Adventures in Nara!

Originally published on 30 June 2006. This post is part of a series of “e-mails to home” from my first ever trip abroad working in Japan!

Well Hello! I hope everyone’s having a good week and you’re looking forward to the weekend! I went to Nara yesterday. It was a beautiful day, and the town was absolutely gorgeous! Let’s start at the beginning:

I caught the 5:47 a.m. train and made 2 changes at really small, obscure stations along the way. I was really nervous about it! There are always several tracks, and there’s now way to tell where to go until I get there, since I don’t read Japanese! It also makes me nervous that I don’t know how much time I have between train changes. One train was already there when the train I was on arrived! I’m just glad the names of the stations are in English on signs. Otherwise I’d be REALLY lost! It was amazing, though, there was always someone there to ask or something there to let me know where to go. I really wouldn’t have made it there or back without the kindness of strangers!

So I made it to Nara. I checked train times back to Ise for that afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the little man at the ticket office spoke pretty good English! He gave me a schedule and a map of the train lines to show where to change trains (I already had one, but I figured another one wouldn’t hurt). Armed with the train info and a map of Nara, I set out to find the Big Buddha and a temple or two!

It was 8:15 by the time I got there, so no museums or anything were open yet, but the shrines and temples and stuff closest to the train station are always there to look at. The place I went to in Nara is called Nara Park, and tame deer roam anywhere and everywhere, even right next to a major road! The Daibatsu (biggest wooden building in the world, which houses the Big Buddha), the 5-story Pagoda, several shrines, and quite a few temples are all in this park. It’s about 4km by 3km, and it’s completely gorgeous.


The first shrine I went to  was different from any others I’ve been, and I saw and heard something I’ve never seen or heard before. I walked over to take some pictures and when I looked to my right, there was a Holy Master (I think that’s what they call their holy men) was chanting and writing something in one of the buildings. That’s something I’ll never forget. I know it’s not like it means anything religious or spiritual to me, and I don’t understand it at all, but it means something to someone, and I may never have a chance to see something like that again.


So after my little religious experience, I went wandering and found a big pond. There were so many turtles around. At first I wasn’t sure if they were real, but then they moved! I also had my first encounter with… a deer! Aren’t we cute? They’re just… out there, wherever they want to be. Hundreds of them. You’d think such an immaculate country would have restrictions because of the poop factor, but I guess it’s all in how you view it. Maybe since it’s natural it’s ok. Anyway, they were amazing.

Oh deer!
Lazy day!
Mama and baby!

So after the deer experience, I wandered around and looked at the 5-story Pagoda and some shrines in the area. I found the Daibatsu (I think it means “wooden building”), but it costs 500 yen, so I decided to wait and do it on my way back. There was a field with a pond next to it, so I walked around there and had the realization that I am becoming my mother–I’m taking pictures of green stuff and water and flowers more than ever before. I guess that’s not so bad, though. I like my mama.

5-Story Pagoda

I wandered up a big hill to a building (it looked like it might have a Western style toilet–that’s how I pick where I want to visit). It was the “Silk Road Museum,” and of course I didn’t know what the Silk Road was. They had lots of very pretty and interesing artifacts, though. And two stuffed camels, which I thought was neat because I don’t think they exactly have camels in Japan. I could be wrong, though. All the information was written in Japanese, so I have no idea where they came from!

Then I walked up a big hill to the foot of a mountain, which I didn’t climb b/c it was going to cost money and I can climb all kinds of mountains around here for free. I looked in some shops and found a place that serves Cha-gayu, a famous meal I was told I have to try in Nara. It wasn’t quite lunch time, so I went to look at some more shrines and temples. On the way, I saw a couple who spoke English and they asked me for directions to the Daibatsu. The man was from Great Britain and the woman was from Barbados. It was so nice to hear someone speak English as their first language! They were very nice.

On the way back to the park, I stopped at that place where they served Cha-gayu.


That’s rice in green tea on the front left, rice cookies and green tea salt to the right in the blue bowl, and various pickled vegetables in the blue square thing. In the red box is mackerel sushi in a persimmon leaf, salmon, egg, pickled potato, pickled melon (I think), fish paste (it’s the colorful thing), tofu something in the middle there, I think bamboo below that, and pickled mushroom next to that. The thing on the red plate with the powdery stuff on it is some sort of “mountain vegetable” jell-o-like thing, only kind of firmer. It was all pretty good. It’s supposed to be known for it’s healthfulness!

After my healthful, filling, yummy lunch, I started back down the big hill to find the Daibatsu again. On the way down the hill, I stopped at a creek with a rock path leading across it. It reminded me of home and Fall Creek Falls, so I walked on down. It was fun. Just like back in Tennessee. I think I’ll go hiking somewhere when I get back. Anyone feel like a hike? I can’t believe how much of home I’ve taken for granted for almost 21 years!


So I got to the Daibatsu. I decided 500 yen is less than $5, so I can part with it for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m glad I did it! The pictures I took inside didn’t turn out well, no matter what I did with the flash (the only religious place where you can take pictures inside and they didn’t turn out!), but I’m glad I saw it. I can now say I’ve taken a deer by the antlers, eaten Cha-gayu, seen the 5-story Pagoda, been inside the largest wooden structure in the world, and seen the Big Buddha. How about that for cultural enlightenment!

I’m there!

So after that, I went to find some famous gardens, only to discover that it’s 700 yen to walk through them. I made up my mind that I’ve already seen plenty of gorgeous Japanese plants and taken pictures for free, plus I needed to get back to the train station. Oh well. I got my ticket and a riceball for the ride home and found my train platform. The train ride back was fine, and I had nothing worry about, but of course I was pretty nervous because of the whole changing trains and timing and all that. Here again, though, God put sweet, kind strangers in my path to direct me.

I would have missed one of the trains if some woman hadn’t nodded when I frantically asked if this train stopped at some station (don’t ask me the name–don’t remember and I couldn’t spell it if I did!). She got off before me, but she let me know how many stops the train would make between here and there. And when she left, another old woman seemed to just appear. I don’t know how long she’d been on the train or if she’d just gotten on, but she knew where I needed to get off! With hand motions I figured out that she would get off at the same time as me. She was so cute and so sweet. When we got off, she showed me where I needed to go to find the next train. She helped me ask a person in a uniform which track I needed to go to, and he was extremely helpful. Everyone was!

Thankfully, the last train I needed was actually terminate at the station I needed, so I knew for sure which train to get on because it had the station name on the side. Whew!

I got back to Ise about 5:30, dropped my stuff off at my apartment, and headed off to Sushi Lo for supper. It was most delicious, as always. I really do crave sushi now. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get back home! I got home to the apartment and was glad I splurged on my day off. Everything was wonderful and beautiful!


Today I’m doing reception the whole day except for break time, so hopefully I won’t offend anyone. Work was much better on Tuesday and Wednesday, thankfully. Next Sunday, Mami, Anna, and I will go to the Ninja musem, so hopefully I’ll have more tales to tell! Everyone have a good day. Thanks for the e-mails, thoughts, and prayers. Thanks especially to those of you who have sent letters! Love y’all.


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