night!! When we arrived on bus to the inn, we couldn't believe how nice and clean the place was. The lobby was a site to see. Beautiful furnture and wood work adorned the entrance. We split up into groups of 4-5 for each room, Noda sensei, Steve, Joe, Brandon, and I in one room. Again, to our surprise, the rooms were unbelievable!! These were authentic Japanese rooms; the first thing everyone must do is remove their shoes from their feet and then can enter the rooms. This is a Japanese custom and is practiced throughout all of Japan. Our residence had two large rooms with two bathrooms (bathtub and sink in one, toilet in the other). The largest room had a small TV and a shallow table, another custom of Japanese homes. In addition, there was a small sitting area overlooking the city
of Nara, and another room for sleeping and storing personal items. Upon entering the room, we sat together on the floor and enjoyed green tea and a traditional Japanese pastry. It was really neat to sit at this type of table and experience how people in Japan eat. After this delicious snack, we dressed in our robes and headed down to the on-sen, a public bath that is very popular in Japan. Of course both sexes are separated but there is a procedure before entering the tub. First, you have to wash yourself in the shower, the tub is not for washing, it is just for soaking. When we came to the on-sen, Steve and Joe immediately went back to the room. So Brandon, Noda sensei, and I went in (except I just soaked my feet with my robe on!). As different as this may seem, it is a custom of many Japanese people to do. Public baths can be found everywhere and it is a tradition for everyone to take part in.
At 6 pm we all met up in the dinner area set up just for us. There were two long tables for us to sit at. Again
we had to sit on the floor but underneath the tables you could put your feet down so it was more comfortable. The pictures show what we had but it was pretty much all fish (except for a couple pieces of meat)!! The waitresses, dressed formally in fashioned kimonos, kept bringing out more and more dishes. We thought this dinner would never end!! I love fish, but this was way too much fish for me in one night. I think it was the same for everyone else too.
Everyone went to bed pretty early. Again, another custom that many Japanese people follow is sleeping on tatami mats. As much as this seems uncomfortable, everyone agreed that it actually was very comfortable. The floors are soft, making it easy to sleep soundly. Breakfast in the morning was more of a mirror image of our previous night's dinner; all fish!! I don't think many people finished eating their breakfast but it was definitely a neat experience to have an authentic Japanese dinner and breakfast.
After packing up, we headed back into Nara city to visit some temples. Our first destination was the famous Todaiji Temple, home to Japan's largest bronze Buddha. The
gate that greets visitors coming in is huge!! One either side of the gate are 50 foot tall wooden representations of gods. These statues were built nearly 1000 years ago and still stand to this day. This is a beautifully crafted temple, a treat to see. The temple itself is quite large. Inside, the air smelt of inscence. Right as you enter in the doors, is the large Buddha statue, sitting upright with one hand raised. This was amazing to see!! It was amazing to view these statues still standing in their glory even after so many years of turmoil.
Around Miyajima Island and Nara, there are many signs saying "Watch all of your personal belongings" or the deer will eat them. Well, we found that out quite quickly!! While we were coming out, Alex F., one of the people in the group, had a charm wrapped up in a bag that was hanging a bit out of his pocket. A deer came up to greet us and spotted his souvenier and grabbed it. Everyone tried getting it from the mouth of the deer but there was just no luck... The hungry deer actually ate and swallowed the whole thing!!
But everyone agreed that it was hilarious to see.
Nara was one of my favorite places that we visited in Japan. The history that you see and the buildings that are still standing are a marvelous site to view. We all had an amazing time here and everyone liked staying at the Ryokan for that short amount of time.
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