Nara 2016 – Day One

My favourite part of public transport when visiting Koyasan is by far the cable car.  Getting from Koyasan to Nara involved a bus, a cable car, a train, a subway train and another train.  Seems a bit overwhelming, right?  As I’ve mentioned before though – all extremely easy to navigate.

Cutest (excluding Tama-densha) and most exciting form of transportation.

When we were booking our trip, we had intended on staying in Kyoto for two nights in an airbnb apartment, but as the date approached our host let us know that he was going to have to move us to a different apartment or offer us a refund.  I opted for the refund and booked a ryokan in Nara instead.  Upon arrival in Nara, it became clear to me that we made the right decision.

I love Nara.  Not just because of the adorable shika (deer).  The pace is a bit slower, the city isn’t built up and there is so much to see and do.  It’s tourist friendly without feeling like a tourist trap and I truly enjoy just being there.

Nara Lunch

Tim had udon in a bag of aburaage and dashi. A different take on Kitsune udon! Mine was a bit simpler - a shika seared into the top of my aburaage.
Tim had udon in a bag of aburaage and dashi. A different take on Kitsune udon! Mine was a bit simpler – a shika seared into the top of my aburaage.

When we arrived we checked in to our hotel where they kindly held our bags while we spent the afternoon walking around Naramachi (literally translated – Nara town).  Naramachi is a neighbourhood around a 10 minute walk from the Kintetsu station and is the former merchant district of Nara where you can see a bit of the “old town”.  It’s a little bit of a maze, and is packed with residential homes, boutique shops, museums and temples.  One of my favourite attractions is the Koshi-no-Ie,  a traditional merchant’s house with a beautiful zen garden that is open for visitors to take a look.

Tim and I had visited the main attractions of Naramachi last time we visited, so this time we just wandered around, poked our head into a few boutique stores, patted a few dogs, purchased lots of our favourite Nara candy and visited the Harushika sake distillery.  It was so pleasant to just be there, without an itinerary or a list of millions of things we have to see or must do.

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Sake from Harushika brewery
Sake from Harushika brewery

Last time we visited was in summer and I didn’t have the opportunity to take Tim to one of the places I went in 2014 – I’m not exactly sure if it’s a temple or a garden (perhaps someone can help me out!) but during spring it is full of beautiful flowers and an amazing weeping sakura tree.  We stopped in and took many photos.

If you’re not a fan of MANY MANY FLOWER PICTURES.. i’m kind of sorry.

I didn’t even notice the bug on the petal when I took the picture

We returned to our accommodation via Kofuku-ji and were served some hot yuzucha (yuzu tea) while we filled out check-in forms.  Tim and I enjoyed it immensely and spent the rest of the trip seeking out yuzu drinks – more on that later.

A member of staff at the ryokan showed us to our room – it was perfect and had a wonderful view.

L - Five-story pagoda (part of the Kofuku-ji complex), R - Our room!
L – Five-story pagoda (part of the Kofuku-ji complex), R – Our room
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The view from our room

Our accommodation included kaiseki dinner and breakfast.  I was thrilled, Tim was.. less stoked.  We made a deal that I would eat the meat portions of both of our meals and he would eat the vegetables.  Alas, dinner was served in a dining room full of other people staying at the ryokan and it made our food swapping plan a lot less discreet than we had hoped.  While I was giddily eating course after course, the food wasn’t as close to Tim’s taste as I’d anticipated.  He was being very good natured, but it was clear that he wasn’t a fan.

Delicious sashimi
Delicious sashimi

This plate came out:

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I didn’t know what to make of it.  How was I supposed to extract the meat from the crab?  It dawned on me – am I supposed to eat the whole crab?  Feeling as conspicuously gaijin as I ever have in my life, I motioned at one of the staff members and asked her in the best Japanese I could summon after a tokkuri of sake – is the whole crab edible?

You could see his little crab face and everything.
You could see his little crab face and everything.

Yup.  I procrastinated for about 15 minutes and then ate it.  Ate basically everything else on the plate first.  The texture was difficult to come to terms with, but it was delicious.. I think.

I passed on Tim’s.  It stayed on his plate, untouched, and they brought us our dessert – tea jelly with cream and a peeled grape.  It was so delicious.

As we finished our meal, I encouraged Tim to have some green tea to warm up – we were heading out later to take some photos of Nara in the evening and he seemed a bit disappointed by dinner.  He took a sip, looked over the cup at me with a strange look in his eye and said:

“There appears to be the smallest of bugs in my drink”

I couldn't help but laugh.
I couldn’t help but laugh.

A perfect end to a perfect meal, as far as I’m concerned.

We went back to our room, changed into our warmest clothes and headed out to take some photos.  It was freezing – at one point my fingers were so cold I had trouble moving them, but it was wonderful to walk around at night.  There was barely anyone around – a few business men, couples holding hands and talking.  It felt a bit magical.

Five-story pagoda at night, from Kofuku-ji and across Sarusawa-ike

We went home via a vending machine to buy hot BOSS coffees to keep our hands warm.  Before leaving nara, we ended up completely emptying this machine of hot cafe au lait.

 

 

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