Day 8 – Please feed the animals

Day 8 brings me to Nara. Once it was the ancient capital of Japan back in the 700’s, but now it’s a clean and smallish city off 300,000 or so people accessible by train about an hour from Osaka or Kyoto.

There are again a lot of foreign tourists here and from all over, and for good reason. The weather is gorgeous and the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Of course, cherry blossoms aren’t what bring people to Nara: It’s the deer. Hundreds and hundreds of wild deer, roaming the city, “domesticated” in a sense to chill out and eat deer crackers from eager tourists instead of darting into traffic or chilling far outside civilization.

It’s really quite charming, if you don’t mind the mild wild animal smell. Sort of like a city-wide petting zoo. Some deer are pretty tame and chill, others, if they see you with deer crackers, they come right for you. A few deer are even trained to “bow” for their food, and are very popular. Vendors are happy to sell fist-sized bundles of crackers for 150 yen each, and they do steady business today. Since I’m sure some of you are probably you’re curious, deer fur is kind of coarse, not really soft. More “wild and rugged” than petting your toy Pomeranian.

Aside from the deer, Nara has a lot of ancient old buildings and museums dedicated to Buddhist sculptures, art, and history. I visit a few of them, and while pictures aren’t allowed in the really cool areas, I have to say it was pretty breathtaking to stand feet away from something carved over a century ago.

It really is a perfectly pleasant spring day today. A little Chinese girl sings and dances under the cherry trees as the petals slowly fall in the wind like snow. In just a few days, they will all be gone, but for today we all get to admire their beauty.

There is a very large hill on the outskirts of Nara called Wakayama hill. Being the perfectly glorious spring day that it is, I decide to hike it. Even pacing myself slowly and methodically, I can feel my heartrate soaring from the climb, but the wind keeps me cool, and like anything in life, you just have to take it one step at a time until you reach the top. I got a lot of really cool feedback from a few different readers of my book on the internet today, and it’s a good feeling know that my efforts, slowly but surely over a period of years, are at least making a difference in a few people’s lives. One step at a time, I will try to make it a success as best I can after it launches on May 9th.

The view from the top of the hill is extraordinary. There’s a plaque indicating the landmarks of the vista, but since it’s all in Kanji, I can’t read a word. I’m not sure if my pictures will do the view justice but it was a sublime feeling, standing on top of this small corner of the world, looking out, and wondering what will come next.

I try my very best not to fall on my ass descending the hill back into Nara. There’s still another major attraction to see: The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall). The temple lies on one edge of the main park, and it’s a massive wooden structure several stories tall and quite broad. The empty approach leading up to the doors, does a good job setting the stage for the main event inside.

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Inside the dimly lit interior looms a gigantic Buddha statue, several stories tall, flanked by two slightly smaller but still massive Bishamonten statues. It’s awe inspiring and magnificent, and all the tourists seem to talk in hushed tones in this incense laden and heavy air.

(The internet here at my hotel in Tokyo is crap-tastic, so its not letting me upload any new images and it didn’t properly save my last draft, so I’m afraid this blog post will have to skip the awesome Buddha pics. I’m really sorry for the immersion breaking trouble.)

Anyway, it starts to get late and the temples and museums all begin closing, so I wander around in search of food, finding a conveyor belt sushi place close to the train station. Yes please! I’ve been needing to check that box on my Japan to-do list.

Very long and narrow establishment with the requisite conveyor running the full length. Plates are color coded by price, and you basically just grab what you like and keep a stack of your empty plates handy. When you’re ready to check out, the waitress scans them with a fancy RFID wand, sums the total and bam, you’re good to go!

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The sushi was quite good. I wouldn’t call it a game changing experience. It’s still basically slabs of fish on rice, but they conveyor is fun and the variety is extensive, so you definitely have more options than your generic American sushi joint. Definitely a fun experience though I recommend others try if you like sushi.

I’ve got an early flight to catch tomorrow so I won’t get to Day 9 today, still running a bit behind, but I’ll be flying to the island of Hachijojima for my 30th birthday.

Stay thirsty my friends.

-Geoff

 

 

 

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