After a bit of hesitation, I committed myself to a bright and early morning and a day trip to Nara! This sightseeing destination had been on the top of my list for months. I woke up at 5:15 am in order to catch an early Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Station. This was my first Shinkansen experience because Japan’s bullet trains put a pretty significant dent in your wallet. I purchased a non-reserved seat. This proved to be a big of a mistake on the return trip to Tokyo. It was a national holiday at about 5:45 pm — it felt like every person on earth sought a seat on that train. Apparently, non-reserved car number 3 on Shinkansen trains in the smoking car. I mean, seriously?!?! I never would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. The train pulled up and sure enough, people were smoking inside a train car with all windows and doors closed. I could have sworn I had experience time travel…was I really still in the year 2009? Anyway, due to the crowds, I was forced to STAND in smoky, hazy car number 3. Eventually, I moved to car number 2; however, that car was even more crowed than car #3 (for obvious reasons). I endured the claustrophobic ride (packed like a sardene and sweating in my winter attire as the heat blasted). I must admit, I would still opt for the Shinkansen over the overnight bus any day of the week.
Moving on to the actual trip – Nara was amazing, as was the fall weather! I had the most perfect day; Nara has been moved to the top of my list of favorite places in Japan – it’s tied for #1 with Hakone. Nara Park is gigantic, filled with temples, shrines, gardens and DEER (shika). The deer roam freely through the park and mingle with tourists. Deer that willing approach people – that was a first for me! These friendly deer, however, appear to be interested in one thing…food. Deer food is sold throughout Nara Park. Of course, I bought some food. I asked a Japanese girl to take my picture while I feed the deer. It turns out the deer are totally aggressive! The males (although their antlers have been cut) were head butting me with stubs that remained on their heads. Mama deer must have skipped the lessons on patience and sharing. Basically, I had so much fun playing with the deer and watching others interact with them as well!
The main site in Nara Park is Todaiji Temple. It is the worlds largest wooden building and it houses Japan’s largest bronze buddha (Daibutsu). Inside the temple there was a really long line. It turns out that there is a round, wooden pillar with a hole that people (children) were crawling through. The hole is said to be the same size as the Diabutsu’s nostril. People who can fit through the hole believe they will achieve enlightenment in their next life. At work, Yukiyo-san and I were talking. She told me that she waited in line with the kids and went through the hole as an adult (she’s a tiny woman)!
During my day trip, I also visited Kasuga Shrine. In and around the shrine area, there were literally hundreds of lanterns. Over the years, these lanterns were donated by Japanese people who worshipped at the shrine.
The day also included a special surprise – I watched two Japanese men make handmade mochi (used for making Japanese sweets). On my way back to the train station, I stopped at the handmade mochi shop and got a hot and fresh Japanese treat! (Over time, my taste buds have grown accustomed to Japanese sweets; I no longer shy away from red bean treats).