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Side Trip to Nara

Kyoto, Japan

November 20 Saturday
Kyoto - Toothache and itches woke me before dawn. Going down to the kitchen, I discovered it was before 6am. The only two people in the lounge were at the computers. Another man appeared to be crashing, sleeping on the floor at the back and side of the TV (probably couldn't get a bed, as Mary and I found everything booked for the coming Saturday). When Mary came down, we had a "mikan" (Japanese orange) and the two persimmons, using part of the spreadably soft fruit as jam on our remaining French bread left from yesterday. The Australian woman to whom I'd given the night-time cold medication told Mary that had helped alot.
I asked Mary if she'd rather stay and explore more of Kyoto possibly by bike, but she has never been to Nara, so we are off by train for a day trip there. After waking so early with toothache and itch, I slept much of the way there and part way back to Kyoto, reviving me. Arriving in Nara eager for coffee, as well as hungry, we were disgorged into the strip in front of the train station, where we spotted a McDonald's. Mary had a chicken carbonara on a bun, I had a McD terayaki. These fueled us for the afternoon, although it was probably the least satisfying meal I've had in Japan, and probably a crime against Japanese tradition to have McDonald's in the ancient capital of Nara.
We walked up the commercial drag Nobori-Oji to the deer park, Nara-koen, which is home to some 1200 deer. In pre-Buddhist times, they were considered messengers of the gods and now are “National Treasures.” Although white-tailed, they have caribou-like faces. Vendors sold shika-sembei (deer biscuits) which people feed to the deer. The most fun was watching children delighting in running after the deer and trying to feed or pet them. The most painful was watching terrified children screaming in hysterics while parents laughed or filmed them, surprising especially because we see parents here normally so loving towards their children.
Within the forested park, crowded with families enjoying and photographing each other amongst the gorgeous autumn foliage, we visited the 3-storey and 5-storey pagodas, dating from 1143 and 1426. Then we walked around the other temple buildings of Kofuji temple and on to enter the enormous gate Naidai-mon of Todaiji temple which houses the Daibutsu (Great Buddha). Fierce Nio guardians, carved in the 13th century, are huge ferocious protectors standing on either side of the gate. Continuing uphill, we came to an open plaza surrounded by temple buildings. We climbed the stone steps to the veranda of Nigatsu-do temple to look out over temple roofs and down to Nara city, then walked around all four sides of that temple admiring the huge globular lanterns hanging from the eaves. Then, running out of time if we were going to make our train, we had to speed up, descending past Sansangatsu temple down several staircases, past the hill Wakakusa-yama miya-jinja of startlingly bare grassy slopes to Kasuga Taisha (Shrine)'s strikingly orange structures. Downhill through Ni-no-Torii gate then Ichi-no-Torii and eventually leaving the beautiful park for a busy intersection, we grabbed a taxi and sped for the train station.
We'd agreed to take a taxi from Kyoto station to Khaosan Kyoto, ask the driver to wait while we picked up our luggage, so that we could have a chance of making the 17:05 train. Despite this extravagance, rush hour traffic made it apparent well before we reached the station that we would miss our train... so we had to accept that and be ready to make a new plan once we reached the station. Mary photographed bicycles and other vehicles from the taxi windows, trying to catch one moving at the same speed as we were, with motion blur behind.
At the station, we found a railway information office, where a uniformed employee looked up the next set of trains that would get us from Kyoto to Shizuoka city on the Shinkansen bullet train, transfer to the local Kodama to travel to Atami, and transfer again to the Ito line. With Mary on the platform with our luggage, I went to forage for beer and supper, coming back with bento boxes and a can each of Kirin and Asahi beer. On the train, we admired and then unwrapped the pink tissue paper from our boxed suppers, opened the lid and admired the colorful and artistic arrangement of delicacies for our supper – shrimp and tuna sushi, a slice of egg, a bed of sticky rice, and slice of ginger.
When the third train we rode that evening disgorged us at Ito's small station, we had trouble finding the exit. Once outside, we found the streets almost completely quiet and empty of people. One stylish young woman was coming towards us so I checked with her whether we were on the right street for our ryokan. She genuinely seemed to want to walk with us the 10 minutes to get there, excited to hear we were from Canada as she hopes to go there once she has learned enough English. Vancouver is the magnet, known by most Japanese to whom we tell we are Canadian... as they have watched the recent Olympics.
K's House on a quiet street beside the river is the first ryokan we've stayed in on our trip. A beautiful 100-year-old traditional house with alcoves of garden, lovely art arrangements. Up the wooden stairs to our tatami-mat room on the 4th floor where we opened the sliding door and gazed out through pine trees to the river below. Mary and I descended to the beautiful pristine "o-furo" bath.and sat on stools to wash ourselves clean before we climbed into the bath which ran the length of the room, and which we had all to ourselves. After relaxing in the hot water and robing ourselves in fresh cotton yukata, we luxuriated (and photographed each other) in the beautiful but simple ryokan room of tatami mats neatly woven, mattresses, sheets, pillows and fluffy coverlet piled for us to make our beds.

permalink written by  chertop on November 20, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Japan and South Korea 2010
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My mother tells me that when I was five and she took me by train from Vancouver to Edmonton, we had barely left Vancouver when I declared "Enough train. Get down now." But, at age 11 when my paternal grandmother took me from Edmonton to California and Disneyland, the trip instilled in me a...

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