23 May 2008
My father in law, sometime last week asked me if I wanted to take a trip that weekend to either a larger, built-up city, or somewhere with more nature and shrines, per se. Since we had been running around so far doing every which thing for my situation with living here, I decided that seeing some shrines and some nature would be a nicer right now than a busier environment. So last Saturday, Takeshi, me, and his parents piled into their small car and headed off for the city of Nara, which was about 1 hour and 45 minutes drive from Suzuka.
To get to Nara (and perhaps many other places in Japan), we had to go through a mountain range. The drive up to and through those mountains gave a really great view. Towns and streets nestled into small valleys and niches, and rows of tea bushes planted on almost vertical mountain slopes. The tea bushes looked yummy. I wanted some tea right then and there. The personality of the mountains in Japan are different from ones I’ve become accustom to in the U.S. They are shaped like someone took a sheet of velvet and draped it over a very thin wall, so that it creases and softly wrinkles as it lays there. And the mountains right now are the color of emerald. Very beautiful, mystical-looking mountains here in this country. Some of these tiny, tiny towns out in the middle of these mountains consisted of perhaps a dozen or so homes and maybe 3-4 business buildings, whether they may have been convenience stores, restaurants, or post offices. We saw many great, vast, old Japanese style homes that looked like they had been preserved since the Edo period (and probably had been). Many of these groups of homes were clustered upon high hills, and below them were flat rice fields. I wondered, as we drove, how life must be out here. Most of them are probably farmers. I saw glimpses of the day-to-day life of some of the people in those towns as we passed them: a young man walking a black Labrador, a farmer bent over in the sea of rice patties, a middle aged woman riding her bike to somewhere. In some ways I felt that some of these towns had been kept back in time, per se, since time seemed to pass so much slower out there.
We reached the city of Nara finally and passed through the very narrow streets to reach the main “area” of downtown Nara. We drove down one street and turned into a small, outdoor, unpaved parking lot with two older men who seemed to be in charge of it. We got out and after asking, I proceeded to use the small bathroom they had a few feet away. It is safe to say that I still have not been able to use the traditional style Japanese toilet, when I am forced to use them. The traditional style toilet consists of not a toilet “bowl” but a large oval-ish shaped hole in the tile floor, which one squats over to do one’s business. There is usually a bar right in front of you, so that you can hold onto it as you squat down. I have not had a lot of success using them without taking off my shoes, underwear, and pants first. The only times when it is better is when I am wearing a skirt, so that I can just hold it up and such. So awkward and annoying. After taking forever with the bathroom, I came out and we proceeded on our trip.
Nara is a city dense with ancient shrines, ancient sculptures, and Buddhist temples. Needless to say, we had an almost endless amount of things to see and do, and places to travel to. And we did! One of the truly exciting and charming aspects of this city is that it is known for the huge population of tame deer, which roam free throughout the city right next to their human neighbors. The majority of these deer roam around Nara Park, which is where we headed first. The history of these deer is summarized on Wikipedia: “According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijo-kyo. Since then the deer were regarded as heavenly animals to protect the city and the country.” It also stated that there were a little less than 1,200 deer in Nara in 2005. So there might be even more of them nowadays in 2008. The area around Nara Park is filled with small street vendors, selling deer crackers to people, so that they can feed them. The deer there are very smart, and they can smell when you have a cracker and immediately start walking towards you. My father-in-law was surrounded by 3-4 deer, only about a minute after buying the crackers. He had to keep them up in the air so that the deer wouldn’t get them. We all thought it was funny and started laughing at him, but a second after that the deer noticed I had some crackers too…oops. Soon, I too was surrounded by 4-5 deer, lifting up their necks to me, and even nibbling my shirt to get me to feed them. I was lucky my shirt didn’t unravel!
To put it short, we did many things and saw many things that day, but I’d take up another 5 pages to tell it all! Here are some of my favorite photographs I took that day out of the TONS that I actually took: