The Great Buddha, Nara, 2016

We walked along the path to the one of the oldest gates in Japan. It was tall and made of faded wood. On the steps of the gate a deer stood defiantly as if it dare us to enter.

Inside the walls of the gate were huge wooden guardians on either side of the entryway, casting a watchful eye over all who passed through.

We headed down the steps and were confronted by a wall. Peeking through the slats of the gates, we could see a beautiful ordered green garden leading to an enormous white temple with dark wooden embellishments and golden horns on the roof.

On the other side of the gate was the largest incense holder I had ever seen where people were burning and praying.

We walked around the walls to the side entry gate, paid our fee and entered the garden.

Walking into the temple through the front entrance, I was immediately struck still in awe. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it, or perhaps because it appeared to be trapped in a building that could barely contain its greatness, I was stumped by the largest Buddha I had ever seen in in my life. It was so overwhelming that not even photos could show just how big and amazing it was.

The main sitting Great Buddha was flanked by two bodhisattva statues in gold and two more guardians, one on each side; this time in stone.

We moved around the statues in an anti clockwise direction, continually being drawn back to the Great Buddha and it’s awesome size.

There was a model of the temple complex towards the back and a hole in one of the temple pylons that was the same size as one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. Children were lining up to crawl through the hole which is said to guarantee enlightenment if you can fit.

On the way back out of the temple complex, my daughter wanted to burn some incense. I like to think it was to pay her respects to the greatness that we had just seen, but it was more likely because everyone else was doing it.

We left the temple complex, walked back through the park with the now snoozing deer, their bellies full of biscuits; through the small town and caught the train back to Osaka where we dined on traditional Okonomiyaki pancakes and Asahi; hoping that it wouldn’t be so long before we saw our friends again.

No more sight seeing and temples for us, nothing would have been able to top the Great Buddha at that point anyway, so it was off to Disneyland for a different kind of wonder.

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Nara, 2016

One of our most epic days in Japan was our trip to Nara to visit one of my husband’s American friends, Perry, who had lived in a more remote area of Japan with his Japanese wife for a number of years. He was bringing his son who was the same age as my daughter, so we decided on the destination of Nara for our catch up.

Nara is known for its relatively tame deer that used to be looked after by monks and now were open to being hand fed by tourists. We met Perry and his son at Nara train station and went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Over a few beers, the friends caught up and their kids got acquainted.

After lunch we walked through the little town of Nara, which was made up mostly of eateries, one where I had a strangely flavoured persimmon smoothie, and shops selling deer souvenir’s of any shape or size. There was even an official deer mascot shop, which the kids liked.

On the way to the deer parked we passed a lake and then stopped at the impressive Five Storey Pagoda. Here, I discovered that Nara is also known for its many world heritage sites, this being one of them. The pretty red Hokuen- do Hall and large Nanen-do Hall formed a square with the pagoda.

We knew we were getting close to the deer park when they started appearing all over the road. There were cute little fawns with their mums, pregnant deer sitting and mewing and one fawn getting fed at a crossing.

In the park, the deer were everywhere, walking among the humans and not seeming to mind their presence at all. There were groups of deer wading in lakes and hiding in the reeds near streams. There were signs up in the park depicting pictures of what the deer could do and to take care.

Some deer biscuits were purchased and many deer immediately surrounded us, wanting to get in on the action. Some of them were definitely not shy, butting me for more food. We found some smaller deer for the kids to feed and my daughter seemed to enjoy it.

Now that the kids had been amused, it was time for the adults to do a little sight seeing. As we walked on to Todai-ji temple, with deer weaving out of the temple complex completely as ease, I had no idea of the greatness that was about to be unveiled.

 

Related posts: Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016

The main thing I wanted to see in Osaka was the castle. My husband, daughter and I passed a museum on the walk from the train station where people were lining up and there was some sort of travelling circus with large lizards and eagles.

As we neared the castle, I could spot a green roof looming above trees and I knew we must be close. We crossed the moat that was lined with willow trees and autumn leaves with a few boats floating by.

Stone walls surrounded the castle grounds from which there was a good view of the city. We walked around Osaka Castle, which turned out to have more white washed storeys than I first saw from afar, and lots of impressive gold embellishment.

There were large topiary trees, a huge rock out front and vending machines around the castle. My daughter asked- where are the king and queen of the castle? And I really didn’t know, so I bought her a Lady Borden ice cream on a stick instead.

We returned to Shinsaibashi-suji by day to shop, as this was our last city stop before going home. My daughter stocked up on Hello Kitty paraphernalia and chose Rapunzel as her first princess dress.

My husband bought souvenirs for his family and a sake set for us in Tokyo Hands; and souvenirs for friends at the Kit Kat shop. I found a gorgeous red jacket in Stradivarius, a funky shop that I had never heard of, and had to have it. And of course we hit Uniqlo and H&M.

After half a day focussed on shopping, I got a bit disconcerted by the chorus of thankyou’s, so we stopped for a nice lunch in a traditional style restaurant below street level. Every little dish had a plate of its own making the presentation very appealing.

We returned to our modern apartment with the many confusing light switches and buttons for a rest, before heading back out to a local restaurant that specialised in tempura for dinner.

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Osaka, 2016

My husband, daughter and I caught the Shinkasen very fast train from Kyoto to our next destination- Osaka. We spent a little time hanging around the train station in Osaka before we could check in.

There were many artful manga posters, a lot of samurai, art deco lights and some great earing shops. My daughter also got her fast food fix at Lotteria.

Upon arrival, we found our modern apartment and then headed out to the Minami area in the late afternoon. The atmosphere was electric and caused me to think that Osaka was the most liveable city in Japan that we had been to yet.

We strolled the Dotombori river walk, over bridges and beside the river. A tall duty free Ferris wheel rose above a lantern-lined promenade. I spotted a fancy establishment that just had a giraffe on it, framed by projected lines of light that changed colour periodically.

A stage was set up on the water where Japanese pop stars were singing, which my daughter loved; and there were stalls selling beer in plastic cups that you could drink on the river bank, which my husband loved; so everyone was happy.

As the light began to fade, the high-rise buildings lit up with neon and boats passed along the river hosting tourists and locals partying. The famous running man at the mouth of the Shinbashi-suji shopping district was flashing and crowded with people.

On Dotombori Street, the crowds grew thicker, jostling for a place in one of the many restaurants with various gimmicky signs. There were plastic puffer fish, crab, octopus and gyoza next to a market of local food stalls.

We ended up heading to a quieter back street for dinner on the way back to our apartment. Amongst cool funky bars and skewer stalls, we found an oyster bar that served wasabi oysters. It had been nice to head out at night and mix with the locals.

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