Trip to Nara

Today, I traveled to Nara, a city south of Kyoto, together with Sylvia. This was the first time I traveled by train since I got here and it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. When thinking about Japan and trains, this image of trains so crowded that personnel has to push to get the doors to close comes to mind. To give you an example, HERE is a movie someone made of trains during rush hour. It’s from 1991 and someone commented on the video that it’s less crowded in 2009, but this image still comes to mind when thinking about trains in Japan. But it wasn’t that bad (I took a picture to prove it!). I have to admit, on the way back I sat in a spot for the elderly, impaired people and pregnant women. In my defense, I have to sit down in these things (there’s little place to sit, they’re more like subways) or I’ll get really nauseous. But I probably added another euro to the foreigners-are-rude fund

Nara is best known for its deer. They’re said to be wild, they can bite, kick and headbutt and they will…. just to get some deer cookies. The best advice you can give anyone going to Nara: Don’t buy the cookies but take pictures of other people being harassed by the deer. I took some pictures and also shot a movie, but I forgot about the file size again so the movie is too big to upload. Maybe later. I uttered the phrase “Oh dear”, which, thanks to Sylvia’s interpretation, we changed to “Oh deer”.

We visited Todaiji temple with the big Buddha statue. I asked Sylvia if she knew what the hand position meant and she didn’t know but she also remembered it having meaning. So I looked it up and the Buddha is holding out its hand in one of the mudra (gestures performed by a Buddha image).

Fearlessness mudra, Upraised hand lifted above thigh, palm facing out, fingers pointing up, usually with middle finger slightly forward; means “fear not” and is a sign of protection.

We also got a fortune cookie (not free of course 😉 ). You keep a wish in mind, then shake the box with sticks and then a stick comes out through a small hole. You remember the number that’s on the stick and get a matching note. You can get anything from “No luck” to “Best luck”. Me and Sylvia both got the second best (“Good luck”), which in my case read:

[General Explanation] All that is old must be renewed. Believe in God.
[In case you are ill] You will recover completely, though it may take some time.
[A Legal Case] If your claim is right, you will certainly win.
[Trade] Good. Beware of movement of prices in the market.
[Travel] Good time to travel. Be cautious during your travel.
[A person whom you wait for] The person will come late.
[A thing you have lost] It will be found after intensive search.
[Competition] You will win.

We then contined to Kashuga-taisha shrine, which is surrounded by many, many stone lanterns. We couldn’t stay to see them lit up, unfortunately. (And I’m not sure if they’re lit up daily because that’s a lot of work. Edit: They’re only lit up once a year on August 14 and 15, so I won’t be able to see… this year? 😛 )

Next, we took a train to Horyuji temple, a temple just outside Nara. We met a woman who was the mother of two sons going to university, who wanted to help us get to Horyuji, because it’s a 25 minute walk from Horyuji station. We were actually looking for a place to eat, but she told us (she was so enthousiastic!) that there were good places to eat near the temple. She spoke some English and told us that her sons taught her a bit of English and I actually got some compliments on my Japanese pronunciation. Like I told Sylvia, it’s apparently common courtesy to compliment someone on their Japanese (and if you’ve lived her longer and actually get really good at Japanese you won’t get these compliments anymore) but it was still nice to hear. In turn, I complimented her on speaking English (I did mean it) and this made her very happy. Later, when we returned to the station to leave Horyuji to return to the main station of Nara, we saw her again, which made her happy again.

We were the only foreigners amongst hundreds of scholars (in their ‘Sailor Moon’ uniforms, as one of Sylvia’s sons had put it nicely. If you don’t know Sailor Moon, click HERE for the Wikipedia article on the anime.) There was this one girl that quickly took a picture of my hair when she thought I wasn’t looking, so I invited them to take a picture with us and they were very happy about that. Also there was this guy that was trying to being the ‘cool’ guy of their group by saying something to me in Japanese, but when he found out we didn’t speak Japanese he didn’t really know what to do and tried to get one of his friends to speak English. That was kinda funny.

When we traveled back, we stopped at the river and Sylvia took some pictures of me on the stones in the river. I had asked her that morning if she would do that for me and she did 🙂

Some other things:

  • The French girlfriend of one of my office colleagues, got a lower arm tattoo of a koi (fish). She really wanted this tattoo for a long time, but she told me that here in Japan, tattoos aren’t common at all and are associated with criminals. A lot of people have been looking at her in surprised or shocked ways and as far as I can tell she doesn’t like that, but she’s very happy with the tattoo nonetheless.
  • My brain decided that it was easier to switch to English, having spent a whole day with Sylvia (and speaking a lot of English on other occasions as well). When we were traveling back from Nara, I noticed that I am at the moment thinking in English. Wow..
  • Click HERE for a movie. It was a first for Sylvia, but I’ve seen kids with these shoes before. You can hear me saying “That’s cute isn’t it. That’s cute.” to the parents. (Literal translation to Dutch: ‘schattig he? schattig’.)
  • I really, really, REALLY don’t like riding my bike in Japan. I’ve learned that much about myself by now. I’m not a nice person when I’m riding my bike here, because, to be honest, it pisses me off that people are in each-others way all the time. Well…. mostly they’re in MY way.. It’s arrogant, I know.. but I definitely prefer our bicycle roads.
  • On the trees at Horyuji: Sylvia told me that these trees only grow once a year, so they can only be cut once a year and they’re really careful when cutting. I can imagine, if you get it wrong, everyone will see it for a year.
  • I took a picture of a stone boat with some stone little men in it with a cloth around them. The cloth are bibs (slabbetjes) and they indicate eating. Offerings of food are given (but they are taken away again as well, before the food goes bad).