Wednesday, April 6, 2011


We started this morning bright and early, as we wanted to have a quick look around a few of Kyoto's shops before leaving. Emma finally found some clothes that were nice and that fit her, and I found a TinTin shop, which I went "squee" at everything. We also had McDonalds for breakfast. Again.

Then, it was back to the hotel to grab our bags, and off to the train station. After a quick hop on the subway, we were at the intricately massive Kyoto station to try and find our train to Nara. Now, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but to a foreigner, it seems like there are more different companies of rail travel in Japan then there are ways of serving fish.

We were given the hard task of finding the "Kintetsu" private railway system for our train to Nara. Now while most of the different companies have their various stations well signposted throughout any major "hub" station, Kintetsu did not. Their directions were confusing and vague. They even had signs that directed us down corridors that didn't actually end in their train station, but in a SHOPPING MALL. After having about as much enjoyment as one gets in watching an orphanage burn to the ground, we finally found our station.

Half an hour later, we were in Nara. A quick 10 minute walk to the hotel, and we were ready to go exploring Nara's premiere attraction, Nara koen (or park). As the title of this blog entry so aptly surmises, Nara park is famous for its deer. They're everywhere. They're tame and they're cute and they can be deceptively aggressive. Normally they're quite passive and won't go near you. That is, until you buy some deer biscuits. Then, it's every man for themselves.

The deer will catch wind of your scent of deer biscuits, which is quickly transformed into a scent of fear. First, there will be one following you, then there will be two. Then, it's like an exponential thing. Soon you have like, TWELVE deer surrounding you, trying everything they can to eat your brain- I mean, deer biscuits. They're a bit like zombies, except a whole lot cuter, and they let you pat them... sometimes. Eventually you learn if you get deer-mobbed, to throw a biscuit far away and hope that some of the pack breaks off, allowing you enough time to flee.

I'm actually giving them quite a bad rap at the moment - some of them are mean - they will bite you on the leg/butt if you don't give them their biscuits, but most will just gingerly follow you around, bobbing their heads up and down until you give them some of your precious biscuits. We found one particularly nice one which let us pat it. It even liked us patting it - even when we didn't have any biscuits. We named it Yuki (snow), because it was the only Japanese noun we knew aside from food.

We then headed away from the more populated sections of Nara park, and up into the hilly shrine area. It was beautiful through this area. Stone lanterns lined the pathway all the way up to the grand shrine, and through the forest trees, you could see deer flitting about as wild deer should.

The grand shrine was also very impressive - very big and painted in a striking tone of red, but because I didn't understand any of the religious customs associated with it, I could only really appreciate it on face value. That, and the atmosphere that the park created around it.

I decided to feed any deer that I saw in the foresty section some deer biscuits, as a congratulatory measure for being "deer that behaved like deer should". We even saw the cutest little baby deer near the Grand Shrine. He got lots of biscuits.

We then made our way past a startlingly large, almost mountain-sized, hill, and then down through the most breathtaking cherryblossom grove Emma and I had seen yet on our trip. The sun was setting as we made our way through it, which added that extra special touch to a visually stunning landscape.

Back at the hotel, we could finally check in. During the check-in process, we were sat down, and offered some delicious looking cherryblossom tea. How can I describe this heated beverage? Imagine the purest cherryblossom flowers you can (look at my blog photos for reference). Then imagine them being gently placed in a intricately detailed deer-themed teacup. Now imagine boiling hot seawater being poured over them. That's what it tasted like. Salt water and flowers. Interesting. The hotel lobby itself is a train wreck of decorations from all different cultures, but the rooms themselves are nice and ryokan-like. I sound like I'm giving the hotel a bad review, but it is actually very nice. Especially the staff, and especially Nami, who has been looking after us so far. More on her later.

After relaxing in our room for a little while, we headed up to the roof of our hotel to catch the last rays of sunlight disappearing over the horizon. A very romantic end to a highly scenic day.

Like at the other Ryokan we stayed at, dinner was in our room. This time, we were served by a delightful lady called Nami, who spoke great English. She showed us exactly what to do with all of our various dishes of food, and that made the meal infinitely more enjoyable. She even talked with us about how she travelled to Australia last year on a working holiday. She was great.

And then I sat down to write this blog. So that's pretty much as far as I've gotten so far today. Oh wait, Nami has just brought us a gift. It is post cards with our names in Kanji written on them. "Emma" means "Smile True", and "David" means "Kindness Beautiful... Pass... The Big Dipper..." My tallness translates into any language.

Oh, and I spent about 1000 yen on deer biscuits today. They're that freaking cute.

Tomorrow: Nara koen's Big Buddha, Moar deer and our next stop: Mt. Koyasan, a town of Buddhist monasteries.

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