Back to Japan – Day 5 (Nara)

Before we knew it we were already at the halfway mark of our trip! We were scheduled to check out and head to Nara, but we woke up to a serious problem. Ma’s feet had swollen up overnight, not just because we’d been walking a lot, but possibly because we’d walked alot on the heated asphalt of Dotonbori the day before. Unsure if ma would be able to make it through the long walk planned today, we began to plan ahead on which days we could skip so she could get some rest instead. As we waited in the lobby, we mentioned to Kaoru せんせい that ma wasn’t in the best of health only to find a few moments later that せんせい had rushed over to the nearby convenience store and picked up for ma a box of patches to reduce the swelling and a foot support! I cannot tell you just how grateful I was at that moment… there is no way we would have been able to find something to help ma on our own since all the labels are covered in only Kanji. The foot support fit well so Z and I rushed off to find another one before we headed to Nara. せんせい had been amazing enough to even help ma with her bags as we headed back from the convenience and soon we were all bundled on the bus.

The ride was short, only about an hour long and before we knew it we had pulled up at Nara Park to visit Todaiji Temple famous for its Great Buddha statue. Since the walk upto the temple would tire ma out we decided instead to first feed the deer and then relax by the lake. The weather was quite promising, not the hot July blaze of 2 years back which had made the walk seem like an eternity. Instead we had a beautiful blue sky with patches of white clouds and a sun determined to play hide and seek.


Walking towards the temple, under blue blue skies

We entered the park to the sight of deer lazing about in the shade and others strolling along the walkway asking every passerby for food with those big watery Puss In Boots eyes. Z bought the food and handed it to me so I could start feeding. I tried to unwrap the paper, only to find myself surrounded by hungry but patiently waiting does and one very belligerent deer with great big antlers (okay, so maybe their proximity made them seem bigger than they really were). I couldn’t for the life of me manage to undo that flimsy paper strip which held the biscuits together, and while the does sensing my ineptitude went off in search of greener pastures, the deer just kept coming closer, just as I kept moving backwards holding the biscuits high in the air out of his reach. Eventually, his patience ran thin and in an attempt to stop me running off with his food, chomped down on my shirt and tugged me closer. So much for the make-deer-bow-before-feeding rule. He was going to make me bow first. Before this turned into a scene from a bad movie which would have me being chased down by a hungry deer, I threw the biscuits to at my brother and finally the deer let go…but not after having swallowed my shirt button first. I’m not complaining – at least he left me the rest of my shirt.


Wanted! Greedy shirt munching button swallowing deer with deceptively good looks!

We continued on slowly , past this hilariously harrowing incident, up to and through Nandaimon Gate. Ma wanted to press on for a view of the temple, so on we went and when we reached the main gate to the temple, she wanted to press on and walk up to the temple.We continued and told her she could get a peek at the giant Buddha from the door, but she wanted to see the whole statue clearly, so we went in… explored the whole temple and then began the long walk back to the bus.


Toadaiji Temple in all its glory

As we left the temple, we came across the statue of Pindola dressed up in a red bib of sorts. It is said that rubbing a part of the statue will cause the person’s own ailment there to disappear. Ma said her feet would heal themselves very well, thank you, and we moved on to pick up another commemorative coin and some souvenirs. So much for adventurous ma resting her feet by the lake ^^


Pindola in his bib

While we didn’t get much time at the lake, some our tour buddies were lucky enough to catch videos of the fish in the lake which was amazing!


Beautiful fish hiding underwater

With half the day already behind us, we headed for lunch at Jay Nara, an Indian restaurant where we helped ourselves to a buffet thali filled with butter chicken, naan, daal, rice, paneer and of course more papad. I cannot remember the last time I’ve eaten so much papad in the space of a week. The food was delicious, and the service excellent, seeing as how they offered everyone complementary yoghurt to cool down after no one could handle the spicy black pepper papad. Lunch was spent listening to stories by オサマさんabout the good old days (yes, we are just that old now) and after a quick prayer break everyone was ready to head to the Kasuga Taisha Temple.


Feed me!

It was going to be another long walk to the temple, so this time I put my foot down that ma keep her feet up, and this time ma and Z decided to rest at the coffee shop while I went on ahead to scout the awesome quotient of this temple. The way up was breathtakingly beautiful, the branches of the trees reaching out from the forest edges, lined with stone lanterns and quiet deer watching and bowing from between the stone lanterns. While it wasn’t a very long walk up to the temple, since we weren’t entering the praying area, there wasn’t much to see so I came back down, determined to enjoy the natural beauty of the place more than the man-made temple.


