Day 5: Nara

I woke up and was pleasantly surprised that my feet were still attached to my body.  I thought I had walked them off the day before but nope!  There they were, ready for another day!

On my “To Do Next Time” List

The weather, which had been amazing, was now starting to turn a bit.  It was cloudy with some drizzle but off we went to Nara after a little sleeping in (for Mom and Dad).  I walked around the neighborhood of our hotel in search of breakfast.  I found the Inoda coffee shop, which is quite famous but didn’t seem to have take-away.  It was a coffee restaurant.  I appreciate the dedication to the full-imersion coffee experience but that wasn’t what I was looking for that morning.  I walked passed a huge queue of people waiting for an Impressionist exhibit at the museum to open.  Impressionism- worldwide appeal.  After the line, I came upon Paul, a nice coffee shop/bakery that apparently has forty branches worldwide.  They had awesome coffee and croissants.  Yum, yum, yum!

Rock Garden- do you see the smiley face we painted on one?

Mom and I really wanted to see Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple with a famous 25 m x 10 m fifteen rock garden that is an object of meditation.  From any vantage, you can only see 14 of the 15 rocks.  There’s a small replica that is present for blind people to feel out but thanks to Mom and I, they think there are only 14 rocks!  Ha, ha!  Stealing rocks to trick blind people- so funny! [Just kidding!]

Ryoan-ji grounds

While the rock garden and temple are really cool, what Mom and I had both forgotten is that the grounds are absolutely gorgeous!  This temple was at the top of our favorites list.  We walked around the small lake and admired the irises, the beautiful residence, the trees- it was so tranquil and beautiful.  I highly recommend a visit here!

Next, we took a taxi to Kyoto main station and then the JR train to Nara.  At the station, we went to bus stop #1 and caught the bus to the main park Nara koen that has most of the main attractions.  I recommend the bus since it cuts off a mile walk and since we were already getting plenty of exercise, it was welcome!

CW from top left: Southern Gate, Daibutsuden, Daibutsuden and Deer outside the Gate

First, we saw the mangy Sika deer *ahem* messengers of the gods, per Shinto.  Bring some food.  Then those messengers will be all over you!  We walked towards Todaiji, a Buddhist temple dating back to the 1200s when Nara was the first capital of Japan.  We entered through the huge Southern Gate with the two huge statues of the Nio on either side.  The main building is the Daibutsuden which houses the Nara Daibutsu, or Nara Giant Buddha.  The wooden structure is said to be the world’s largest wooden building and it is very impressive.  The Great Buddha inside is the world’s largest statue of the Buddha Birushana, a 500-ton bronze statue that is 49.1 m tall!  Inside to the right of the Buddha is a wooden pillar with a hole in it.  If you can crawl through it, good things will happen to you.  Various sources say you’ll reach enlightenment in this lifetime, you’ll be in good health, you’ll have good luck, etc. I don’t know other than there was a huge line of Japanese school kids getting pushed/pulled through so fast it reminded me of the Santa Claus scene from The Christmas Story.

The Big Buddha and assembly lines to get kids through the lucky column 

Katsuga Shrine with a Deer Warning sign thrown in 

Then we walked uphill (yay!  More hills!) towards the Kasuga Shrine, a famous Shinto shrine where we were actually lucky enough to see a Shinto ceremony in progress.  There were several men chanting and playing traditional instruments while 4 priests prayed in the middle of the room.  It was really cool and we felt like it was a serendipitous highlight.  There was also some beautiful wisteria on the grounds and we took a few pictures.

Lantern Forest (not the official name)

Then it was back down the hill through the Kasugayama Primeval Forest and the 3000 stone lanterns.  It was very serene and beautiful.  Then we waited in the rain (with umbrellas) for our bus, hopped on the train and headed to Tokyo.

We checked in late to the New Sanno.  Mom and Dad loved the hotel.  It is spacious and really nice.  They had been expecting Hale Koa level of amenities and it is definitely a step up from that but at half the price of other Tokyo hotels.  Score!

Shibuya crosswalk

We at a hodgepodge dinner of sandwiches and then Dad and I headed out for a quick visit to the Shibuya crosswalk with all the bright lights and teems of people.  Then it was off to bed.

Oyasumi nasai!

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