About every 15 minutes from the room where I am sleeping you can hear the train way off in the distance scraping along the tracks and once or twice a night there is something reminiscent of an air raid siren followed by an announcement in Japanese.
Josh has to work during the week so for the next few days I am on my own. He left me with the way to the train station, where the info center is and a set of house keys.
Everything was fine but I had no idea where to get off of the train; although I had been to the same train station with Josh I didn’t recognize it. I got off, and back on and off again not sure what to do then I asked, “Nara?” and the station master said yes.
Out the door of the info center with a map I was off to find a Yoshinoya, a cheap restaurant that serves rice bowls with meat. Yesterday I looked up some Japanese: Grilled – Yaki, Beef- unika and I also looked up the symbols that go with it so at the restaurant I was able to order what I actually wanted. The only problem with using a few words of Japanese is that they then talk at you like you understand; I just half smile, nod and end with arigato.
The lady at information gave me a route to follow but went another way and explored some small side streets, discovering why that want tourists to stay on that path. There are many small shacks basically, just small and rusty; I couldn’t call them houses. I also found by accident a temple or shrine; I think it is impossible not to find them by chance.
Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 – 784 there fore there are many historical sites. I saw several temples and shrines but the ones that stood out the most were; Kofukuji, Todaiji and Gangoji.
I was lost trying to find the Kofukuji temple so I asked an old guy on a bike. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to tell me but as we walked eventually the 5 story pagoda came into view. He pointed and said, “kofukuji and I gave a deep bow of appreciation; everyone here is so willing to help. I wonder if it is always like this; there are school groups, boys in shirt slacks and ties and girls in their skirts, shirts and tall socks being guided around and informed. This area of Nara has tons of Deer, but not like deer in the US, they are different. Supposedly when the temple was founded in the 8th century they invited a god from another shrine. It is said that he arrived riding a white deer so today they see the deer as “divine messengers” There was an Asian couple and the guy was trying to take a picture of the two of them with with his DSLR camera so I offered to help… they are from Korea and spoke a little English but I left them be and checked out the rest of the site after asking them to take my picture.
Todaiji is the largest wooden building in the world even after it was scaled down 2/3 in 1709 after a fire destroyed the original. This UNESCO site also houses the worlds largest Buddha statue (the candles in the candelabra are about a foot tall to give you an idea). Inside I met some Americans who were studying abroad in Korea as I was watching people try to squeeze through a rectangular hole that passes through the base of one of the columns. Supposedly if you can fit through the column you can become enlightened… the west don’t stand much chance for enlightenment… didn’t know Buddhist were so judgmental about weight.
The last place I went was Gangoji Temple, which was founded in the 6th century. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan even some of the 6th century roof tiles are still used.
The Kasuga taisha Shrine was also pretty cool there were hundreds of stone lanterns out front and lining the walkway leading to the shrine, which was tucked back in the Kasugayama Primeval Forrest. The trees gave a nice break from the heat I had already gotten some sun I could tell. around this area I met two girls and two guys from Madrid so we hung out for a while seeing some minor sites.
While walking with the Spaniards one guy kept stopping to feed the deer and the others kept stopping at every little souvenir shop. An old guy in one shop was trying to sell us some ninja suits and ninja shoes and weapons and in another shop a deer was browsing the shelves looking for the perfect reminder of his trip.
On the 20 minute walk back to JR Nara station I passed a little shop that smelled amazing so I popped in and and ordered a 6 piece takoyaki, they are dough balls with octopus inside. It’s all covered with some soy like sauce and topped with spring onion. I couldn’t eat them walking so I sat on the floor in the train station. One thing about japan I don’t like is the lack of public benches and public trashcans, I end up carrying around trash for hours. All those times back home eating with chop sticks when I didn’t have to has paid off… otherwise there is no real alternative besides using your fingers.
Back at Horuji Station where Josh lives I had time to kill before he would be home so I wanted to check out the temple there. The lady at the bike parking garage had no idea what I meant and couldnt gesture how to get there but one young guy picking up his bike said, “my home near Horuji Temper” so I followed him. From what I saw it may be my favorite yet but as I entered a man came on the PA system and people started walking towards the exit so I assumed it was closing so I never got a chance to enter.
Since I didnt spend much time there I just rode home and explored the streets around joshes house. I came across an enormous garden closed in on three sides by houses. There were about 5 older women working in various areas. I entered slowly and carefully greeting them with a konichiwa and soon started the flood of Japanese. I told them, “me, teacher, America” I showed them a picture of my garden and tried to convey the idea that my friend lived near by. One of them got on the phone and a few more people showed up. Soon there were about 10 people there; the last one spoke enough English that we could understand one another; turns out they thought I was lost. having the English speaker translate I told them how I miss not having my garden in Spain and that I like to eat fresh organic vegetables. Two of the ladies wandered back into the garden and emerges with a plastic bag they loaded up for me… I gave the deepest bow I could and said arigato.