Beware the Deer: A Gallery of Nara Photos

Feisty deer in Nara

Feisty deer in Nara

Yes, at long last, I have a real computer and not just a smartphone, so I’m able to edit and upload photos to my heart’s content. Here’s the first installment of my pre-EyeFi photos (aka my photos from Nara, Japan which I visited two months ago).

Walking in Kyoto: A Gallery

Last Day in Tokyo

On Thursday, it was time for me to head back to Tokyo and the Ginza district. The return went off without a hitch, Fuji-San as beautiful as on my way to Kyoto. As we neared Tokyo, I noticed that a lot of cherry trees were blooming – many more than I had seen only five days earlier on my way down.

Despite the guilt of not fully using my half day in Tokyo for touristy things, I decided to rent a laptop at the hotel so I could transfer the three hundred photos I had taken to a flash drive and upload them to WordPress. I had grand plans of getting them all into blog posts, but it actually took a substantial amount of time just to transfer them. Hence why I am even farther behind posting pictures than I am even with writing.

The next day, Friday, I flew out to Korea in the late afternoon. This meant that I had the morning to get some last things accomplished before I left. I wanted to go to the post office to mail home some souvenirs and items I just don’t want to carry for the next two months. I figured I’d have plenty of time to mail the package and check out Ueno Park’s cherry blossoms before checking out. Well, whenever I make that assumption, it’s just begging for something to go wrong.

I set out to walk what looked, on the hotel map, to be about six blocks laid out in a grid format. It wasn’t. Well, it may have been six blocks, but it wasn’t a grid, and I got fairly lost. However, I finally came across the post office, only to find out that they didn’t take credit cards and didn’t have an ATM. That threw a bit of a wrench into actually mailing the package!

I headed out of the post office, determined to find an ATM, sure I was going to miss seeing the cherry blossoms, and wondering frustratedly why everything has to be so hard when you don’t speak the language. Not being able to communicate means that some things we take for granted are next to impossible. I’m gaining more and more sympathy for toddlers!

I found a convenience store but it didn’t take my card. I headed to a big pedestrian overpass, hoping to get my bearings. I got there and realized I was only a couple of blocks from my hotel – that windy road I had taken meant I had pretty much gone in a circle! I popped into the hotel to ask directions to an ATM, and also got directions to a closer post office. Of course, the post office didn’t open till ten, but by the time I got there, I only had a few minutes left to wait. My 20 minute errand was taking 4 times as long as anticipated.

Once in the post office, the nice lady at the counter pointed out to me that the envelope the hotel had given me was the equivalent of priority mail, and too expensive. She helped me repackage my parcel, even running back to grab a handful of candy to throw in. She either wanted me to join in an international candy smuggling operation or was trying to be welcoming to the poor American!

Finally done, I raced off to Ueno. And when I got there, what had been an avenue lined by bare branches less than a week earlier was now crowded with people and surrounded by trees loaded with pale pink fluff. It was glorious – it looked like it had snowed on the trees – and I felt very lucky to have seen it. I wandered down the avenue with the masses of people enjoying the blossoms. I can only imagine how crowded it would be when the actual cherry blossom festival started the following day!

Kick It Down a Notch! Making Sure to Get Some Sanity Time

When writing this, I was sitting in the window of a cafe in downtown Kyoto, listening to the rain pouring down on the awning above me, seeing people, some wearing kimonos, some western clothing, walk by with their umbrellas. It was very peaceful and much needed after my switching hotels a little while ago and walking a mile carrying the behemoth in the rain…

I’ve checked into a capsule hotel, essentially a hostel with a Japanese twist. Each bed is a little cubbyhole – you go in, feet facing the curtained door. I am actually looking forward to cozying up in there – it’s been a great visit to Japan so far, but I’ve woken up at 6 or 7 every day regardless of when I’ve gone to bed or how much walking I’ve done. My feet hurt! This cafe was just what I was looking for – in the area around the train station, all I could find was Starbucks.

In fact, I’ve had a pretty low-key day. I managed to get my talkatone app to accept an incoming call from the US to my Google Voice number for free, so that was good. And I went downtown to experience a tea ceremony. The place I went seems to be five or six floors dedicated to tea: a shop on the ground floor, banquet rooms on a couple of floors, and a little tea room set up on another floor to show visitors the proper ceremony.

First you wash with a dipper of water, both hands an mouth, before entering the tea house through a tiny door essentially from a crouched position outside onto that posture where you are sitting on your calves, kneeling in a very Japanese way. (Luckily my tea house hostess told me I could sit cross-legged for most of the ceremony. The proper kneeling posture is really tough to maintain! I wonder whether the Japanese just get used to it from repetition?)

The hostess then brought out a sweet called a cherry blossom (Sakkara). After a few more steps in the ceremony, I got to eat the sweet, then watch as my hostess made matcha. After I’d had a chance to drink it, I got to make it myself.

Overall, I’m really glad I got to experience a tea ceremony before leaving Kyoto. It was on my must-do list, and it made more sense to do so in Kyoto than in Tokyo. And for you science nerds out there, I geeked out when I saw a sign for the enzyme company Takara on my way back to the hotel.

Beware the Deer! Nara

Tuesday I went to an even older capital of Japan, Nara, capital in the 8th century.

I first set out to the Heijo palace…site. I didn’t fully realize is that this means it’s an architectural site, and this mean lots of dips in the ground where pillars stood holding up the imperial buildings, but not necessarily much else. The excavation museum and the reconstructed buildings were interesting, but call me a philistine, I’m not that into archeology that I would want to go again. However, I did get to have another pleasant interaction with a Japanese lady who spoke no English but saw me staring intently at the bus map. (We had just come to some railway tracks and I had evidently perked up because I thought I could use the tracks as a reference point on the map. I felt a tap on my shoulder and the lady pointed to where we were – a good thing too, as I was about a Mel off on where we were crossing the tracks!)

I headed back to the center and eastern part of town, which consists of a huge park and temple sprawl called Nara Park. On my way, I stopped at a place where from the menu, I though I could get some sushi for lunch. Once inside, they brought me the English menu and I discovered I was in a restaurant specializing in grilled eel. Oh well, at least it’s very tasty!

I entered Nara Park by the five tower pagoda, and spent the afternoon looking at three of the major temple complexes in the area.

As I approached the park, I passed a pond where turtles were lying out enjoying the sun. On one log, they were actually piled up on each other, there were so many. A few steps later, I saw several deer at the side of the street. After I climbed the stairs to the first temple, I saw a lot more deer, explaining all the deer-related souvenirs I had seen on my walk from the station. In fact, there are vendors all over the park selling “deer cookies”, and the deer come running whenever someone buys a packet. Like deer anywhere who live where humans routinely feed them, they would (on the whole gently) mob you if you had food for them. There’s no hiding it! On the whole, they avoided people food. Most people took it ok, though one cute little tyke ran screaming for her daddy.

The five tower pagoda complex is lovely and gracious, but I was more struck by the next two temples. The second one is where the Great Buddha, the biggest statue in Japan made all of bronze at 16 meters tall, is located. It’s very impressive. The last one is hidden on the hillside, surrounded by hundreds of lamps. It’s peaceful and serene, despite the tourists.

And then back home, footsore and about “templed out”, first pausing for a photo shoot with some deer under a group of flowering trees.

(Pictures to be posted when I have access to a desktop or laptop again.)