Nara (Deer, temples, and more)

Alright, let’s go!

This post will primarily be devoted to Nara, although I will go through a little update before I get into it.

First off, good news! I am getting much more settled in and starting to feel more at home. I still have a bit to do to the apartment before it feels like my own space, but it’s getting there. And today was payday woohoo! I am excited to shop, buy some chairs, maybe a beanbag or something (a sofa would be great but beggars can’t be choosers), a kotatsu eventually (will explain what this is when I get it) and other fun things. It’s all coming along! And best part is, with the bike at my hands, I can get so much farther and shop at more of a variety of places! All I need to do is get a bike bag so I can take it on the train with me. But one thing at a time! Here are some pictures from a recent ride:

 

Another interesting thing is I found a Catholic Church in Yokkaichi, the city nearest to my town. The first two masses I went to were Japanese masses. It was quite an experience! The church is great and has pamphlets with the order of mass in English, Japanese, and Tagalog, so I can follow along. This past Sunday I went to English speaking mass, which was primarily individuals from the Philippines.  I was asked to do the second reading, which was CRAZY because I haven’t ever read any kind of reading for mass before. But I was like hey, you’re in a new country, you have no idea what’s going on ever, why not do this?! So I read it, and I got super nervous and did not make eye contact with anybody when I went up there, but I survived! Also, during Japanese mass at this particular church, w almost never bowed as a congregation. In addition, there is no shaking of hands during peace, only bows.

Speaking of survival, I have been VERY slowly trying to overcome my shyness and talk to more people at work.  I have been to a school volleyball game and am slowly becoming friends with the volleyball coaches. I went to the club’s practice today and served three times, only one of which went over the net, so that was really embarrassing. The assistant coach said he wanted to see my serve and he saw it in all it’s sad, 7 years out of shape, glory. But it’s ok, they didn’t kick me out! I will be coming back to see them play against some other schools on Monday. :)

Then, tomorrow, I am going to an away game that our baseball team is playing at a Catholic high school in Yokkaichi, ironically. From what I understand, it is the last game? So I thought it would be nice to make the trek out there and see the students play! Hopefully I will figure out where to sit and not cheer for the other team by accident!!

I also had my first McDonald’s meal in Japan yesterday…

Avocado burger with WASABI!? But man, those fries really do hit home. I am not even ashamed to admit it.

And my first time having Indian in Japan, along with some HUGE NAAN. A very nice Japanese English Teacher at one of the schools I work at brought me here and we had lunch together! :) It was so much fun!! I love trying new places to eat!!

 

Now, for Nara (AND PICTURES)!

So on Saturday, August 15th I headed off to Nara, which took over two hours by train.  We met up together, and my friend Leora came all the way from Kitakyushu by bullet train to join us! It was a large group of English teachers from Mie, and we met a little past noon.

So once we arrived, we headed straight to Nara Deer Park, where I got up close, nice, and personal with these guys!

 

The deer in Nara are regarded as sacred animals and are allowed free reign of the city. They are not afraid of people at all! In fact, you can buy little crackers for them and feed them in the park!

Once you have the crackers, you can bow to the deer (they will bow back) and you can give one to them! Talk about Pavlovian conditioning… It was crazy. The deer would sometimes just start bowing to you to get a cookie. Anyway, we had some fun feeding the deer. :)
Me talking to the deer.
:P If you can’t tell what that is, I am holding a cracker between my teeth and the deer ever so gingerly took the other side. What a moment. Also, I got this hat in Japan, what do you think?!
Deer selfiiiiiie!
After the Deer Park, we walked over to the shrine and pagoda area. Before we headed in, I bought a stamp book, where I can collect stamps and signings from various shrines (and maybe temples?). I heard that there are usually different books for temples vs. shrines but I’m not sure!
My first stamp was of Nara! One day, I will be able to read this… hopefully! Until then, I have to just marvel at the aesthetic beauty of the calligraphy. :) I am trying to get a translation, and if I can I will update this! If not, we will just have to do our best. :)
We began to walk around and enjoy the sights! It was beautiful out here! Many beautiful buildings and areas.
Candles with intentions, I believe. My friend bought one and said something silently.
Incense burning – it smelled so nice. I love the smell of incense outside.
Then, there was this area where you could wash your hands and cleanse yourself (you could also wash your mouth). According to the internet it’s called a “temizuya” water pavilion, and it is related to Shintoism. There is a specific way to wash your hands and mouth, but I’m not sure if I did it right. :(
My friends washing their hands.
After that, we went to walk around a little bit.  We stumbled upon this shop that was making fresh mochi for everybody around. I only cost 150 yen, and was awesome to eat as well as watch! It was green tea flavored, I believe, with red bean paste inside? It was also dusted with some kind of nut dust. (You can listen to and watch the men pounding the mochi in my video at the end of my post – it’s a lot of fun to watch!)
Men pounding the mochi.
What it looked like, ready to eat!
After this and a quick dinner, we headed off to the long walk to Toda-ji shrine, which was the main destination of the night.
I made some nice friends that day, one of whom is Sophie, who has her own blog, videos, and instagram! She is a fellow English teacher in Mie!
Sophie and I walked down a majority of the path together, and we got lanterns!
The walk was really beautiful!

And finally, the building we came to see…

Toda-ji temple! Used to be the largest wooden structure in the world.
And it houses the largest bronze Buddha in the world!
BLOWN AWAY by the size of this place. Forgive my touristy picture… But this stuff was just incredible and I couldn’t stop smiling!

It was an absolutely beautiful night. Once again, like so many things in Japan, there were parts of that night that vividly reminded me of Spirited Away. Walking in a huge group to the temple was beautiful, especially with the lanterns and the lit up lights alongside the pathway. The individual’s working the booths along the path gave us free candles when our lanterns were dying down.

When we got to the temple, we turned the corner and suddenly, the temple was before us, with a line of lanterns leading up to it. It was so beautiful!

As we walked up the stairs, we heard the monks chanting. It was almost eerie.  The bronze Buddha we saw is the largest in the world, which in itself was breathtaking. It was just so much.  I guess this is the kind of stuff I imagined when I thought of Japan. This was a big shrine, but there are little shrines everywhere, dotting the entire country.  I have been afraid to go inside them, but there are all these sites on shrine etiquette that I can just read through and be prepared!

After temple we hightailed it home, but it was such a memorable experience… It was really best caught on video, so I made  a little video below of my trip to Nara! If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a nice recap of everything with some new pictures, and lots of videos! :)

I am so tired right now that I can’t write up a longer post, but the videos really capture the essence. It was such a nice trip, and it is inspiration that I CAN get around Japan, and that I can see a lot of it. :) Here is to many more trips like this one!

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