Day 4 - Temples, Crowds, and Bowing Deer
written by Scott

We got up reasonably early. Packed out of Crossroads. We had to call to find out where the new place is (gahnointernet!) and got hung up on by the folks at the other end who thought we were trying to place a reservation. Sachiko helpfully called back and cleared it up for us. We left after many thank-yous and gifts in both directions: handmade bookmarks from Sachiko, note and maple sugar candy box from us, New Years Saké [which has a name...] from Sachiko. We packed the bags over the long hike to Murakamiya Ryokan and left them there.

Then hut! back to the train station, with a sense of urgency. Nara or Kyoto, for the day? We just caught the Nara train in order to spend a wonderful afternoon and evening in the (more) ancient capital. First, though: waffles, and bento for the train. Once in Nara, we met with considerable holiday crowds. Everyone was heading up the main st. [map] Arcades we are by now accustomed to, but Nara had a novelty-- Deer 'arcades' in the form of a park with sidewalks where people could buy biscuits to feed to the deer. And the deer treated the sidewalks like shopping arcades, stopping by when hungry and then wandering off for a nap in the sun. There were deer everywhere: short-faced small deer, and the tamest I've ever seen. Our only nod to shopping (besides street food!) was a stop in a stationery store where Ali got a journal, I got paper for Alta, and the proprietor gave us keychains in thanks for our patronage. That's not the only time we've gotten special treatment for being westerners, either.

The rest of the day was, according to Alison, "walking between shrines and stuff." Which meant that we followed the [recommended path] along with [several hundred other people] up to and through Kasuga Taisha Shrine. What would it look like without all the people and the paraphernalia booths set up on the temple porches? Did we the tourists (who were there to visit the shrine) need the fifth through tenth stands for buying hamaya (souvenir arrows), [fortunes], or ema (horse-picture charms)?

On the way out, we heard Taiko drumming and followed the sound down to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine Botanical Garden, where we wandered in, waited for the show, and froze. Ali flipped over the drumming-- so nice to see real Taiko in Japan. Meanwhile the rhythm and cold put me to sleep and nearly resulted in slapstick falling-off-the-seat.

When that was done, we raced over through [Nandaimon Gate] to [Todaiji], the largest wooden structure in the world (though only 2/3 the original size). Since this is one of the few places I know that I remember from my Japanese Art and Culture course, I took manymany pictures and stared a lot. And there was much to stare at. Primarily, there was the Daibutsu-den, with the daibutsu inside. Around it was a haze of incense, smaller buddhas and bodhisatvas, a close-up model of one of the intricately carved stone lotus leaves the buddha sat on, models of the original structure against what currently stands, and a pillar with a hole which, legend has it, marks those who can crawl through it as certain of rebirth in a heaven. We got [our fortunes], which were thankfully bilingual. We then trotted up the hill to a porch for a view, before wandering down along backstreets through the sunset.

Za Don, a donburi place we hoped to visit, was closed for dinner, so we went next door to [Zariya] okonomiyaki, where they made us pumpkin and cheese okonomiyaki and one order was enough after all the street food we had.

We futzed around in "Sega World", a "proper" arcade, and played a furious game of air hockey. Then home (slept on the train) and had waffles again "for dessert", checked in, and now bed. Early morning tomorrow, and hopefully I won't be as tired as this morning. Himeji, perhaps?

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