Gateway to the Kasuga Taisha Temple

I caught up with ma and Z at the coffee shop, and it was when we decided to try our luck and see if we could use the museum restroom instead of the public restroom outside, we discovered that we had tickets to visit the museum as well. Z went up to enjoy the exhibits, while ma and I stayed downstairs to watch a video, unfortunately all in Japanese, about the temple. Luckily for us, Kaoru せんせい was there to summarize. It turns out that the shrine is renovated every 20 years and has been renovated every 20 years for centuries! And it’s not just that the shrine is taken and apart and renovated, but it’s done so using brand new tools each time, made especially for this purpose. All in the name of keeping the traditional arts alive. In a day and age when everything around you is a dying art, I was so impressed by what I learnt. What is civilization, if not the passing of knowledge to the generations to come?


Surrounded by beauty

We had just one more stop before bidding Nara goodbye and that was the Kohfukuji Temple. The bus stop turned out to be right next to the actual temple buildings, which mean we didn’t have to walk much before I discovered my architectural gem of this trip- the 50m tall five storey pagoda dating back to 1426. I have a thing for five storey pagodas (I was in love with the pagoda at the Horyu Temple last trip too, I admit), and this, let me tell you, was love at first sight. The pagoda and its neighbouring Eastern Golden Hall are together a symbol of marital bliss, the hall having been commissioned by the emperor (of the time) to pray for the recovery of his sick wife, and the pagoda having been commissioned by the emperor’s wife to pray for the recovery of the sick emperor. The temple is also famous for certain statues of Buddha of both religious and artistic value, but we didn’t get to see the special exhibit, something Kaoru せんせい had really wanted to visit.


My love – the 5 storey pagoda

While we got tickets to enter the Eastern Golden Hall, photographs inside are prohibited and I was much more in love with the beautiful wooden structure next door so I didn’t waste any time inside and went straight over to stare at the second largest pagoda in Japan. By this time, the sun had disappeared behind a wave of clouds which just added to the serenity of the moment. If it had started raining at that point, I would have nothing left to ask for. While the others had set off in search of the other Golden Hall (not the Central one, which is undergoing renovations), we decided to just sit down on the rather warm stones and stare up at the pagoda which was radiating peace as the day wound down. I could have sat there for hours, but alas the time had come to say goodbye.


Eastern Hall vs Pagoda – Pagoda wins!

We had to attend to more practical matters like picking up our bento for the Shinkansen ride to Tokyo. I took a sneak peek at the menu on the bus, and learning it was all seafood Ma and I decided it was better to forego the bento rather than open it up only to have the rice. As we walked to the station, we were overjoyed to discover a public bin where we all gathered and celebrated the public sorting and disposal of our rubbish (you can imagine just how rare it is to find a bin in Japan) before heading inside. We gathered at the group entrance but せんせい appeared to have disappeared. She came running in a few minutes later holding up a bag, announcing her last minute detour had been to a famous confectionery which can only be found in Kyoto to pick up some matcha biscuits which she would distribute later on in the Shinkansen. We had some time to kill at the station,  so we decided to roam around the station shops and look for some halal goodies. Thanks to our sensei’s ever willingness to translate ingredients on any kawaii candy we could get our hands on, we ended up with some tasty treats and were finally all set for the long ride to Tokyo, after many goodbyes to our lovely guide (who had probably lost 10kg in the space of a few days and who will most likely need a vacation from our vacation) who had looked after us so well. We tried to get some sleep on the Shinkansen, but it was in vain. Ma had her feet up on our purchases hoping for the swelling to subside and I was just too tired to go to sleep, if there’s a such a thing. Our bullet train journey was followed by a short train ride and soon, we were walking to our familiar hotel, where our luggage had already been sent up. A late night rendezvous in the hotel lobby let us know when we had to be up and ready the next day for our Shibuya. By 10pm, we were at our hotel room, which was sadly nowhere near the luxurious size that had surprised us at Osaka, but rather the compact size we were used to and we spent the night figuring out how to manage Mt. Fuji the day after tomorrow with ma’s feet still swollen up. We agreed that if they weren’t much better by morning, I would stay with ma and we could explore the streets of Tokyo instead, having already been to Fuji on our last trip. The next day’s itinerary also looked manageable so we hoped she’d be able to get enough rest for Day 7.

Missed Day 4 in Osaka?

Check out Day 6 in Tokyo!