Solo Gaijin’s Crazy Nara Koen (and more) Adventure

On Sunday, I wrote eight lesson plans. My coworkers kidnapped me at 8 pm and forced me to take a break. I almost felt guilty. Almost. But I had already done so much, I just leaned back and enjoyed the caviar (yes, caviar… among other things).

Monday, I slept in late, then got up and checked to see if one of my fellow trainees had decided whether or not she wanted to come down to Nara. Since she declined, I decided to be bold and travel myself. I’ve been planning a trip to Nara Park for three or four days, and it is a famous tourist attraction, so I figured I’d start there. I walked from my apartment to Nara Park. I knew I was there because I saw a shika (deer). I scared it off before I could get a picture, but I knew there would be more.

Shika Bow

In old country, you eat shika. In new country, shika eat youuuuuuu…

Next thing I know, I am practically up to my neck in deer. They had no idea that I often eat their American cousins, and for that, I was very fortunate, and unlike American deer, they are completely laid back. They let you walk right up to them, even pet them. Yep… there’s nothing that can make them lose their deer little minds (pardon the pun).

Except for one thing.

All over Nara Park, there are places selling biscuits you can feed the deer. I thought I’d be clever and ask for the vendor to take a picture of me while I fed them. Before I could ask, she cut me off with a “don’t-o stop-u.” Three seconds later, I am completely surrounded by shika. Suddenly, they don’t look so friendly. They looked completely and totally possessed by their newest thinking organ: their stomachs. By this point, I’m fumbling to get them unwrapped. And that’s when one bit me, right in the stomach. So, the little bastards did know about me eating their American cousins… Things happened too quickly for me to get a good picture of the feeding. I’m just lucky I didn’t get eaten alive.

Once the biscuits were gone, we went back to being peaceable, civilized friends.

I saw Todaiji Temple, but I didn’t go inside today. I’m waiting until my parents come to visit. Then, we can all see Daibutsu-san together.

I also walked the Shimononegi-Machi quite a ways, then turned back for fear of getting lost. My wandering took me to a shrine near the entrance to the path, and I took a seat across from another traveler, who simply looked at me once and smiled. Exhausted and a bit disoriented by my hunger and my long walk, I took a mental note of the woman’s reaction. I considered lunch, then told myself I should wait. After all, I had to pinch my 1-yen coins as much as I could. I had already eaten my first real bowl of ramen on Saturday night, and I had spent 2,000 yen at the grocery.

Time for a culture shock moment. This may surprise you, but the foreigners in Japan aren’t really that friendly. They actually strike me as quite aloof. Me, I live here. I jump on the opportunity to talk to someone and understand what they’re saying. I’m not sure why it’s different for tourists (and you can tell who they are because they aren’t dressed up fancy like businesspeople). So, in the middle of sitting on the bench, this little old Japanese woman comes up and says, “Konnichi wa. Achi desu ne.” (Hello. It’s hot, isn’t it?) I agreed immediately. Next thing I know, she’s offering me food, asking me where I’m from, when I’m going back… all of this in five minutes. She asked me something like, “Tsugi wa doko ni imasuka?” (Where are you going next?) To which I responded, “Wakarimasen.” (I’m not sure). I’m not really sure what happened after that, but she said in Japanese, “Do you want to go to Nigatsu-dou?” And like the onsen, for a moment, I was completely taken aback. My next reaction was to give up, throw caution to the wind, and let the adventure take me wherever it wanted to. I answered that I would go, and we walked. I’m not really sure how it happened, but we climbed a bunch of stairs and made it there.

And my God, was it beautiful.

Nigatsudou

A view of Nara-Shi from Nigatsudou.

I didn’t even know about Nigatsu-dou, but the temple overlooks the entire city of Nara. There are mountains in the background, and you can see Todaiji Temple… and practically everything else… from right there. We rested. I felt that church-like divine peace take over. She gave me a 10-yen coin to drop into the offering box, and we prayed in the simplest manner I’ve ever experienced: we clapped our hands together, bowed our heads, and then continued on for complimentary tea. After that, we went to a garden, another temple, a McDonald’s for coffee, and finally Daiso, my next destination. When everything was said and done, Michiyo-obaa-san wound up feeding me, providing 10 yen, buying me a coffee, and presenting me with an omiyage: a paper fan. Then, she said good-bye and left me wondering if I would ever see her again. Still, I learned a lot from my impromptu tour guide: the word for uncooked rice (okome), the word for Japanese maple (momiji), the word for pond (ike), and the lay of Nara Koen.

I shopped at Daiso for a little while, mainly buying things for my apartment. I then proceeded to the other Hyaku-en store in the area, Seria. By the time I was done, it was pouring, and I decided to wait it out. I contemplated lunch again, but I still held back, preferring to poke around at all of the goods instead.

Once I left Seria, I continued wandering and found myself caving to hunger. Food was no longer a want but a need. All I had eaten today aside from Michiyo-obaa-san’s cookie and mysterious dried snack food was a slice of bread with fig jam. I caved and went into Mellow Café, ordering an epic salad and an even more epic parfait. They also had an English menu, which helps because at least I know what I’m eating (so I can eat it again, of course). 1,200 yen and one good meal later, I hunted down an omiyage shop and just decided to poke around for a bit.

Parfait of Wonder

My first parfait in Japan! Bananas fried in spring rolls with chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. So good, I even ate the garnish.

And then, kaminari.

My plan was to walk out without buying anything, but the shop owner, another little old woman named of Kaimi-san, asked me about my home, where I was living, etc. Obaa-san: the sequel. I bought a small lucky cat with the left paw raised (to attract the money I keep spending) and learned the Japanese word for porcupine (harinezumi, literally needle mouse). And then, just as I was about to leave, the storm that had been building all day broke.

And was it a storm. It struck the fear of God in me three times over.

So, I stuck around until I thought things were clear, got caught in a downpour, and found that my bag soaked through to the point if warping my passport and my phrase book. I couldn’t curse the rain, though, because it brought the first temperature below 80 that I’ve experienced since I got here.

Omiyage

Michiyo-obaa-san’s parting gift to me. I am grateful for the tour, for the snack, for the offering, for the coffee, and for the fan, which somehow miraculously survived the downpour. ^_^

It’s Tuesday, and my bag is just now drying. I’m happy to report that all of my paperwork has recovered… aside from a few receipts I had been hoping would disappear. Tomorrow features cell phone and bank adventures. Oh, and I get my inkan. ^_^

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