Nara: Temples, Deer, and Mochi

It’s Nara time!
We woke up early, and had a quick breakfast at home. We ate some fish (custard cream filled taiyaki) and our beloved Hachimitsu dorayaki.

Diabetes here we come!

After just two big as hell coffees we were ready to rock! We took again advantage of our JR-Pass and headed to Nara with a local train.

The trip was short, around 40 minutes, but it was very long for our inner peace. Since we arrived in Japan we slowly adjusted to its calmness and silence. The train to Nara was a nightmare that brought us back to the noisy trains we are used to in Europe.

This city is a must see for every traveller, so there were no locals on the train, just screaming children and loud tourists.

Good mood, good mood… We can still isolate and forget the noise, since we are going to visit the oldest existing wooden building and pet some stinky deers! 

After 40 stressful minutes we got there.

Some history: Mostly known for its friendly (sometimes overly attached) deers, Nara is Japan’s first permanent capital and was established in the year 710.

As we got off the train we went straight to the information center to collect a map, hear some suggestions, and plan our day. The girl who attended us was very kind and suggested us also some unbeaten tracks.

Who said deer are friendly?

Our first goal was Kofukuji Temple, founded 1300 years ago. Just aside the temple there is a big five story pagoda, symbol of Nara.

I’m no photographer

It was built 600 years ago, and since then it was burned down only five times. Japanese buildings have really a bad relationship with fire, since each temple was either burned down or struck by lightenings. 
Since they heard us arriving, they decided to pack the main building for restoration to keep us from looking at it (we are used to this by now). 

We then went to the next stop. On the way there we spotted our first herd of deers!

First encounter

As we rightfully thought, they stink. A lot!
But they are so friendly that you forget after a while (not really, but still…).

“What do you have there human?”

It is ok to pet them, as soon as you keep everything that can be chewed far from their snouts. Maps and tickets included.

Curiosity: Do you know why there are so many deer in Nara?

According to legend, when the shrine was founded a mighty God was invited to the opening ceremony. The God is said to have come to Nara riding on a white deer. Since then, deer have been respected and protected ad Divine messenger by local people.

Dribling among the deer we arrived in front of Todaiji temple. Here we met a volunteer guide who walked us from the external gate to the temple.

The external gate, which name is Nandai-mon, was destroyed (what a news) by a typhoon during the Heian period.  Rebuilt in 1203 the Great South Gate is the largest temple entrance gate in Japan.

Lantern between the gate and the temple

Todaiji temple is famous for the massive golden statue of Buddha hosted in the Daibutsuden Hall.

Todaiji temple

The hall burned down “only” two times, destroying ​the statue, as a result of war.

Front view of the Buddha

The actual structure was rebuild in the 17th century and downsized to two thirds of the original size. Walking among the tourists crowding the wide area in front of the Buddha statue, we felt the greatness of this place, which is the largest wooden structure in the world.

Side view

The more you know…

The hands’ position of Buddha have a special meaning: the one raised up means “Come to me” while the other stands for “And your wishes will come true”.

Just behind the Buddha, there is a column with a hole on its base. This hole, is said, is as big as a nostril of the Buddha statue. Devoted Buddhists can earn enlightenment in the next life by crawling through this symbolic nostril.
Obviously we didn’t try. The queue was mostly made by children or skinny teens. I suppose we won’t be enlightened in our next life… Too bad.

Just outside the temple was placed a statue of one of the disciple of Buddha. It is said that he had great magic power, but he liked to show off and ended up being banned from the temple.

The magic disciple

Legend tells that if you touch the statue where you feel distress or pain, all your pain will disappear. It’s been almost a day since I tried it and still nothing happened. Should I call the customer service? JK…

Next we walked to the Kasuga Taisha shrine.

Some of the 2000 lanterns

This temple is the living proof that people don’t learn from their mistakes. Since we are here we learnt that basically every temple or shrine or castle has burned down at least once since its opening.
Well, this shrine has approximately 2000 lanterns.
Of those with candles inside.

Exactly: fire!

What the hell was wrong with 1000 years ago Japanese architect?

Very carefully we walked away from this fire hazards to go have lunch.

On the way we stopped to feed some deer and try to take a selfie with one of them. 
We realised that these deer are assholes. They learned from Japanese tourist to lean! That’s right. They come close to you and bow their heads, asking for food… adaptation instinct at its best.

We choose one of the many tourist trap to eat something.

Beef for me, chicken for Sara

It wasn’t bad at all, but the waitress looked no more than 10 years old. It was quite uncomfortable.
To conclude lunch we approached the most famous mochi maker in Nara, Nakatanidou. They are well known as they are the fastest mochi pounders in Japan.

Freshly pounded mochi

Basically they make the dough and start pounding it, in front of the tourist, with two wooden hammer inside a bowl shaped tree trunk. When the dough is well smashed, one of the guys starts slapping it, while the other tries to hammer his friend’s hand.

The super tasty red bean fill

The process is fast, impressive, and hilarious as they scream rhythmically while hitting the green slime.
You can watch a video on YouTube of the entire process here.

The mochi here are superb. If you come for the show, you stay for the food.
As we were planning to leave, we saw an Owl Cafe. We didn’t go in Tokyo, as we felt like it was the worst kind of tourist scam. But we won’t be able to see something like this anywhere else, so we surrendered.

BEST DECISION EVER!

I won’t write anything. I’ll leave the pictures talk.

After that overload of featherly sweetness, we took the train back to Kyoto. At the central station we bought the bus pass to tomorrow visits.
Kyoto has a special ticket that allows people to take every bus in the city, anytime, for 24 hours with a single 500¥ ticket (less than 5€). Perfect for our needs.

We are going to make good use of it, since the forecast for tomorrow says that it will rain the whole day… 

After a mandatory stop at 7eleven, we searched for a place to have dinner. 

Since we arrived in Japan Sara has been mumbling about getting some teppanyaki. It’s a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.

We found a teppanyaki restaurant, 鉄板居酒屋 祇園てなもんや, with good reviews close to our apartment, so we gave it a try. 

The place was small, crampy, and smelled wonderfully of grilled food.

It is run by a couple and most of its customers are from overseas. As we entered, all the chairs (16 in total) we taken so we had to wait 10 minutes outside.

Totally worth it.

We had gyoza, grilled beef, grilled veggies, and an okonomiyaki each: with pork for me and shrimps for Sara.

We sat in front of the griddle, so we could watch the entire cooking process.

What at the beginning looked like a mess, becames a tasty botch.

Highly recommended!
Once again, as we hit home, Sara fell asleep right away. So sweet…

Tomorrow is gonna rain. We’re gonna make good use of our bus pass.
That’s all for today.
See you tomorrow for another post!

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