To read about part two of my Obon holiday, click here.
My final full day in Kansai started in familiar fashion; I woke up around 11am, very sleepy with a tender head. Hello, old friend.
Naturally, my plans for an early start and a full day in Nara had gone out of the window thanks to the previous night’s antics. Not necessarily a bad thing as a cracking night was had by all…probably. After a quick breakfast I set about finding the direct train from my station to Nara as I couldn’t really handle the thought of making multiple transfers in an unfamiliar city feeling how I did.
Thankfully the direct train was regular enough and once onboard I made my customary quick scan of Wikitravel (you didn’t think I’d planned this one out, did you?). It was almost like they’d designed the page with me in mind, as at the top of the ‘Things to do’ section there was a note that said something to the effect of ‘If you’re pushed for time then stick to Nara Park’. Cheers, Wikitravel.
Upon arrival at Nara station I decided to defy Wikitravel and walk to Nara Park instead of taking a bus. One thing I’ve learnt in Japan is that, generally, the locals’ idea of a ‘long walk’ and my idea of one vary massively. For example, an apartment that is more than a 10 minute walk from the train station seems to be considered an absolute no-go for some people here. On a larger scale, my daily commute is around 30 minutes most days if not less, yet many of my students tell me I live ‘very far’ from work. They want to try my previous daily commute between Todmorden and the outskirts of Leeds!
The walk from the train station to the park only took around 20-30 minutes which, despite the blistering heat was absolutely fine by me. One can only imagine that the local calculations factor in stopping to catch Pokemon every few minutes, in which case the time would probably double. One thing I did notice from walking through Nara was that the town is a much more traditional affair than what I’ve become used to, and even the convenience stores got in on the act.
I didn’t really know what to do or see in Nara Park. What I did know however was that there were a load of wild deer just wandering around the park so I figured I’d just turn up and go with the flow. I know, doesn’t sound like me at all…right?!
When I reached the park I saw a fairly large group of tourists surrounding one deer, almost forming an orderly queue ready for the customary deer selfie that I’ve seen plastered all over Facebook many a time. I decided to not join the queue and instead had a wander around to see a few of the many temples and a pagoda. I assumed that the aforementioned fella wouldn’t be the only deer knocking about the park and I was proven right a few moments later when I reached the middle of the park and was surrounded by the buggers. Being a raging hypocrite I did manage to get in on the selfie action too.
Is it just me or is it borderline impossible to pull the same face as you would with a normal photo when taking a selfie? I can’t say I’m fond or a regular taker of selfies, but whenever I do I find myself pulling a slightly surprised look with my eyebrows raised; it’s a face I certainly never pull when someone else is taking the photo. Very odd indeed.
From a moral perspective here it was nice to see the deer roaming free and many signs encouraging people not to feed them their own food but to feed them the inexpensive deer crackers for ¥150 instead. The cynic in me might suggest that it’s a bit of a money-making scheme but I’m sure deer don’t live off a natural diet of chocolate and crisps so better safe than sorry!
Naturally once again I couldn’t avoid joining the masses and buying a pack of deer crackers. The deers are very civilised and although it can be a little intimidating when you’re suddenly mobbed by them all wanting a cracker or 12 they’re ultimately very well behaved. I even saw one waiting at the crossing for the lights to change – true story! They’ve actually got into the habit (nature or nurture?) of bowing in order to ask for a cracker which is all very sweet and admirable until one of them catches you in the ‘you know what’ with their horns!
I managed to escape (genitals just about intact) and shook off the remaining deer once they realised I had nothing left to offer. I’d been well and truly used and abused.
Although the main attraction for me was the deer I felt I should probably do a little bit of culture too so I wandered over to the Todaiji Temple which – according to my sources *cough* Google *cough* – is one of the most ‘famous and historically significant’ temples in Japan. As you may expect I didn’t really pay too much attention and didn’t bother to go inside to see the ‘Daibutsuden’ (a big Buddha) as it was mega busy. From the outside though the Nandaimon Gate was pretty impressive and that was enough for me; besides, the smell of deer piss and shit was making me a bit nauseous.
After a brief takoyaki stop I found myself on the train back to Osaka where – despite still nursing a bit of a hangover – it was decided that tabehodai (all you can eat) kushikatsu was to be the food of choice for the night.
Kushikatsu is essentially random bits of food on skewers deep-fried with breadcrumbs. I’m sure I won’t be getting a job as a food marketer any time soon but let me assure you it’s decent and was the final Kansai speciality for me to tick off my list. I didn’t make many plans, but eating as much of the local cuisine as possible was certainly one of them.
My problem with tabehodai and nomihodai (all you can drink) is that they encourage me to binge and do everything to excess. Tonight was no different and the three of us managed to put away a respectable/stupid 20 skewers each. I may have been the only Englishman in the group but my Tunisian and Australian counterparts commendably adopted the northern English mentality of getting as much for your money as possible.
Safe to say that the rather ridiculous amount of food consumed, coupled with a day in the sun and a few beers made for one tired little northerner. After the meal I somehow managed to resist the peer pressure from Myriam and our new Aussie mate Andrew and called it a night at around midnight. My flight back to Tokyo wasn’t until early afternoon the next day but I hadn’t packed, had no idea of what time checkout was or when I’d need to get the train.
I may have shown a bit of willpower, but some things will truly never change!