Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nara, Japan


Japanese culture has a lot of great things going for it. I've met a lot of friendly and considerate Japanese people, like the guy who went above and beyond to help perfect strangers.

Lighting incense
Julius and I had to change trains to get to Nara, but we didn't know where to go. After waiting on the platform for ten minutes without success, I asked a Japanese man where to go. He knew about as much English as I knew Japanese, so we didn't get very far with words. Through a lots of gestures and much nodding, I realized we had to go to a different platform. I thanked him and went on our way. We were halfway to the other platform when the man came running after us, and accompanied us to the correct platform. Instead of leaving us to our own devices and saying "oh well, stupid tourists can find their own way to Nara," he went out of his way to help us get on the right train.

In Nara we visited a massive temple. Smoke from the incense burning in an enormous metal urn floated through the air, carrying a soothing scent with it as it rose up through the gaping doorway toward the giant Buddha statue sitting regally at the temple's entrance.

The temple was a very calm and spacious place. Although there were lots of people, I felt like we were alone. Time moved at a leisurely place, and there was no need to rush anywhere.

Old men were creating beautiful calligraphy. Many people brought their own ornate book where they collected stamped and signed pages from every temple they have visited.

Beautiful calligraphy and stamps from the temple in Nara

There was a queue of people who wanted to crawl through a hole in a beam that supported the roof. Later we found out that if you were able to crawl through the narrow hole, you could make a wish and it would come true.

Outside the temple we went to refresh ourselves at a fountain with bamboo cups. These fountains are very common at temples in Japan.

Fountain for drinking and washing

Nara is known for its deer. The temples and parks are full of them. People feed the deer, pose for pictures with them, and occasionally get head-butted. I also had a bit of a run-in with a six-pack of deer.

I was hungry and sat down on a bench to eat a banana. Soon a deer was coming towards me, then two, then three, then four.. then I was surrounded. These deer looked so desperate for food that they would stop at nothing to get my banana. I had to think fast, so I threw the peel away from me to divert them, and a ravenous deer swooped in to devour it in one swift motion. The others were still surrounding me, so I shoved half of the banana in my mouth and tossed the other half to Julius. We were about to make our escape when a high pitched whiny noise stopped us in our tracks. Was the deer farting or... no, that sound was coming from his mouth! Confused, we got out of their as quick as we could.

An old man feeding deer in Nara

Later that day, with revenge in my heart I ran up to a couple of unsuspecting deer munching on grass, shouting and waving my arms. The deer jumped back a little, but didn't run away like I had hoped. He just stood their grinning at me. This never would have happened if Fenton had been by my side. He would have had those deer running for their lives. Watch the video below and you'll see what I mean.  

After Nara we had an amazing sushi dinner. We had some difficulty ordering as there was no English menu. At one point I tried to order "mackerel" and ended up with "maguro", which is tuna in Japanese, but hey I love tuna so that was no problem! Eventually we decided to just grab stuff off the conveyor belt because that was easier.

Julius with the wasabi powder
At this restaurant we noticed they had this bright green powder wasabi, which we had never seen before. When we were mixing it with the soy sauce, the waitress started waving her arms and took our concoction away saying "o-cha des", which means "that's tea!" I'm surprised she wasn't rolling on the floor laughing at that point, which is what I would have done. I'm kind of disappointed we never got to taste the green tea soy sauce mixture, because that probably would have been really delicious!

The remnants of all the sushi we ate

So to recap our first day on our own in Japan: We got lost in a train station, attacked by deer, were given tuna instead of mackerel and mistook green tea for wasabi, but we survived!  We had some language difficulties, but this made things more challenging and funny, and wasn't anything we couldn't handle. Overall, it was a great day.

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