Knowing that my parents are coming to Japan next year, Hitomi kindly offered to take me to Nara to do a reccee for their visit. Along with Nikko and Kyoto, Nara is generally considered one of the unmissable stops on even the most whirlwindy trips to Japan. For various reasons, but primarily being a bit “templed out”, I skipped it on my tour last year, so it was great to get the chance to go, and even better to go with locals. We were accompanied by Satou Sensei, one of the teachers from another local school, who was a nice guy, if someone nervous of me.
Just a not-so-quick interjection to explain that last comment…
Most of us in the UK are totally chilled around foreigners, and have a “we’re all the same” attitude – we know that everyone worries about money, partners, kids, jobs etc., and that although underlying beliefs and cultures may be different, that the similarities between different races create a much stronger bond than the differences cause repulsion. However, the Japanese have been brought up for many generations (I suspect since they first had contact with Westerners) to believe that they are different from the rest of humankind. Not just physically, but mentally too. And seemingly not in a “nurture” kind of way, but in “nature”. It’s a subject which anyone who has lived here could spend many, many hours speaking about, and within Japan it even has its own genre of literature – nihonjinron. It is compounded by the fact that there are barely any foreigners here, so we are a novelty at the best of times. Anyhow, I won’t say much more, but the result of this problem (yes, I do believe it is a problem) is that people often behave, err, strangely around us.
The usual manifestations tend to take one of two routes – utter rudeness and hostility, and odd shyness-induced behavior with a huge sprinkling of curiosity. It was the latter that Satou-san exhibited, and took the form of my being watched constantly, followed like a puppy, having things I said repeated back to me, being commented on and touched inappropriately, and general awkwardness. Nothing bad or malicious at all, but did get a bit tiring at times!
Anyhow, we made for a happy threesome and had a great days sightseeing, walking, eating and sitting in a car! We started off at Todaiji Temple, where the world’s largest wooden building (which itself is only two-thirds of the size of the original) houses Japan’s largest brass Buddah statue (the second largest being the one I saw at Kamakura last year).
There was also this creepy-looking Buddah statue, face made evil by years of rain:
Next up it was onto a hill-top temple, which involved passing along some traditional streets:
The temple had lots of brass lanterns hanging from the roof, as well as good views over Nara. Sadly it was cloudy and raining so they weren’t as appreciated as they may have been.
Finally it was time to stop for a nice hot bowl of noodles! I had green tea soba with mushrooms.
And pudding was warabimochi – mochi made from bracken starch and covered in kinako – sweetened ground soyabeans.
There are tame deer everywhere in Nara, and you could stop and stroke them and feed them special rice crackers. Hitomi got some funny photos of me being attacked by a horde of them as a result of having a handful of crackers, which I will post at a later date. The shops and public loos have to keep their doors shut to stop them wandering in, and you have to be careful they don’t eat your coat!
After a nice walk through the park, we went to Kasuga Taisha, a famous shinto shrine. It is famous for its lanterns, of which I got a few good shots:
The ginko (ginna) leaves turn a lovely shade of yellow, and I managed to get this shot of the leaves, the red shrine and a deer before we got back in the car to make our way home.
We stopped for dinner on the way back, at an American grill-style restaurant called Bronco Billy’s. I had a mixed set of steak, hamburger and chicken and it was deeeelicious. Served with rice, soup and unlimited salad. Yum yum. After that it was straight to bed with me – was exhausted after the walking and the fact that the day before I was the only adult in karate class, so had a killer hardcore session running around with the kids :)