The bus ride was easy enough but finding the Kintetsu line at Kyoto station was a struggle. I loathed myself for making so much effort for 80 yen but then I realised I was beating myself up for nothing because for one, the kintetsu and the JR are pretty much in the same place and for two, the kintetsu has a 35 minute express train for 500 yen extra. I took it! And as I waited for the train doors to open, I helped myself to a can of amazing cafe au lait from the vending machine. My second coffee in a week, the first being the one I took after my horrendous party-until-6-am-in-golden-gai night. I felt myself coming back to life.
….my Japan updates won’t be in sequence…
After a day of crazy tiring sightseeing and horribly crowded public buses in Kyoto, I was not particularly excited about more temples and shrines in Nara. In fact, when I woke up, I thought to myself that when I got to Hong Kong, I’d have enough time on Sunday to book myself in for a facial, a foot massage and a mani/pedi. I got really really excited thinking about that, and I missed Hong Kong and its conveniences. And as I walked with my suitcase to get a bus to get to the train station, I missed its cabs too.
The ride to Nara was jovial as I shared my space with a very friendly man from Tokyo who worked for Kirin beer. He was grateful when i told him I adored Kirin on tap (learn to say “nama biru” people). The walk to my Ryokan was just as pleasant even though I overshot and backtracked (such an annoying thing about traveling alone, you get distracted for a second and you’re in another prefecture…okay maybe I exaggerate)
It was a cool, beautiful, perfect 20-21 degrees, a welcome respite from the ultra-shite weather I’ve been dealing with since day 2 in japan. I wrapped my cashmere sweater around my neck, just to be safe, in case the weather decided to make a dick move, dropped my bags at the hotel, clutched my massive map of Nara and headed out.
Compared to Kyoto, Nara is smaller, easier to navigate, completely walkable from end to end (barring Saidoji and Heijo palace) and nowhere near as crowded. I did see the Singaporean/Malaysian/Chinese tour groups with flags (and did run in the opposite direction whenever I did) but not as often as I did in Kyoto. “Here you muss take wan fotto aa… we stop here wan meeneet to take fotto” Ugh.
I visited the Kofukuji temple, strolled through the park, took a detour to see the ume blossoms near the Ukimido Gazebo, stopped for a lovely and brief lunch of cha-soba (I heart soba) walked the big walk to Kaisuga Taisha shrine, looked for cherry blossoms in the Himuro shrine, then went up to the brilliant Taidoji temple. I didn’t fulfill my ambitious plans of hitting up Saidoji and Heijo Palace but I rationalized this with the fact that those sites are not nearly as grand as the ones I’d already seen and are mostly restored, not original ruins. What I regretted though was not getting a sesame icecream softee cone at the chasoba place because all the others did only sakura, vanilla and green tea and while I love matcha tea, I love sesame way more. So I got a matcha tea softee anyway and to my delight, it was amazing. The Japanese do their tofus and their teas way way better than the Chinese. (but the Chinese needn’t despair for they have their baos and their dumplings).
Nara has rightfully earned its spot in the UNESCO world heritage list, the buildings you see here will take your breath away. The Taidoji temple was especially stunning and I spent several minutes admiring the building from different angles. The millions of lamps at the kaisuga taisha shrine, the bright colours, the deer, everything in Nara feels quite different from the rest of the world. A word of advice on the deer, yeah, it’s cute to feed them the first time but it’s best not to feed the groups, they get quite aggressive and one of them chewed some of my map – the damn beast. I found it easier to feed the solitary, younger fawns as they are quite timid and more afraid of you, so they will take hte biscuit and then be on their way. Not all the deer in Nara bow, but the ones that do, do so ever so cutely.
After a very long day, I ignored Gangoji temple though it was ridiculously close to my ryokan. My feet were hurting (funny how they do even when the rest of my body isn’t at all tired) so I lay in my futon for a bit. When the common bath opened at 6 pm, I coyly headed down wearing my hair in a bun and nothing else on but my yukata. This was my first common bath experience and I was determined to have it alone! In old school fashion, I sat on a very very low stool and showered quite quickly. And then I lowered myself into the steamy hot bath. It was hotter than hell’s fires and so utterly relaxing. I let go of the seat and went all in, crouched with my hands grabbing my knees, partly out of shyness (no one was there) and partly out of how relaxed I felt. The bath must have warmed by coals, it smelt like smoke and cloves. I really, literally felt zen.
I showered a couple more times in ice cold water and went into the bath right after. My feet didn’t hurt anymore and I looked and felt cleaner (and pinker).
My first kaiseki dinner and also my last for this trip was grand and memorable. The only other person in the dining room was a Danish man, also traveling alone. We talked loads and he even shared his beef course with me which I had recklessly cancelled in a rubbish attempt to save money (guilt strikes at the wrong places). There were too many courses to name and they kept coming over the course of 2 hours.
I didn’t sleep too well that night no thanks to all the tea I drank during dinner (and because my stomach felt like a brick) but I didn’t sleep badly either. That I am writing this from the rapid express (whatever that means) train from Nara to Osaka-Namba station should give you an idea of my energy level.
I woke up at 6.15 am and had a shower in the common bath, again by myself, but strangely feeling a little less bothered should anyone else join me. I also had this thought that maybe my body wasn’t that ugly. I was then treated to a wonderful Kaiseki Japanese breakfast which was sort of odd in that I was eating rice and miso soups and pickled fish and vegetables for breakfast but it was in no way queasy or greasy. In fact, it was delicious and I ate almost all of it though I did forget to eat the pickled ume and I regret that.
My journey to Koyasan is a long one. After this train to Osaka Namba, I will take the Nankai electric line to Gakurakabashi – a 2 hour ride – and then a cable car to Koyasan and then a bus to my shukubo (temple lodging). Let’s see how I deal with real public baths and toilets and waking up at 4 am to meditate.