Japan 2015 — Day 15: Nara

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We nev­er made the effort to vis­it Nara pre­vi­ously. Everyone on the inter­net raved about Nara, but noth­ing we read of what they saw or exper­i­enced in Nara excited us. It seemed like mostly temples — but there was Kyoto for that. And aggress­ive wild deer in the absence of any­thing excit­ing? Meh.

But with a day to spare in Osaka, we decided to give it a try because maybe Nara is some­thing you just have to exper­i­ence to under­stand. It’s only a short day trip from Osaka, so off we went.

Osaka

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We duti­fully make our way to Chococro for break­fast. This is our last prop­er day in Japan, and we’ll vis­it this chain twice more before departing.

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The hol­landaise muffin has well and truly won its spot as our the super tasty break­fast we go for each morn­ing. None of the eggs have runny yolk unlike our first ones in Umeda, but they’re still delicious!

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I love that we can always dis­cov­er some­thing new when we wander the streets in Japan. This morn­ing we stumble upon a vend­ing machine oper­ated hair dress­er. You buy your tick­et, take a seat, and wait to be called for your hair­cut. The col­ours on the left of the photo cor­res­pond to a light out­side the shop that indic­ates the wait­ing times. Now that’s a first!

Nara

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After break­fast, we catch our train to Nara. This is the water fea­ture out­side Kintetsu Nara Station.

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First stop is the 7-Eleven for a drink. They didn’t stock the nashi pear one that we spot­ted in Hiroshima but we do spot the suda­chi and and kabosu cider, which sounds just as inter­est­ing. We like Japanese citruses!

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We walk along the edge of the Deer Park enroute to a man­i­cured garden.

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There are a deer every­where in Nara, com­pared to Miyajima Island, and they’re not afraid of people.

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Attending am agri­cul­tur­al high school has done noth­ing to accus­tom me to anim­als, so I’m not too enthused. Instead I focus on the mom­iji.

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Gardeners rake the fallen leaves into piles (to be picked up later?)

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We see this rather unre­mark­able murky pond on a nearby map of the area on the way.

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These res­id­ences have high walls sur­round­ing them. Maximum privacy!

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The road between each block is wide enough for just one car.

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We come across a vend­ing machine with three ‘cans’ fea­tur­ing deers for Y10, Y100 and Y500. There must be some con­fu­sion from people think­ing they’d get a deer souven­ir from those but­tons, as there’s a sign explain­ing that ‘This push but­ton is only for fund-rais­ing. Goods do not come out. Please be careful.’

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We’re here to vis­it Yoshikien Garden, a Japanese garden with free admis­sion for inter­na­tion­al tour­ists, after par­ti­cip­at­ing in a short sur­vey (what coun­try are you from, does the free entry influ­ence your decision to enter the garden, etc.) at the tick­et counter.

Yoshikien Garden con­sists of three ‘regions’, each con­nec­ted via a flight of stairs. This is the Pond Garden, the first region.

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It’s a clear day, but also very warm.

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So we climb up anoth­er flight of stairs to the shaded rest­ing place to enjoy the view of the pond.

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Looking the oth­er way, we see the hills sur­round­ing Nara in the distance.

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Another flight of stairs leads you from the Pond Garden to the Moss Garden.

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Autumnal foliage really comes to life under sunlight.

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There’s noth­ing like a mossy car­pet covered in maple leaves.

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The moss garden is more open, sur­roun­ded by tall trees, and of course, covered in hair moss.

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At the corner, near the Pond Garden is a tea house.

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You’re not allowed inside, but you can view the many rooms from its perimeter.

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Paintings cov­er the doors, and tatami maps cov­er the floors. This is the view look­ing from the Pond Garden through the tea­house to the Moss Garden.

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A stone lan­tern sits next to the tea house.

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A stone path­way leads to behind the tea house.

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A water fea­ture behind the tea house doesn’t seem to be much used.

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The water fea­ture looks is under a mossy shelter.

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You can see maple leaves at dif­fer­ent depths in the tiny pond behind the tea house…

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…but it’s also nice to see them float on the surface.

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We spot some berries.

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Up anoth­er flight of stairs at the far end of the Moss Garden is the Tea Ceremony Flower Garden where we take a short rest.

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This garden show­cases sea­son­al flowers…

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…but there weren’t all that many in early December

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Given the unseason­ably warm weath­er, I’d have thought there might be some more flowers.

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But that’s all right. Sun-dappled maple leaves make up for it. We’ll be back for sak­ura some day.

