Nara Park with 'bowing' wild deer!
But First.. As mentioned in my previous blog, and despite it being the smallest room we stayed in too, our hotel in Kyoto was my favourite. The pocket hotel 'Karasuma Gojo' was ours, and it's not to be confused with the other(s) in Kyoto of the same name. It had a decent sized common area with some sofas and a long breakfast style bar with a TV. At the reception bit prior, there's also more modern seating, while on the other side of the seated common space, there is a mini kitchen. It's all open plan and feels light and airy, plus the kitchen includes a much appreciated microwave. The rest of the floor here tails off to the elevators and other rooms consisting of male showers (possibly female too, but as I didn't use them, so I can't recall) and a small utility room with a few washer dryers. We had brought about 7 days worth of clothes with us and planned on washing as we went, so this was the perfect place to be within that window.
I remember that we must have done our washing the night before our day trip to Nara because our room was a disaster zone, and we had to chuckle on the train over to Nara while over hearing an English girl (the only English person we came across on our travels) next to us moaning about how the boys room in her hostel smelled and was a crash site of washing lines helping to dry clothes. It was almost as if she'd been spying on us and it was a personal attack that she didn't realise she was even making - but hey, at least we were clean as a result! Speaking of which, the showers here were great. There was loads of room, and plenty of them to boot, plus in true Japan stylie, you get PJ's for you stay. We also met a funny Korean lass in the common area, proving again just how bad the English are at being multilingual, because not only could she speak English near perfect, but she had a sarcastic humour with it.
The microwave was a godsend, and with a 7-Eleven just over the road, I could have a daily hot breakfast! Either a burrito or marinated pork loin sandwich, alongside a monster energy, and a pastry snack was my usual wake-up call / one for the road. Soon after though, it became clear that the guys at the 7-Eleven would heat it for you too, which I only discovered when a worker on the till offered, but either way, I preferred the option of chilling in our hotel with it freshly heated by me. Japan's food is tasty, in that it all has loads of flavour.. well almost all - but we'll go into that later on in the food journey. Even 7-Eleven sandwiches are really flavourful, so when people say that Japanese food is amazing, what I think they mean is it's flavourful, but equally, if you don't like those flavours, they'll probably double down on that too. Japan seems to be a scary concept for picky eaters, but you can easily survive on 7-Elevens and fast food should you be too scared to try any local cuisine, and it all (mostly) tastes better than the western equivalent too!
With Linc's birthday quickly approaching, he really wanted to try ramen, so we spent one Kyoto evening going to a classic ramen joint. I can't remember which evening, or the place, but I do remember there being a queue outside and it being confusing as to how we ordered. Fortunately, there was an Aussie or American couple who filled us in in said queue. These places are tiny! You sit in single person booths that split the bar type table in to individual sections, but you're still seated next to your party with no separation.. if that makes sense? The booths surround the kitchen area as they work, and the cooks serve it right to you. As a result, it works on a party of people in, and a party of people out kinda vibe, aka, one in one out as and when a seat becomes available. To order, we had to pop in prior to joining the queue (or look confused in it while reading the sign that tries to explain this, and then ask people), and feed some cash in to an old mechanical condom looking machine where we're given about 4 options of the same dish to choose from, just with different variations.. and voila, it gives us an order slip that we hand off to the kitchen staff.
When you finally get through the queue, and you're in your booth, there are English instructions of how to best enjoy the ramen. Part of these instructions state the art of maximum slurping, which in turn reveals the importance of the dividers given you occasionally slap yourself in the eye with some of the soup. Slurping isn't rude here, it's what you do to get the flavours working to maximum capacity. In short, ramen is a noodle dish in a broth, but it can come with extras added in to said soup, but as suggested, other than maybe an egg, our options were limited and pretty basic, hence cook rather than chef. You use your chopsticks (our first time) to dip cold noodles in to the broth, where the heat of the soup is supposed to bring the noodles up to the optimum temperature, and then you slurp it up to get those flavour molecules slapping you about the face. Again, another thing that isn't rude here is picking up your bowl and drinking down the remaining broth rather than using a spoon. Marc wasn't struck by the whole experience, or food, I enjoyed it, and Linc had made up his mind before trying it I think, so it became his new favourite. Dex may have been indifferent. If you try it, though, don't just dump your noodles in to the broth, chopstick them in from the noodle bowl to the broth bowl, and then slurp it in to your mush - and then repeat. This may have been where Marc went wrong, as he wasn't impressed at the concept of cold noodles so just dunked them.
