19.09.23 — Travel


After a busy day visiting Hiroshima, I was once up again and out of the door of my Osaka hotel in order to make good and proper use of the last day I had on my rail card. I wouldn’t be alone on my travels, though, as Inés and her friend Joob were also coming along for the excursion!

I immediately proceeded to get lost in Namba train station, but once I’d got some phone signal I eventually found the two of them waiting on the right platform. We then hopped on to the train bound for Nara, a city famous amongst other things for being overrun by wild and yet (mostly) friendly deer.

I’d thought that my day trip to Hiroshima had been a warm one, but boy was it hot when we stepped off the train in Nara. We thus hopped on a nice cool bus up to Nara Park, a big open space which was chock-full of deer. We didn’t have much time to stop and gawk, though, as we were quite hungry, and so headed off to a restaurant that Inés had marked on her map.

That place turned out to be closed for a wedding, and so after wandering over a bridge and then yet another disappointment as another restaurant was also closed, we eventually stumbled upon a little café which offered some curry dishes for lunch. Now as sweaty as we were hungry, we took off our shoes and headed inside.

The place was as beautiful as the food was.

The interior consisted of beautiful wooden rooms with low tables and cushions for us to sit on the floor, something which was doing my back in quite a bit until Inés showed me the proper posture for this kind of seating arrangement. The food was presented as beautifully as the decor, and we soon discovered that it tasted as good as it looked. What a great little find!

From the restaurant, we wandered back over the bridge, stopping to take in the beautiful scenery now that we weren’t just thinking about food. This led us back into the park, where we grabbed some ice cream to cool off and watched the deer pottering around.

This lady was stood in the middle of the road without a care in the world.

From there we headed on to Tōdai-ji, a temple which Inés said was a must-do whilst we were in Nara. Inside the impressive gates we were joined by plenty of tourists and plenty more deer, all milling around as they made there was up to the impressive main temple building.

These guys were just everywhere you looked.

Inside the temple we were confronted by a huge bronze statue of Buddha, around which we proceeded to make our journey, learning about the history of the various iterations of the temple and the traditions associated with it as we went. They sure were plucky to keep reconstructing this place after fires and earthquakes, with the scale models showing each iteration of the design was an interesting peek back through Japanese architectural history.

Once we’d taken a few photos of ourselves (we look a bit worse for wear thanks to the heat so I’ll save face here), we left the temple in search of a place to sit down and have a drink. Taking refuge in the cool air of a coffee shop, we watched the tourists feeding the deer in the plaza below and decided that that’s what we were going to do just as soon as the air conditioning had cooled us all off a bit.

We picked up some rice crackers as we left the coffee shop and then headed out on to the lawn where a large concentration of the deer had gathered. After observing what people had done, I knew the gestures I should make in a routine that went as follows:

  1. Bow to the deer as a sign of respect
  2. The deer would then bow back to you
  3. Feed the deer one of the rice crackers
  4. Show the deer your empty palms to indicate there was no food left

This last step didn’t work all too well for me, however. I must have had some crumbs left in my bag or on my person, as I soon found myself being chased around by a couple of very insistent characters! It was all good fun, though, and they eventually joined the rest of the pack in sitting down on the grass for a rest after a long day of being fed by the tourists. It was there city, really, and they were just allowing us to visit.

As the afternoon wore on we left the park back for the built-up area of Nara in order to grab some tea in the form of some barbecued eel which was very delicious. Along the way, we were kept entertained by watching the deer do seemingly human activities such as waiting at zebra crossings, following each other in a line, and their cute bows to passers by in the hope of some of those sweet, sweet rice crackers.

Whilst our train zipped through the countryside and back to the centre of Osaka, I was left reflecting on what an amazing place I’d just visited. Despite the heat – a theme punctuating my time in Japan – Nara was like stepping into an alternate reality where humans and nature were of equal standing. It was amazing, with the only downside being the amount of poo that we’d to scrape off our shoes as we left. Nobody ever seems to mention that!

To end my post, here’s me and Inés scooping poop off our shoes.