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May 19th 2015
Published: May 26th 2017
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The last thing I wanted to see in Osaka was the Umeda Sky Building in downtown right by Osaka Station. That made it very convenient for me to move from Osaka to Nara by train. Lucky for me, I was able to sleep in because the building didn't open until 10am. Around 10, I arrived at Osaka station where I was able to take an underground passage way to the Umeda Sky Building. The passage wasn't anything special, but it did have a little bit of flare in the form of a rainbow squiggly stripe down the middle. The Umeda building structure was the true treasure. It was a pretty intriguing architectural design. I followed some Korean and French tour groups into the building to figure out the way to get to the ticket counter. It required going up 3 flights of escalators and 35 floors in a glass elevator that saw out over the city (I was glad I had a guide to follow). Once I had my ticket in hand, I took another really interesting elevator that spans the two sides of the building (the middle was open space).
At the top, I followed the circular roof around to get a 360 view of the city of Osaka - since the weather was forecasted for rain later that day some low hung clouds prevented me from seeing too far but gave me a decent look at what Osaka had to offer. After a couple photos, I traveled down to the basement level where my guidebook had said there was an alley (Takimi-koji) with Showa-era shops/restaurants. Turns out it is really a food court in the basement of the building designed to look like the streets of Kyoto. So it was disappointing after seeing the real thing in Kyoto earlier. I left shaking my head at the things some locations do to draw tourists for extra income. Not sure I would have starred that as the best thing to do in Osaka if I were writing the guidebook.
I hopped on one of the trains to Nara, my next item on the list and only 50 minutes away! Nara is another one of those blatantly tourist locations like Himeji, but I was prepared for that. Most of the stuff to see resides in a national park that takes up half the city. I dropped my bags off at the hostel and started my hike. First stop was lunch to get my energy to walk around the park. Stuffed with beef and rice, I went to Ineisu Gardens. Wow, just wow. After being here almost 2 weeks and seeing many other gardens, this one still impressed me. I think it is my favorite of the trip. It has a beautiful layout, is impeccably groomed, and what made it stand out most was the clever usage of outside landscape to compliment the garden. At one point you can see the Wakakusayama Hill and the top of the Nandaimon Gate soaring above the garden's pond. In my meanderings I ran into a couple traveling from New York City. With so few white people around, you really start to notice them when they are there. More often than not they are not American (lots of Europeans and Australians, though), but I noticed the lady had the same brand of shoes on as I - a random line being sold at Kohl's (she was the second one I saw on the trip!). We had a great time chatting about our travels as we strolled through the garden.
Parting ways from the New Yorkers, I went to the main attraction of Nara - Todaiji Temple. It is famous for the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) housed inside. I was impressed with how gigantic the statue was! The building itself is also the largest wooden structure in the world (it had to be for that massive buddha!). As the main draw, it was crawling with Japanese student groups - I'm beginning to think all Japanese schools do is go on fieldtrips. I was stopped by three different groups of students wanting to ask me questions in English for class. Boy do we in the US need to get more diligent and creative about foreign language like they are doing here. I think it is fantastic they are starting the kids learning English so young and finding interesting opportunities for the students to practice with native speakers. I'm interested to talk with Corey to see if Korea does something similar.
I followed the flow of students to the next destination, Nigatsudo Hall. This particular temple was at the top of a bunch of stairs. By the time I got down, the heat and sore feet (from the thousands of steps a day I have been doing) got to me so instead of going in the next hall I just snapped a couple pictures as I walked on by. That lead me into a really neat park area around Kasuga Taisha shrine. Like Miyajima, deer are seen as sacred in Nara. They were wandering around everywhere. Here they were actually selling deer food and it was great sport to watch the students feed them and try to walk away to feed a different deer only to be followed by the previous one. The shrine itself was pretty expensive to go in (especially since I had been to so many already). I sat in the shade nearby to cool down and a Japanese man on the bench next to me started telling in me the exact thing I had been thinking! He wasn't going to pay that much to go in either. I continued my walk through the park which was covered with statue lanterns! I bet it looks unbelievable at night if they light them all up, because boy were they impressive during the day.
From there I moved on to the Kofukuji Temple. Unfortunately it was under renovations, so I looked at the other smaller structures around it. I had some time so I wandered the pedestrian shopping district all these places seem to have. I had the most refreshing snack of fresh strawberries from the market to cool me down and give me an energy boost. That carried me back to the hostel to check in.
I had toyed with the idea of going to a movie when Fred was traveling with me, but we never had time. With little to do in Nara in the evening, I asked the receptionist for directions to the nearest theater. It happened to be in a big local mall. Despite a little challenges getting there (thank you taxis), I found the mall & theater. My next challenge was communication. I couldn't read what the movies were that were associated with each time. I noticed the posters of the "now showing" finally and used that to compare. Lucky for me there was a Dragonball Z movie that just came out and had a show time in the next 30 minutes! It was perfect! 1. It was an original Japanese film 2. It was animation 3. I knew the background so wouldn't be too lost not knowing the language. I grabbed a soda, some caramel popcorn (they love specialty popcorn here) to wait for the movie(you can't go in until 10 minutes before your movie starts). I then found my assigned seat (yes all seats are assigned at all the theaters in Japan) and sat back to enjoy. Instead of rolling ads or movie trivia like in the states, those 10 minutes are spent scrolling through the rules (ex. silence cell phones, no outside food, etc.) Then promptly on time, a couple of car ads played and a few movie previews before leading into the movie. Thank goodness the Dragonball Z plots are simple because I could follow along pretty well. The thing I couldn't get over was the high voice they picked for Goku, it was so at odds with his looks and the English voice I was used to. I had a lot of fun picking up on some cultural things I wouldn't have noticed before but get now that I've visited the country. I'm going to have to rewatch a bunch of movies when I get home to see if it happens with them too!
I had some time after the movie so I explored the mall. It's pretty much like our malls just with different brand stores. The two anchor stores were actually a grocery store and one I'd compare to Best Buy (without the DVD/CDs)- I got a new SD memory card there. Yey no more being picky about photos or having to delete! I was also really excited to find an equivalent to Barnes & Noble (half the store was manga). I spent awhile there but if they had been in English it would have been tough to get me to leave. I think my new goal now is to get good enough at Japanese that I can read one (haha, lets see if I really have the time to do that when I get back). After that (and some ice cream) I caught the bus & train back to the hostel. A full day done and ready to rest for an early next morning for travel back to Tokyo.

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