March 28, 2019
I wanted to do something different today. While this entire trip has been a new experience for Abbie, I’ve already done most of these things already. Not saying that they’re not awesome and aren’t worth doing multiple times, but I just wanted to share a brand new experience with Abbie. One town that I’ve never visited before was Nara. Nara (then known as “Heijo”) was the first permanent capital of Japan and was established in the year 710. Here, you will not only find original structures and temples from that era, but you will also get to experience the thousands of tranquil wild deer that roam the streets. These tiny deer are receptive to people and really like to be fed rice crackers. You can walk up to them, pet them, feed them crackers, and take in the beautiful park where most of them are at. Sounds like fun! Let’s go to Nara today!
…But first let’s grab more of that delicious coffee and toast from the coffee shop we went to yesterday. It’s just too good to pass up. After breakfast, we headed towards the train station and jumped on the local line that lead towards Nara. Nara was actually quite a ways away, so taking the local train was a mistake. Since it stopped at every station, it would take ages to get to Nara. We decided to jump-off at the half-way point and wait a couple minutes for the rapid service. Only a few moments later, we were sitting on the rapid train towards Nara and oh yeah, that’s a lot faster.
A little bit of a walk up the main street and you will encounter a massive set of temples (with insanely steep stairs!). These temples were amazing and spacious. Even if they were dumping grounds for tourist busses, there was plenty of space so it wasn’t so packed and shovy.
It’s crazy to think about the age of some of these structures. Their conditions were immaculate and everything was perfectly maintained and clean. When you’re from a country as young as the United States, you don’t really have all that much ancient historical culture.
…but where were the deer I’ve heard so much about? Just a little bit more wandering down the temple paths and… look, there’s one!
Aw, they’re so tiny and curious. It’s neat to see deer like this since they’re usually very skittish of humans. These deer were friendly and inquisitive. Hundreds of years of associating humans with rice crackers will probably do that, but it was cute nonetheless.
The park was massive and beautiful with lots of blooming flower trees. There were thousands of deer here. It was like living in some fictitious dreamscape. Abbie and I pondered if we even really made it here or not – maybe we died somewhere along the way and this was some sort of afterlife. The setting certainly matched, but I can (mostly) assure you that we are, in-fact, still living.
Dotted around the grounds were vendors selling stacks of rice crackers for 150 Yen. You actually got a decent sized stack of large crackers, so Abbie and I bought two of them throughout the course of our visit. Around the cracker vendors, though, were the hordes of opportunistic deer that would congregate around tourists that had just bought a stack. These buggers were definitely the less well-behaved deer and were a bit cheeky, but I had an idea. Bet you if I buy the crackers quickly and zip them up in my pocket before they saw them, I wouldn’t be bothered and we can move out towards the more tranquil individual deer. This theory proved successful, as I’m not sure if deer have object permanence or not. Crackers in the pocket? Gone from existence.
We decided to walk pretty far out from the cracker vendors and the main tourist paths and wander a little bit into the forest. Here, the deer were a little more dispersed, so it was easy to handle one or two at a time. It was funny though, at first you see only one deer, but as soon as the rice crackers come out, three of them would appear out of nowhere.
If you hold your hand up and slowly bow, the deer will respectfully bow to you as well. They’ve been trained to bow dating all the way back to the original ancient Buddhist monks that once, and still do, populate this city.
You can see this behavior at the 0:27 mark in the video down below when I fed them:
The deer are kind and gentle, for the most part. Sometimes they’re a little cheeky and will give your clothes a little tug for attention or will boop your hands, but generally speaking, they’re very friendly. Just don’t let them see where you hide your crackers! If you’re lucky, they will briefly let you pet them. They are very, very soft. They feel like stuffed animals, but with slightly coarse fur.
Abbie and I spent some time in the forest and fed some more deer. A man walked up and watched in the distance. I offered him one of my rice crackers since it looked like he was interested and didn’t have any. After letting him feed the deer that we had congregated and taking some photos, we asked each other where we were from. China and America. Opposite ends of the earth. Brought together by feeding some deer.
As we walked back to the train station after our day in the deer park, we noticed that one of the deer appeared to be running away with somebody’s map. Stinker. We rescued the map and returned it to a group of people who were now sad that a third of their map was missing. I asked if their destination still existed on the map. “Yeah,” they said. I then explained to them that they now have a free souvenir and we laughed it off while the cheeky deer gnawed on its third of the map. An even cheekier deer decided that it would like to stuff its entire head into Abbie’s coat pocket. Thankfully, she had nothing in there to steal. I wish I had a photo of it because it was pretty funny.
We eventually made it back to the station where we caught the rapid train line back towards Osaka. Tonight, we actually had a reservation for Kani Doraku, the famous crab restaurant in Dotonbori. Well… so we thought. As we arrived in Dotonbori and waited for our reservation in a nearby cafe, I noticed that we were actually scheduled for yesterday. What? The calendar says it’s today. Nope. For whatever reason, only for this calendar event, it was basing the date on pacific standard time. ….WHY?!
Okay well.. that totally sucks. We were looking forward to that. If it’s any reconciliation though, I think the time we spent having dinner at that secret izakaya last night was a pretty unforgettable experience, so I wouldn’t change that for anything. Still though, for someone that puts a lot of time into double-checking (see: quadruple checking) as many details of the trip as possible, it’s a bit disappointing that a technical mishap ruined one of the few set plans we had. Oh well, what can you do?
…Eat takoyaki from a street food vendor, of course. Duh.
Hot, fresh, puff-pastry balls filled with tender octopus and slathered in sweet & savory sauce. Each batch is topped with chives and kombu fish flakes. Be careful! Don’t eat them right when you get them as you risk total mouth incineration! …It’s very hard not to just dive right in, because these things look, smell, and taste so delicious.
The stand we went to was very tiny and had a single standing table underneath it’s roof. Everyone at the stand shared this table, which gave us an opportunity to chat with another American visiting from Tennessee. He explained to us that since he was Asian, he was always assumed to be and understand Japanese, even though he didn’t. I explained that I had the opposite problem. I understood how to speak and understand the language, but because of my appearance, everyone assumes that I do not. Just the way it goes, I guess. It’s pretty fun to meet people from all around the US as well – our country is so big that it’s almost like meeting a foreigner from another country, but you both speak the same language and you’re both on the same team!
🎵 Osaka! 🎶 Tako-yaki! 🎶 Dotonburi 🎵 …sings the five minute infinite loop jingle that was playing at the Takoyaki stand we were at. I wonder if this drives the employees crazy.
After our eight pieces of takyoyaki, we still wanted something hot and soupy to cut through the freezing cold wind. We walked around a little bit and… ooohh… Udon noodle soup. Abbie hasn’t had this yet… Let’s get a bowl!
We punch-in our selections to the vending machine and plop our tickets on the counter. Moments later we were given two bowls of tempura udon. This looks and smells so good. It was delicious and just what we needed to curb the cold.
After our improvised dinner, we took the same subway back home as we did last time. I neglected to take any photos of the really cool shopping arcade we wandered through at night. It’s crazy atmospheric in here. It’s really hard to capture the aesthetic of the place with a photo.
This part of town has a ton of character and it has really grown on me. It feels like a movie set. If only we had more time to experience it all. Next time.