#045: Temples, Deer & Octopus in Nara Park, JapanTak's dispatch released on 1 September 2015

Deer at Nara Park Japan

Expelled from the high-speed bullet train from Tokyo, you find yourself in Kyoto waiting for the contact of a rental property you booked.

The older Japanese man appears five minutes late and leads you out to his car for the quick drive to the rental property. He gives you a map of the area, full of Japanese kanji characters, and, in broken English, a quick rundown of your new temporary neighborhood.

Peaceful Kyoto Street

The rental house is situated on a quiet, narrow street several blocks from the main road. The houses sit adjacent to each other with hardly any room to spare in between; there are no front yards. The front door outside, like nearly all the wood-crafted doors inside, slide open and closed in traditional Japanese fashion. The sliding doors on the interior, left open, turn the compartmentalized space into one much larger. The options for cordoning off or opening up sections are numerous.

A galley kitchen is stuffed into the short hallway to a door which leads out to the bathroom and shower rooms, separate rooms both located technically outdoors. They are surrounded by walls and topped with thin plastic panels but the ambient outdoor temperature definitely noticeable.

Western-style beds are in one bedroom. Tatami mats and bedding are stuffed under the living room table and along the wall. The walls in general are not very well insulated and rely on a wall unit and some portable heating units to provide warmth for the chilly spring nights.

It’s your first full day in Kyoto and you find yourself seated across from an old couple on the train to Nara, a city that was once Japan’s capital. In some part due to its historical significance, it has a good number of temples, shrines and a large park which just so happens to be filled with docile and friendly deer. Given that it’s a weekday, past the peak of cherry blossom season, you hold to hope that the park will be relatively empty while watching the old woman across from you futilely shields herself from the rising sun.

Cat Store in Nara Japan

You weave through the throngs of tourists spilling from the train station and along the main street leading to the park. Signs leading you to shops selling tourist junk and sidewalk menus litter your periphery; a store full of cat-related paraphernalia would have to be one of the better finds.

Deer at Nara Park

The deer amble about under half-bloomed cherry trees. You see several in a pack with a high-school aged tourist feeding them some crackers. She tries to walk away but the deer follow, attuned to the high probability that she is hiding some. They bump their heads into her arm and try to find evidence of such. She opens her hands, she has no more left. The deer are unconvinced and continue to harass her for a payout.

Painter in Nara Park

There are a bunch of art supplies in a pile at the side of the hill. On top of the hill an artist is set up at an easel painting the landscape. In the distance sits another. It seems the area is quite popular with both young and old. It is also quite evident that avoiding people for any solitude is not going to happen in Nara Park (find map here).

Nara Todai-ji Temple Nara Japan Shrine Nara Japan Lights at Shrine

You walk along the various pathways which invariably put you at crossroads with the various shrines and temples. Pretty much all of them are teeming with visitors and you quickly leave for the next one. You look at the map and try to find the most out of the way attractions. But without fail, no matter where the attraction is located it is drawing attraction seekers en masse.

Okonomiyaki Restaurant in Nara Okonomiyaki in Nara, Japan

On your way back to the train station, you stop in a restaurant for some Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pizza or pancake of sorts. The batter is dropped onto a hot griddle and a whole slew of optional toppings are added. Your table doubles as the griddle and you aren’t sure really how to operate the temperature or when to shut it off…

Takoyaki Window in Nara

Heading out of the restaurant, you turn left and come across a small window selling Octopus Balls, or Takoyaki. The old woman hovers over an iron pan cooking the balls filled, or perhaps dotted, with octopus. She adds mayonnaise on top, a sauce, some fish flakes and some aonori, a green seaweed.

Takoyaki or Octopus Balls in Nara Japan

You sit outside her window and, with the miniature wooden fork provided, bring your first takoyaki to your mouth. The interior is burning hot with a molten-like texture that seems to coat every part of your mouth. You gasp for air to cool the lava and toss it between each side of your mouth trying for whatever respite is available. However pleasant they may be, the other five will not get eaten in any haste you assure yourself.

It is a confusing maze to get back to Kyoto. There are several trains which run back that way, but figuring out which train takes which ticket is a puzzle. Further, there is a subway which seems to run on the train tracks that runs more often. It is hard to decipher for even Japanese visitors.

You hop on the subway and decide to see where it will take you. As the train runs, you consult a map and notice you will be passing near the popular Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine. While you now are well aware that there will be people there, you figure it will only be worse on the weekend and so, while in the area, you better check it out.

The train pulls up to the stop and you get off. At the ticket gate, you insert your card which opens the doors allowing you to exit; only this time, no such thing happens. When you insert your card, you are met with a warning sound. You head over to the manned booth.

He takes a look at your ticket and says something.

“Wakarimasen,” you respond, informing him you don’t understand. You point at the ticket and say “Nara to here”. You shrug acting more confused than you actually are to hit the point home. It is somewhat evident that you must have gone a bit too far on the subway line for the ticket purchased but figuring out the “whys” of the matter aren’t in your interest at the moment.

He oscillates between wanting additional payment and explaining the problem before nodding his head and directing you on your way. He respectfully thanks you for your time. You thank him back, very thankful with the outcome and his sensibility and kindness.

It is quite clear you are far, far away from an MTA subway booth in New York City.

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