When I first visited Japan I did not visit Nara, instead I went to Hiroshima. I have never regretted that decision, Hiroshima, and always will be, an incredibly moving experience. That said, I always felt I missed something by not visiting Nara. When planning for this trip I made sure that Nara was on the list of places to visit. However, I got an unexpected surprise, my host family offered to show me around.
We left early in the morning for Nara by bus. It was an interesting ride, as usual on Japanese buses, very fun. We arrived at the first train station which I found out was not owned by JR, which meant I would have to pay for the the train. I later found that there are a variety of trains be operated by non-JR companies; this day ended up being rather expensive for fares.
For those who do not Nara is the ancient capital of Japan and the heart of Buddihism. For 74 years it stood at Japan’s capital (known as Heijokyo) before Kyoto rose to that title for nearly 1200 years. Following that, as we know, the Meiji took over and moved the capital to Tokyo (then known as Edo) where it stands today.
This one is Gojunoto and the picture really does not do it justice, its just incredible in real life. As all of the pictures above. But one of the most interesting aspects of Nara is the wildlife, in particular the deer (shika as the Japanese say) who are tame beyond belief. They are nearly totally unafraid of humans and reminds me of being chased by the geese when I was younger. You can buy food for then for 150yen, just be careful. If they are very hungry they will chase you down.
To say this statue is massive would not do it any justice. Its friggin huge, and its satellite statues are impressive as well.
Following this trip we headed for some rest, but Toma and I noticed a shrine (ginja in Japanese) on top of a small mountain, we decided to go together while the rest of the group rested. We were heavily rewarded with some awesome shops overlooking Nara and Nara park; truly incredible.
Following this we decided to split up and go to one more site while the rest of the group went home. We decided to head for Yakushiji. We took a long bus ride, only to find it had just closed when we arrived.
We still had a great time exploring. The picture above is of part of my hot family. From left to right: Emiko (mama), Akihiro (dad), Toma. The coolest part of this trip was I got to meet a real life monk and we talked for a bit about America and where I was from, and also how I came to meet the Oe’s (Emiko handled that part).
All in all it was a fun time despite everything being closed. We decided that after such a hard day we should go to the hot springs in Osaka.
The way back was interesting because we had to take so many trains. I would think that with Nara being such a highly tourist centric area, for both Japanese and foreigners, a more direct line would be available. However, I wasnt really paying attention, just following the family.
I did get a surprise along the way back. Nara and Osaka are separated by a mountain, and trains pass along this mountain as they move between the two cities. On the way back, we got chance to see the sun setting over Osaka, which made for this incredible shot.
Really, I had to shrink this for the blog, the full size will be available on Facebook later. After a couple more trains and some walking we arrived at Spa World in Osaka.
This place just friggin rocks. Its a shame that non of the guide books mention it, probably because its mostly designed for Japanese and foreigners tend to have a difficult time with walking around naked with other men.
Now, I have had something interesting happen recently. My younger brother Toma wants to bathe with me. Now in Japan this is perfectly acceptable, but obviously in America it is not something we do. In fact, I was taking a shower yesterday and I had to tell Toma no when he tried to come in. I explained to him later that coming from America it felt weird, and that it was not him. At Spa World, it was Me, Toma, and Akihiro (dad) walking around. I admit that it was a bit difficult to do at first, but you get used to it. See in Japan its ok for a girl to see a guy naked by accident, but the visa versa is not ok.
The bathes were themed for European civilizations like Greece, Rome, Atlantis, Spain (which was an outdoor bath and totally rocked). All in all it was a fantastic time. Following the bath we headed back. We were so tired from everything we even took a taxi back to the house. We told everyone else where we had gone and they were a bit jealous.
Later, Emiko asked if I had any laundry I needed to have done. I gave her everything I had, including my socks. It was then that she noticed the two GIANT blisters (one of which had turned green) on my toes. I got them due to all the walking I have been doing, sometimes up mountains. Being a mother, she immediately set to work to fix me up. I will likely have to see a doctor when I return to the states, but I am alright for now.
It really is amazing how much Emiko reminds me of my mother. Limitless patience, undying love for her family, and just a kindness that you dont find in a lot of people know matter where you go. I think she really looks at me as one of her own, which I have to admit is a bit weird. I feel totally accepted into their family, as much as I can be. I am truly indebted to her, her family, and their grandparents for their awesome hospitality.