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And a photo of some flowers we saw out­side Yoshikien Garden, to remind you that I’ve wider interests than maple leaves.

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We’re walk­ing towards Todaiji Temple.

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On the way, we pass by what looks like a private res­id­ence (or temple grounds).

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On the edge of Nara Park are some sun dappled trees.

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Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate.

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The paint has well and truly worn off the gate.

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The gate is watched over by two fierce look­ing statues (the one of the left shown here) rep­res­ent­ing the Nio Guardian Kings.

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The back of the Nandaimon Gate is rather non descript.

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Deers lounge along the path. The vast major­ity of male Deers are dehorned.

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In front of the Nandaimon Gate are souven­ir stores. Some deers have even wandered into some stores — we avoid the real deers, and instead head to anoth­er one selling cute plush toy deers.

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Many of the souven­ir stores seem to sell trinkets with golden poo…

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The approach to the temple is swarm­ing with deer from the adja­cent Nara Park. .

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This deer found a cozy nap­ping spot in front of a Pepsi vend­ing machine.We’d walk past this deer three times, the first find­ing him sound asleep, the second grog­gily awake, and sound asleep again the last time.

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But most are beg­ging for shi­ka sen­bei (or climb­ing into a trench).

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Shika sen­bei are spe­cial crack­ers for deer that are sold for 150 yen.

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Next to the Nandaimon Gate is the Todaji Museum, exhib­it­ing vari­ous treas­ures from the temple’s col­lec­tion. Outside the museum is a life-size rep­lica of the Daibutsu’s hand, which is sup­posed to be as tall as a human being, although it seems to be at least the height of a storey, at least!

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More pretty foliage on the approach to Daibustuden.

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This gate fronts the Daibutsuden Hall.

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After see­ing all the stands for deer crack­ers, we’re sur­prised to see one for carp feed.

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The carp feed stand is self-ser­vice to feed the carp in this pond.

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Todaiji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building.

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It’s the largest des­pite the fact that the present recon­struc­tion of 1692 is only two thirds of the ori­gin­al temple hall’s size. We’re quite con­tent with the expans­ive view behind the tick­et office but before the tick­et bar­ri­er — there’s some 50m between the two with just a waist high wooden fence. The build­ing is really quite impress­ive and every bit as over­whelm­ing in size as pho­tos lead you to believe. Admission is Y1,000 if you’re inter­ested in view­ing the large Buddha and vari­ous oth­er reli­gious arte­facts inside.

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We see tour buses have unleashed lots of tour­ists as well as huge groups of school students.

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Another fierce statue guards either side of the gate.

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This tori gate leads through Nara Park to the moun­tain­ous areas. D and I briefly con­sider start­ing the walk, only to change our minds as it’s 2pm, we haven’t had lunch, sun­set is at 4 pm and we’d really rather not be in the sticks when the sun goes down. Temples are temples are temples.

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Deers are rest­ing near the torii.

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A covered walk­way sur­rounds the Daibutsuden.

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Next to the torii is the Asoka Pillar, a monu­ment com­mem­or­at­ing the ‘Thousand-Priests’ Service’ on Hana Matsuri (or Buddha’s Birthday) held at Todaiji Temple in 1988. The monu­ment aims to ‘trans­mit the spir­it of the young priests [who atten­ded the ser­vice’ down to pos­ter­ity’, so a time cap­sule con­tain­ing their names and a mes­sage for the future writ­ten by fol­low­ers is bur­ied under the monu­ment to be opened in 2038, the 1,500th anniversary of the intro­duc­tion of Buddhism to Japan.

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Behind the Asoka Pillar is the Sorin, which was relo­cated here after being exhib­ited at EXPO 70 above a sev­en-stor­ied pagoda mod­elled on one once stand­ing in the com­pound of Todaiji 1,200 years ago

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Fittingly, the man hole cov­ers in Nara fea­ture deer. I ima­gine most of them would be painted ini­tially, with the col­our erod­ing over time.

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On our way back to the city centre, we stumble across this Tourist Information hub.

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But the most inter­est­ing aspect is the Okumura Commemorative Museum, opened in 2007 to cel­eb­rate the cen­ten­ary of Okumura Corporation.

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The interi­or show­cases their his­tory and tech­no­lo­gic­al devel­op­ments. Strapped in this chair, you can exper­i­ence the tremors of major earth­quakes in his­tory, as well as the same tremors in a seis­mic­ally isol­ated building.

