MARCH 13, 2017
Another daytrip that we did from Osaka was to visit Nara. Our train ride was about an hour and a half, which gave us enough time to sleep because we woke up early.
NARA KOEN was our first destination but we were confused where to get off (while on the bus) so we chose a random stop. Apparently, the park was huuuge and all of the places we wanted to visit were all there. We looked for a quiet spot first to eat breakfast – and away from the deer!
After filling our tummies, we went to KOFUKU-JI (UNESCO) and we had free access to the temple grounds. Its five-story pagoda was an amazing sight and considered to be the second tallest in Japan.
We were unable to view Central Golden Hall (the main hall) because it was undergoing renovation. We decided to just explore the other parts of the temple grounds instead.
Since we did not have a lot of stops in our itinerary, J suggested we visit NARA NATIONAL MUSEUM. It was also raining so it would be good for us to seek shelter for the meantime. Taking pictures was not allowed inside but it was worth the visit. The extensive history of Buddhism can be found there as well as A LOT of Buddha and Buddhist-related statues. We also visited a portion that was dedicated to Omizutori, which was our last item for the Nara itinerary.
Near the museum, we saw an old lady selling sweet potatoes per gram. We bought 500g and we were surprised how big it was. Even if the three of us shared it, we were not able to finish eating it.
One deer spotted us with the sweet potato and it followed us even when we crossed the road. We ended up hiding in a shrine but we could see the deer looking for us. LOL.
Seeing and interacting with deer was the activity we were all looking forward to. But, I was initially scared especially when we encountered them in groups. We saw a local who threw bits of crackers and the deer nearby went wiiild – I even saw a few jumping over rocks while rushing towards the food.
I followed my cousin’s advice on how to feed deer with lesser chance of experiencing them being aggressive:
- Be careful when buying food in the deer cracker hotspot – areas with many vendors who are all selling deer crackers. Better to look for another place with less vendors as fewer deer are hanging out there. (We were able to buy ours in a store near the road – it was the only store at that spot)
- Do NOT let the deer catch you buying their food! Put the crackers inside the bag right away. They are smart enough to see that you bought crackers and where you put it. Once they see you, they will not stop bugging you to give them food.
- Most of the deer roaming around the park can be too aggressive especially when it comes to their food. Those that are inside temples are more docile and they kind of act like a hippogriff – when you bow to them, they’ll bow to you. Some already bow once they see you. We felt that it would be cold of us not to give them food so we ended up giving most of the crackers to deer inside temples.
Fun fact: Deer is the symbol of Nara and it is regarded as the messenger of the gods. Nara’s deer mascot is called Shikamaru-kun – and this made me realize one of the famous characters in Naruto named “Nara Shikamaru”. Cool!
The walk to our next destination was quite long but it was a pleasant one. It took us about 20 minutes of walking along a path covered in trees before we reached KASUGA TAISHA.
This is the most important Shinto shrine in Nara, and it is famous for the donated lanterns decorating a portion of the shrine. These are only lit during evenings of Lantern festivals in Nara. Similar to Kofuku-ji, the grounds do not have any entrance fee.
We spotted a few deer here and they were hiding near the stone lanterns.
Inside the hall, we saw the lanterns with intricate designs as well as ema which included deer-shaped ones.
Since we still had time to kill before the Omizutori, we ate late lunch and checked out the line of stalls near Todai-ji.
Our last stop in Nara was TODAI-JI (UNESCO), a famous Buddhist temple founded thousands of years ago. We were not able to explore this since we arrived during closing time. It was a bit of a bummer though as I wanted to visit the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall – Main Hall) – largest wooden building with the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.
But, we did not felt that bad because the main reason why we visited was attend the Omizutori. The ceremony was held at Nigatsudo Hall, which also gave a good view of the city. We were lucky enough to be able to climb the steps going up the hall but we were eventually asked to leave as the locals prepare for Omizutori. OMIZUTORI is one of the oldest festivals in Japan as it started in 752 AD. It is done as a way to cleanse sins and welcome spring. They say that March 12 and 14 are the best days to watch the ceremony – longest on the 12th (45 minutes), shortest on the 14th (5 minutes) but more spectacular as torches are lit all at once.
Even before sunset, there were already a lot of locals in the temple grounds. Wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than a thousand people there.
Funny story: we realized we came unprepared when we saw almost everyone were sitting on the ground with a plastic or cloth that they can use as a mat. There was still about an hour of waiting because Omizutori would only start at 7PM. I had scratch bond papers inside my bag and brought it out to use. But, an old lady took pity on us and gave us her extra big disposable plastic mat. (Arigatou obasan!) Made us love Japan and its people even more! ❤
The ceremony started on time and seeing this 1250-year old tradition in real life was surreal. Series of torches were lit one at a time and on occasions, the torch holder would shower sparks over the crowd. It lasted for about 30 minutes and everyone was focused in this ceremony.
I wish I could post the videos but the file sizes are too big. 😦
After Omizutori and making our way out of the crowded place, we decided to have dinner in Osaka. Automatic choice was to go to Dotonbori and just choose whichever we wanted to try. We went to DARUMA, which is famous for its kushikatsu (deep fried skewered meat/vegetable) and has been in the business since 1929. We were lucky because there was no line and we were able to get a table right away. Our table (2nd floor) was also next to the window which provided a view of Tonbori River.
We initially wanted to order 2 sets but because there were 3 of us, that would mean that for every type of kushikatsu, one of us would not get to taste it. And so, we decided to just get one set each. I think the staff could not help but stare at us because 1 set has 12 kushikatsu sticks. But, we were hungry plus we did not know when we could get to eat again there. J and I ordered oyster too because a deep fried one sounded yummy.
Our orders did not disappoint! Definitely not for health-conscious people but come on, the oil probably helped in making the kushikatsu delicious. :p
Note that they do not allow double dipping for hygienic purposes. You are only allowed to dunk each kushikatsu in the sauce only once. If you still want more sauce, you use the piece of cabbage (provided for free) to scoop more sauce. I also read in some posts that eating the cabbage helps in digestion.
After dinner, we explored Dotonbori some more and after seeing J enjoying her Cremia ice cream before, I had to buy one. My sister always told me that it is fun to eat ice cream during cold season but the idea is weird to me. So after trying this during this trip, I finally understand what she meant. What I like about eating ice cream during winter is that I do not have to worry that my ice cream would easily melt and drip everywhere. Haha!
That’s it for Nara. Next stop is USJ (and WWOHP)!!!
LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:
Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)
Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)
Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)
Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)
Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka
Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka
Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka
Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios
Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima
Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima
Japan, Day 11: Osaka