Nara

We had a later start this morning since Eriko had arranged to meet us in Shin-Ōsaka station at 9:00. Majella and I woke just before 7:00 am and woke Sophie around 8:00 am as we were eating breakfast. 

By 9:00 am we were waiting in the station for Eriko who arrived soon after and led us to a train. That took us back along the line we had taken after leaving Eriko on Thursday evening and then further toward Nara. At one of the stations along the way we were joined by Eriko’s mother and Runa. There was one stop for a change of train before we reached Nara. The countryside we passed through was the most rural we have seen with lots of small plots growing a variety of vegetables or rice and some fishponds.

At Nara Station we added value to our Icoca cards so we could ride a bus the short distance to Nara Park. As we got off the bus we saw deer all round and deer food vendors. Before we could get to one Eriko’s mother had bought packs of the special deer wafers for each of us. As soon as we had those in our hands the deer were on us nuzzling round our legs and even biting clothing. We distributed our food as quickly as possible and learned to signal with open hands that we had no food.

We walked on down the central path toward Todaiji Temple. The gateway was an impressively tall building supported by massive timber pillars and beams. At either end of the building there were massive wooden statues of fierce warriors. The temple building was of similar wooden construction and taller still. It was built around 850 AD to house the large statute of Buddha but has been destroyed in wars and rebuilt at least twice over the centuries.

Inside the tour took as around the Buddha and companion statues. The large Buddha is an impressive metal sculpture of a sitting figure and rises about 15 metres above the plinth on which it sits. In the back corner there is a hole in the base of a wooden pillar that matches the size of the nostril of the large Buddha. There was a crowd of people standing around watching others attempt to crawl through it. Some of the would be crawlers backed out when they thought it was a tight fit and those who could fit found it a struggle to find a grip at the front end on which they could pull themselves through. Sophie and Runa both succeeded in getting through the Buddha’s nostril.

By the time we had finished in the temple and surrounding area it was past noon and we began looking for lunch. Eriko’s mother found a place down a side alley where we were able to seat the six of us around a table and enjoy a fine lunch. Majella and I had rice with chicken accompanied by miso soup and some pickled vegetables with a custard filled cake in the shape of a deer to follow. Sophie and Runa had noodles with chicken and a rice cake and pickled vegetables on the side with a couple of flavored gel balls for dessert. Eriko and her mother had a similar combination rice dish.

After lunch we headed for the bus back to Nara Station. I had hoped I might be able to catch up with a doctoral student who lives in the area but he was occupied with family until 1:00 pm. We exchanged a couple of messages and it seemed he might make it to Nara Station by 2:00 pm but when I used Skype to call him as we arrived at the station he was still waiting to board a train some distance away. There was no good reason to delay the rest of our group so we carried on to the train and he avoided an unnecessary train journey.

Our train ride, with a change of trains, took us to a station within easy walking distance of Eriko’s home. There we found Eriko’s father and her son, Rio, waiting to greet us. Hidenori, her husband, arrived a little later. We talked for a while, with occasional help from Google Translate, over coffee and snacks before touring their three level house which has main bedroom and study below, living area on the second level, and kids bedrooms on top. Eriko’s parents left to go home and the girls decided we should go to a local park. We walked the couple of blocks to the park and then went on for a look in the supermarket across the street. The general layout was familiar but most of the items on the shelves were not.

We walked back by another route where Eriko thought there might be some cherry blossom still. We have seen remnants here and there, including at Todaiji Temple in Nara this morning, but are too late for the full bloom.

Back at Eriko and Hidenori’s house we talked some more. Sophie tried Wasabi rice crackers and was not a fan. Majella captured video of the toilet that raises its seat and lights up the bowl when the door is opened. She wants one like that with the option to play music.

Before long it was time for dinner. Eriko quickly cut up fresh vegetables and produced meat for sukiyaki which Hidenori cooked at the table in a pan on an induction hot plate. The food was tasty with plenty of variety but, because apart from a small bowl of rice each and our raw egg for dipping, we were eating out of the common pan it was hard to know how much we had eaten. We slowed down as we began to feel full but it was difficult to resist just one more bit of something from the pan.

Eventually it was time to go. We said our farewells and could have walked to the nearby station but instead all climbed into the new Toyota hybrid van and Hidenori drove us to the station. Sophie, Rio, and Runa sat in the back row. Majella and I sat in the second row which was two separate seats that would not have looked out of place in the business class section of an airliner. Hidenori and Eriko sat up front where we assume the seats were at least as good as ours. Majella may have added a new car to her list of things she wants from Japan.

We were at the station in plenty of time for our train. Since they run at 15 minute intervals most of the day there was little risk of not being on time, at least for the next if we missed one. It took us to Shin-Ōsaka station which has become familiar over the past few days. A short walk, with stops to buy some market strawberries and pastries for breakfast, brought us back to the hotel. The washing machine is running and we hope we can work out its drying function well enough to be able to pack our clothes to leave tomorrow morning.

We are very grateful to Eriko and her family. We enjoy travel for seeing new things but the opportunity to spend time with local people and to learn something about the way they live makes travel so much more meaningful. It has been wonderful to have somebody with local knowledge show us around and an honor to have been invited home to spend time with family.