I had decided after arriving in Nagoya that I wouldn’t spend a day at a hostel in Nara, rather I would spend an extra night at the hotel and simply commute to Nara. It was only about 100 minutes hotel to station. That and I really didn’t want to move again and then walk somewhere around 15km to explore Nara (not that I knew I would walk quite that much), and then 3 more in Nagoya.
Commuting also meant that I would have a chance to briefly get a few pictures of the Nagoya subway, Kyoto shinkansen platform, and Kyoto station interior, not that any of those came out particularly well.
After arriving in Kyoto, I hopped onto, what else, the Nara line. On my way there I actually had to make a brief transfer, or well, it was recommended. Most of the Nara trains are “Local” routes, going to basically every station along the way, but there was an express (not to be confused with “super express”) which would then take me the rest of the way much faster.
Upon arriving at the station in Nara I noticed a note tree where upon visitors could leave notes saying how Nara made an impression on them. Just outside the station there was a building for tourist information, free maps and the like, however turning back around towards the station, I noticed something to the right of the entrance. A super market called Aeon. As it turns out there is also an Aeon center in Nagoya which I would also visit later that night to prepare for the next day.
I quickly discovered that Nara, really embraces the deer angle. I knew beforehand there was a deer park, which was neat, but unlike Kyoto with the macaques, Nara puts them on nearly everything, from antlered Buddhas to police logos.
Being cheap, I relied on my JR Pass, which meant I actually took a train that stopped at a station 1km further away from the usual sights than the Kintetsu line would stop. It ended up fine as it was right next to the tourist info place where I got a physical map, I discovered Aeon, and I got to walk through parts of the downtown I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, like the picture above and the logo for the Nara Blood Donation group, but it did mean an extra 2km of walking. Oh well.
Moving closer to the first easy to see location, the five story pagoda, I ran across a waterfall installation. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but as it turns out, it was actually part of a public restroom location.
It was amusingly enough, right about as I passed the waterfall fountain and restroom that it started to sprinkle. Well, whatever. I had a jacket on, I could protect the camera fairly well. My sleeves would get quite damp during the points it wasn’t tucked into the jacket, but I wasn’t about to abandon taking pictures in Nara just because the camera isn’t sealed against rain.
Before I actually reached the pagoda and temples, I saw a little pond to my right (Sarusawaike pond) and decided to investigate as I thought I saw something that might have been turtles on some rocks in the distance. As it so turns out, I was correct (though these rocks were much closer). It also seems at least the ones that were in the water, like carp at the garden, know what people are, and soon there were four turtles near me. It also looks like there is some interesting history to the lake but there wasn’t an English version. Alas.
I made my way up the hill to the location of the five storied pagoda on the map, though as it turns out there is also a three storied pagoda you see first. Part way up the path there was a stop where upon you can rinse your hands and then you can bathe Buddha.
Progressing the rest of the way, I realized I had kind of gone “backwards” through the path, at least based on most foot traffic. Eh. I passed the three storied pagoda, and then rounded a building that had some construction going on. When I reached the back of the building I saw something I wasn’t really expecting, just over the fence.
I wondered if they were just wandering about and got inside. As it turns out, kind of. In reality, while Nara has a deer park… pretty much the entire area between downtown and the Eastern mountains have deer everywhere.
Nearly as ubiquitous as the deer were young students. It appears that today was a very popular day for schools to take trips out to Nara. Just at this location I was asked by three different groups of students a short questionnaire. They introduced themselves, said where they were from, all of them wanted to know where I was from, but after that most questions differed. What was my favorite Japanese food, where had I been in Japan, where in Japan would I like to go… After which most offered an origami gift, of which I now have four, but only got pictures of three, sure I could take a picture of the fourth, but I feel bad as it got a little bit squashed, though not as badly as the blue and green one I did get a picture of.
Here I also discovered one of the reasons the deer are so passive and generally friendly. They sell “deer cookies.” For 150 yen, you can become the temporary target of a group of deer’s undivided attention. I managed to get two sequences a few hours apart, but this was the most complete:
I was already over budget, and with variable weather, I didn’t want to risk spending money and time inside places behind pay walls when there was so much more to see. As such shortly after this, I decided to take off to see other things, so I waved goodbye to the Tokondo hall and the pagoda. By that of course I mean I took a picture.
The bit would next take me on a path towards the Nara National Museum, and along it I would encounter one of the nicest looking “offices” I’ve ever seen. Around the museum is where I caught a second encounter involving deer cookies. This guy was kind of teasing them, but they got back at him by backing him towards an open ditch. Yeah, that would have been “hilarious.” He was fine.