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The build­ing of the Museum itself uses the Okumura Corporation’s Seismic Isolation System, which you can see first hand through the exposed glass under­neath the building.

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There’s a rather min­im­al­ist garden out the back of the building.

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On the first floor of the build­ing is a view­ing plat­form with expans­ive views of the Nara sky­line. Daibutsuden can be seen pok­ing out of the trees on the left. An annu­al Buddhist fest­iv­al sees the grassy moun­tain on the right set alight.

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This is Nara’s loc­al mas­cot wel­com­ing you to the earth­quake museum.. Ugly does not even begin to describe it.

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It boggles me why they couldn’t use this cute deer as their mas­cot instead. I mean, it appears every­where around Nara. Maybe it came after the back­lash from the ugly?

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There’s a smal­ler shrine on the walk back to the city centre with this rather swampy pond.

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There are small cafes lin­ing the street back to the city centre.

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Nara Park bor­ders one side of the main road while gov­ern­ment build­ings line the other.

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Gingkyo trees can be pretty too.

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But their leaves don’t seem to be as con­sist­ent in their chan­ging colours.

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Further down the road is the Nara Bunka Kaikan, a cul­tur­al con­cert hall.

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And starving, we’re finally back at the inter­sec­tion oppos­ite Kintetsu Nara Station.

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We have a quick look down the first length of the shop­ping arcade the types of food available.

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We decide to eat at Tonkatsu Ganko, which spe­cial­ises in crumbed fried chick­en (amongst oth­er things).

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It’s past 3 so we’ve man­age to miss to lunch rush. The shop is pretty accus­tomed to serving for­eign­ers — they have menus in a English, Chinese and Korean.

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D orders a meal set with deep fried chick­en, prawn and oysters. After being dis­ap­poin­ted by the oysters at Miyajima Island, D wanted to try fried oysters to settle wheth­er he actu­ally liked oysters, once and for all. Turns out, he just doesn’t like oysters (and neither do I, they have a much too mushy mouth­feel). Oysters aside, the chick­en and the prawn were deli­cious. The set also came with ses­ame seeds and a mini mor­tar and pestle, as well as free rice refills that D took advant­age of.

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I try the chick­en nan­ban, a rather homey sort of Japanese meal. Whereas, we typ­ic­ally get everything in one bowl, the rice and the chick­en and egg are sep­ar­ate here. That’s per­fect here, though, as it helps me con­trol the sog­gi­ness of my rice. While tasty, it’s a rather wet nan­ban, and the crispy skin on the tonkatsu has softened entirely by the time I fin­ish my meal.

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After lunch, we head across to the super­mar­ket oppos­ite, and find these cute instant noodle packets.

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The instruc­tions show a panda and a polar bear pre­par­ing the noodles.

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At the end of the first part of the shop­ping street, we stumble into a gift shop dir­ectly opposite.

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One of their biggest selling points is their cer­ti­fied hiyori oil blot­ting paper, which they sell for Y1,000 for 10 sheets. The his­tory of oil blot­ting paper is quite inter­est­ing too.

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There’s a radio sta­tion broad­cast­ing from a souven­ir shop mid-way down the street.

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The shops aren’t all that inter­est­ing fur­ther down the arcade, although there is a sec­tion focus­ing on hand­made crafts, like leath­er goods.

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Before leav­ing Nara, we stop by Chococro for their green tea milk frappe.

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They call it a green tea milk frappe but it’s more a base of soft­serve covered with shaved ice that’s been drenched in green tea syr­up and con­densed milk with a scoop of azuki bean paste. It’s not quite shaved ice like what we had in Yokohama, but we like it. As with all shaved ice, the serving size is huge. On the left is the wax mod­el, and on the right is the Real Thing.

Osaka

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Back in Osaka, we make one last stop at Wanaka for takoy­aki to tide us over until break­fast after our late lunch.

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After vis­it­ing so many times, we dis­cov­er that there are dif­fer­ent fla­vours of sauce! We’ve always just had the Wanaka Original TAKOYAKI sauce.

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We hold onto them until we get back to our accom­mod­a­tion, but by then they’re a bit soggy and not pip­ing hot like we’re used to. We’ve learnt for next time!

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On the walk back, we stumble across these Buddhist shrines on the side of the road. It looks like it’s on the side of a con­struc­tion site, but it’s much too estab­lished for that.

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And to fin­ish off, we try these sea­weed fla­voured Calbee chips while we frantic­ally pack everything into our suit­cases for our flight tomorrow.