Map of Nara
Random Observation/Comment #29: Deer make a lovely addition to the scenery pictures. They donâ€™t care if you take a picture (or do anything for that matter) as long as you give them food. The deer and I have much in common.
Because of my biased opinion of deer, Nara
has won its own special trophy out of all of the places Iâ€™ve visited so far. Nara carves a place in my heart as the One-Stop Shop of tourist areas. Unlike Kyoto, you can visit all of Nara in one day and feel the satisfaction of accomplishing many different forms of nature. Unlike Minoh, there is that little pinch of culture that slowly brings you away from the whole nature hiking scene and into the land of shrines and tamples.
And unlike any other place Iâ€™ve been, they have deer roaming around every major area like toll booths â€“ really adorable toll booths â€“ just staring at you until you feed them. Thereâ€™s a healthy mixture of nature walks, famous monuments, open fields, and cookie-cut tourist shops. You may think youâ€™re not buying anything, but youâ€™d be very wrong (or highly disciplined) to leave this place without something for your family and friends. Those charms are just the right price to make me consider buying it as a gift (I am weak).
This city is built based on the large deer population, and further complimented by the beautiful pagodas, shrines, temples, parks, and trails. Everywhere you go, there are wild deer waiting to be fed. I must smell like the essence of tourism because they seem to think I will always have food to give them (maybe my hands just smell like chips â€“ it must be the CKB or my habit of sweating candy canes).
Like many others, my first sight of tamed, wild deer made me run over to pet them and then take continuous burst shots of their cute fuzzy antlers and shaking ears. When I fed them, I ran away like a little boy (or a grown woman) as the whole family (with all of their cousins, aunts, and uncles) try to tackle me for those wafers. Granted, I was teasing them, and it led to some antler nudging and biting of my shirt. Their antlers leave marks so it looks like they drew on me â€“ cute yet gross. Fortunately for me, it was so hot outside that my sweat washed it all away â€“ just gross. My obsession with these creatures distracted me from some of the longer walking parts and deathly humidity.
Because this is mainly a tourist city, the shops and information centers are English friendly.
As with many of my trips, the following is my suggested path. Starting from the JR Nara Station, walk east for about 10 minutes until you reach the first shrine up the stairs. Next, head towards the five-story pagoda and greet the deer. Expect to take 40 pictures and spend 20 minutes petting them and having them chase you around for food. Continue heading east and there will be a little park area with more deer and a museum. If you need your dose of culture (actually more so history) fed through words instead of sights (or if you just need some A/C to get out of the heat) the museum is a good choice. From here, head north to look at the gardens and shrines within the little mall area.
Slowly drifting north east, youâ€™ll eventually see a long road stretch towards Todaiji Temple.
Nara Park will be on your right with more deer and wide open grass plains (see the pattern with deer?). The layers of hills in the background are mesmerizing. Be sure to walk around this area and look at the little riverbeds filled with deer and the ponds designed with only beauty in mind. Heading northbound, youâ€™ll pass the famous Nandaimon Gate with these scary warriors guarding from the sides. They donâ€™t look too tough with their chiseled muscles, large weapons, and intimidating masks â€“ oh yeah, not to mention, theyâ€™re 20 feet tall. Further north is the Todaiji Temple which is the largest wooden structure in the world. It houses the largest Buddah inside of a wooden structure (I guess it was only appropriate). Pay the 500 yen because the sight is gorgeous and youâ€™ll probably want one of their many charms the gift shops have to offer.
Besides, if you donâ€™t go, youâ€™ll miss the opportunity of meeting random engineers from Boeing, taking a weekend vacation for the employee traveling on business (sing it loud and clear for all to hear â€“ drink more and sleep less if youâ€™re still shy).
The group of 7 was nice enough to let me join them in their travels. Iâ€™m young enough to be their son, but they didnâ€™t treat me that way nor did they fail to show some childish (yet appropriate) humor. They were mature (at times) and made very interesting observations about the differences in culture. These engineers and researchers follow a path that is still open in my choices. I wish I had spent more of the afternoon speaking with them because they would have given me much insight in the engineering field and their wisdom with careers, but I was caught up in my ritual of memorizing images and soaking up nature and culture for all it was worth.
It would seem too awkward to treat them as specimens â€“ Iâ€™d be recognizing my observations with too much meaning. Instead, they are mentors and I am their unknowing and unsuspected student. What they may have already processed as routine, I find fascinating. As with all things in this world, if you spend a little more time listening, youâ€™ll learn a great deal about yourself.
My notepad stayed in my back pocket to be less discrete. These experiences are not interviews, even if I tend to treat them that way. The extraction of knowledge gives me this awful parasitic image â€“ like a tick sinking its pincers into a touristâ€™s calf. Extraction sounds less symbiotic, and follows my mental dictionary with undesired pain, imbalanced profit, and emotionless action.
Where do I place this idea of learning from a teacher that has no intention of teaching? Am I stealing from them? Or do they speak with the intentions of provoking thought. It may seem trivial, but for some reason it bothers me. I feel as if Iâ€™m a spy working for myself, and living with much less perks. Where are all my gadgets? Whereâ€™s my Aston Martin? Where are the hot girls that start as my enemy, but eventually fall prey to my exquisite tongue and irresistible charm (and later, after sleeping with them of course, help me advance the plot)? I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d go quite that far as to scale an apartment complex and laser cut an entrance into a window to find top secret documents that tell me I should stop wasting time as a silly boy dreaming of spy-dom(hood).
That would be too anticlimactic. Well, whatever the prize, at least Iâ€™m not pulling teeth while I innocently listen and reply. It is not an interrogation. There would be no ransoms, empty threats, or promises of freedom to trade for such information. I wonâ€™t preemptively try to determine a plot twist as a character in a giant plot twist (interesting). I think I watch too many movies.
Anyway, they were all really cool and Iâ€™d love to see familiar faces in my future travels. After Todaiji Temple, walk north and follow the path to a beautiful overlook of the city. This shrine offers many photographic opportunities and the lanterns are beautiful. I heard that they would all be lit in August, which means I will be taking another trip here to see the same city under a different light.
Follow the path of the shrines and walk south to find another temple and some large tree trunks embedded into the architecture. There will be a 1.8 mile section overlooking the layered hills on the east coast bordering the tourist areas. The deer will greet you with warm welcomes, but refrain from hugging them because they do attract ticks and bugs. Keep going south and you will walk back into the forest-type atmosphere where youâ€™ll find Kasuga Taisha Shrine. We didnâ€™t go in because you have to pay, but Iâ€™ve found that most of the places that have set up these payments do so for a good reason. There is a treasure somewhere in that shrine, so please do the touristy thing. Wash your hands in that fountain, donate some money, ring the bell, clap your hands, and make a wish â€“ youâ€™re on vacation =).
The rest of the walk back to the train station is up to you. You will pass by beautiful ponds if you walk directly West of Kasuga Taisha â€“ it is highly suggested. Before my trip concluded, I bid farewell to my new friends, but there is at least a group picture to remind me of a great time. All the best and I hope our paths cross again.
~See Lemons Exhausted