Japan Log #5 – My deer Nara

by Grungi

Oh wow, I think I topped myself with the lameness of that pun… But anyway, time for our first stop on our ‘traditional Japan’ tryptic : Nara.

A city that we visited with Pascale in 2009, and which I knew was very beautiful. Many people, when they think of seeing the traditional side of Japan, instantly think of Kyoto. But for me, Nara feels even more authentic, and it is surrounded by a beautiful park offering the visitor many beautiful sights. And deers.

The view from our room at Seikan-so. Traditional, I tell you!

As I already mentionned, we were staying at Seikan-so, a traditional Ryokan that Pascale and I already enjoyed. But I had forgotten how great it was. The garden of the house had made a great impression on me when I saw it, but I didn’t remember how big the room were. I also took a resolve to dare to use the bath. For your information, it s a japanese-style bathroom, which means people can enter freely and wash themselves when you are taking your bath. So last time I just showered at the speed of light and got out. Missing out on the bath. Not this time, I told myself!

That said, we had 2 nights (so a bit more than 2 days) planned for Nara, so first I took Joan on a little walk near Japan’s second-highest pagoda and around a little pond.

The pagoda and the pond. No festival this time around, but still very pretty!

There were also baby turtles ^^. But that was pretty much it for the first day – we did arrive pretty late though. We walked around the shopping arcade, then took that bath (no one did come in when I was bathing, so that was that). A pretty relaxing and slow day after Osaka.

Then, on the morning of the second day, we had planned to head for the Nara park to sight-see a bit. Unfortunately, we had to take an umbrella with us because, for the first time in our trip, it was raining. And the sky didn’t seem keen on getting clearer any time soon.

The one-way street leading to the ryokan, under a steely sky.

That didn’t put a dent into our courage, so onward we went! The great thing about Nara koen (‘koen’ means ‘park’ in Japanese) is that it is not simply a park. It is a vast space alternating between a regular park, a forest, and shrines or other temples. So along the way, there are really many things to be seen.

Our tour began near a really big shrine, Todai-ji, before which there was a big gate. And I mean big. On each side, hidden from your view until you crossed the actual gate were two statues of Devas. You know, the kind of divinities you can so easily dismiss as looking kind of goofy with their contorted faces. Let me tell you, when two of those look at you in the form of 10-meters-or-so wooden statues, dimly lit, you don’t feel like making fun of them so much anymore.

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it felt really impressive.

We didn’t enter the shrine itself, but continued on our way (you need to pay an admission fee for most of those shrines).

Oh yeah, I’m forgetting the deers!

I have alluded to that fact, but Nara is known for its deers, and they are indeed EVERYWHERE in the park, especially in that first part. You can buy biscuits to give them pretty much at every corner, and they have long since learned to recognize them and come to ask for them. In a very Japanese twist, some of them have learned to be polite enough to bow twice before you to ask for those biscuits.

One of the youngest deers we saw.

Of course, both Joan and I have bought biscuits to feed them. Each in our own… personal style.

Anyway, back to the scenery. Unfortunately, it kept on raining for most of the day, so the pictures we took were not as bright as they could have been. Nevertheless, we saw really great things, and again, I think it is better to let the pictures speak for themselves rather than bore you with an endless stream of words.

Walking towards the top of the park.

A long stair going up to one of the big shrines atop the hill.

Panoramic view of Nara from atop the stairs.

Some of the first stone lanterns we encountered.

A little bit of red in the forest.

People’s wishes written on wooden planks. We did one of our own, a little bit earlier.

Hanging lamps inside a shrine.

The result of the very flourishing stone lantern industry in Nara.

Pfew! And all that in a little more than 4 or 5 hours! After that, we were too soaked to continue exploring the city, so we went back to Seikan-so to enjoy the warmth of our room, and the bath again, which had the good idea to be “private use” for the day! Then, we finished our day with a bit of TV. And of all things, we ended up watching the Three Musketeers (you know, the crappy steampunk-ish movie from a couple years ago) dubbed in Japanese. ^^; It was also a surprise for us, but a funny way to spend an hour and something.

The next day, unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to go walking around again, as we had to make our way to the next destination: Kyoto. Hopefully without as much rain… But would the weather be with us? Tune in next time to find out! (And no cheating by checking the weather on the Internet, you geeks!)