Beyond the museum, I began to regret wearing my nicer shoes. I hadn’t really considered that looking around Nara would be closer to nature hiking than urban, but that’s what it became. It turns out that much of the sight seeing Nara, wilderness included, are UNESCO recognized and protected under the World Heritage Site designation. The sporadic rain was not helping either. I knew they weren’t likely to survive the trip, and were getting a little shabby in on their tips anyway, but this sure sped up the issue.
After this point the density of people began to trail off, while the density of deer seemed to make up for that drop off. Curiously, these deer behaved differently. They were typically more skittish, more prone to stare you down in that clichéd “deer in the headlights” kind of way. It makes me wonder if the deer tend to keep to fairly small areas and not venture out of their territory. Knowing little of deer behavior, it’s about I can do, well, short of looking it up on the internet.
Getting past the more park like part of the park, I headed up a hill. “Oh, hello.” Then headed towards the short mountains, on a scenic (and shop filled) route towards the Kasuga-Taisha and Wakamiya shrines. This is when the rain really started. On the bright side I was under tree cover for the most part, but it was also really just a path in a “primeval forest”, so I’m sure my shoes have been happier than they were then.
Walking the path to Kasuga-taisha, it is quite clear it was, and still is a special location, I had never before seen so many lanterns, I think I read that there are over 3000 lanterns outside the shrine. Granted they don’t skimp on the inside either.
Again, the time and money issue sting a little, as I decide not to go in, but to simply continue on. As I get to the next site I actually get to witness some prayer, all while I’m taking pictures of wisteria and now can’t decide on an exposure. Towards the end of the prayer, after seeing a local do so, I decide to take a few pictures. I mean what’s the worst that could happen, right?
Just beyond this, lies a building from which I believe fortunes are sold, I failed to get a picture as it was being done, but you get the piece of paper, and then place it into this pool of water, where in it soaks and the message becomes visible. Oh, hey, look, instructions and an example of what the card looks like! I’m not entirely sure what the importance of the cartoon heart shape is at this particular shrine, but they seem to like it.
During my “hike” I ran across an electrical box with what looked like a four legged spider, turns out it is an eight legged spider, but it keeps the shorter inner four close to the outer four (spider picture, not kidding) giving the appearance from a distance of having but four legs. I also encountered something that looked and sounded like a bee shooting past me and then hovering a bit… well, it would have been a hornet, if hornets came in at 2 inches long and a quarter inch thick. Raising my camera only seemed to gain the interest from the bee, so I put it back down, and moved off. Thankfully it was just some sort of exhaustion induced halluc-WHAT? THEY DO!? OHGODSWHY?! WHY IS THAT NOT ON THE WARNING SIGNS?
I eventually made it out of forest alive, not realizing that the next temple wasn’t actually in the forest. That was perfectly fine with me though. Sadly it didn’t turn out to be all that much, and was costly to see anything worthwhile. The photography museum wasn’t too much further, but by now my knees were getting cranky, it was already 4:30, it would cost money, and so forth. This would mark my half way point, and I started heading back to see the more Northern sites I missed on the way in. At the very least I needed to see what was up with the giant temple I saw in the distance on the way into the forest.
Which meant going back into the forest.
I went back through, though on a path that was more Westerly than the previous taking me past the treasures museum where I sat down under a cover, just outside the door. It was nice to sit, even just briefly for the first time in 4.5 hours.
Even though it was quarter to five people were still quite interested in going to the temple, with but 45 minutes remaining for entry. Passing through the gate, there were four major statues, two on each side, two large humanoid statues inside the gate, and two guardian animals just beyond the gate. To be honest, the guardians didn’t look all that interesting, and I couldn’t find a good angle on them, so… no pictures for you (I do have pictures of one, but they look blah).
Beyond the gate were a few other buildings off to the side, but I could see my target from here. Granted I wasn’t the only one paying attention to things ahead.
This temple, I was actually a little interested in seeing the inside of, but with the going rate of 500 yen and only 30 minutes left, I decided I would just get pictures from the outside, seemed reasonable to me.
After passing the temple, I wondered around a bit further, looked at some of the government and cultural/expo buildings, the really drab looking women’s college, and some of the random streets and back alleys.
I arrived back at the JR station around 6:15, checked out Aeon, and then caught the 7:00 PM train back to Kyoto, I then arrived back in Nagoya around 8:30PM, where I then took another JR train to get near the local Aeon… which I then walked back from, getting that extra 3km in Nagoya.
As sore as I was by the end of the night, I felt pretty accomplished, so much so, I allowed myself to get a small matcha ice cream cone. It was quite tasty.