Other than fast fooding it at Wendy's, the other place we ate out at was about 4 doors around the corner from the hotel for a curry. Marc had already been the night before by his tod and said we should try it. I love a curry, so I was all in. He suggested we went hot, like "locals thinks white men can't handle it" hot.. and they would be right about Lincoln! Marc went hot the previous night, and he must have done well because the next night they'd apparently added another several stages of heat that he didn't see on the menu the day previous, and I'm guessing a white man coming in and taking it on meant they needed to go hotter. I can't remember if it was out of 20 or 15, but those guys went for 15, whereas I wanted to equally enjoy mine despite loving a bit of spice, so I went for 10. Mine was hot, so those guys were probably secretly crying, hence Linc not managing to finish up. Heat aside, It was a good curry.
If you saw the 3-day itinerary blogs I posted before heading to Japan, you'll know that visiting the deer of Nara was listed as something to do, but we weren't, so after squeezing the Geisha district in on the previous day and knowing Marc fancied this one, we added it in half on a whim. Having not planned for it, I had no idea what to expect other than bowing deer.. I mean, it's Japan, so there were bound to be temples and stuff nearby, but I'd not looked in to them and anything surrounding Nara Park.
It's a small bus ride to the park from the station, but you probably could walk it.. but we'd done enough of that and were braced for more. At the park, there are vendors selling crackers for the deer to eat, and I'm not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, but it's clear that the reason these days that the deer are so tame is because they know people equal food and are there to co-exist by giving them attention. Add in to the mix that the Japanese are so polite that they bow, and then the deer too have taken on this mannerism for themselves and will bow back to people. It's become a tourist attraction all of its own, and I imagine quite a savvy one if local councils are in charge of selling the crackers and getting people to the area. Let's not get it twisted though, the deer are still wild animals and aren't respecting their human overlords that are exploiting them, they know that the act of politeness means they'll be rewarded with a cracker.. well, apart from all the people like us who don't have any and want to see them bow, so walk around like we're in a mosh pit. You do kinda feel guilty for taking their bowing for granted and for entertainment while not feeding them, but there are plenty of people who are, and it must be a more cushty life than roughing it fully wild.
While there, we go on a hunt for temples and stuff, and Marc had already found out there was a museum somewhere nearby that he fancied visiting too. The first temple we happened across was Kofu-ji. It's made up of several buildings, including a trademark old five storied pagoda, which was unfortunately under renovations when we were there. There, we paid a few quid to visit the Central Golden Hall that houses some really impressive old historical statues and a massive golden Buddha. Unfortunately though, you can't photograph in these, and they have hanging drapes that half cover the doors so you can't see much of the impressive Buddha from the outside where you are allowed to shoot. It's kinda frustrating when these images are readily available online, but hey, I guess it's like the Eiffel Tower of a night. Did you know that the use of images of the Eiffel Tower at night are subject to prior authorisation by the SETE because of its illuminations? You can't commercially shoot it, and it's the same of some temples in Japan too, not to mention places like this where you're outright told not to photograph.
After, we go in search of the museum, which is a long old walk through to the other side of the park. Along the way of course there's plenty of deer to say hello to, many stone altars and small shrines, plus we found a little ice cream shack that we stopped at. Looking on Google, it should have been a 6-minute walk from the first temple, so we must have missed the big museum somehow and happened across a small one on the far side of the park, which again would explain why seemingly all museums in Japan are tiny, because the national one on Google looks a fair olde size compared to what we visited. Our small one was the Sugataisha Museum. Again, it was only a few quid to visit, and once you get into the main part (all of two rooms), you aren't allowed to take photos. There were some bits before you enter the main rooms that you could, like the impressive drums, plus there was a crazy light display that formed an image to the naked eye, but was just an abstract mass of colour on the camera sensor - you can see what i mean in the video pictorial below. Anyways, continuing our Nara adventure, we happen across the Kasuga Taisha and Ki'i Shrine as we head deeper up in to the woods before following a trail that cuts across and out of the side in to a residential area that flanks the park.
We've probably already clocked some miles again today, and it's a long old walk back down the residential road to somewhere that felt familiar. That familiar transpired to be the scenic Sagiike pond. We had clocked it on our trip through the park on the right as we headed up a tree flanked road, and this may have been partly responsible for us missing the national museum, which was pretty much opposite it, albeit set back behind the trees on the other side of the road from where we were looking. As often is the case with Google in Japan, we probably just assumed there was one museum and headed to the wrong one without a second thought.
Fnishing up, we do a little light shopping in the touristy shop near the park so I could pick up a plush mascot, before we decided against the confusion of a bus and headed to the closest train station on foot. While it was a big station and on the way, it wasn't the right one.. so we proved that that earlier bus journey was indeed walkable! Unfortunately, this was to the detriment of my feet, which are now screaming at me and are shredded with blisters. I wouldn't say we're grumpy at this point, but the thought of walking doesn't excite any of us any more, certainly not with happy energy, but when someone like Linc is navigating to the detriment of his own stress levels, you've got to let it slide.. we're here for an adventure after all, even if that means enduring some pain.