Continuing our trip around Japan, this time we visited Nara, a place known for its giant temples and a haven for roaming deers. Ever the animal lover, Stan was pretty ecstatic of being up close to them. Among arriving at Nara station, we went to the tourist centre to get some brochures and maps so it would be easier for us to navigate around the area. Unsurprisingly, we never used the brochures as it was very easy to find our way to the Todaiji temple.
It was yet another gloomy and quiet winter day as we headed straight to the temple. We noticed most of the locals and tourists were huddled in small, cozy restaurants, having nice hot meals.
For lunch we made a pit stop at a very quiet restaurant along the street to Todaiji Temple and ordered tempura udon. Since the restaurant was small and we were the only customers at that time, the poor waitress just stood fairly close to our table as she waited for potential customers, making a very awkward meal for us both. The chef on the other hand, could not be happier as he joyfully tapped away his phone, playing an equivalent to some sort of Candy Crush game.
The meal was simple and nothing much to shout out about. Stan and I agreed that the udon was slightly overcooked and lost a bit of its chewy texture. Perhaps the chef could not stop strategizing in his head on how to beat the next level of his game while he made the meal. Hey, happens to the best of us…
You know you are close to Nara park when you see this sign. Initially, we thought it was going to be another quiet day out but that sense of peace was quickly shattered by squealing school girls and screaming kids.
Oh, so that’s where everyone is… School kids and tourists that came in packs and herds (or whatever countable noun you can think of) gathered around the temple grounds. The entrance to Todaiji Temple is lined with small souvenir shops and snack stalls. Each of these stalls sell ‘senbei’ a type of rice crackers made for the deers, for only 150 yen, a stack. The deers are considered sacred according to local folklore and can be found roaming and lounging around the temple grounds until some poor soul whipped out the senbei.
We read somewhere on one of the displays that these little guys will make a ‘bow’ as a sign that they want the crackers in your hand. Well, according to my observations, the deers, especially the males were quick to shake off their gentle demeanour and chomped down half of the stack of crackers from my hand. I guess in everyone’s head, they pretty much envisioned themselves as Snow White as they feed the deers. In reality, you just get harassed and head butted, as in the case for Stan.
The Todaiji Temple is well-known for housing the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue. The inside of the temple was very crowded that day and making the rounds around the other statues was a slow task. Guess that’s part and parcel of visiting a famous tourist spot.
As the day went on, the number of school children and tourists started to dwindle. Stan I headed off to Isuien garden, a tea garden located near the temples. It was a pleasant getaway from the tourist and school crowds.
My favourite part of this garden is this picturesque watermill. It just looked like something out of a children’s illustration book.
As the sun began to set, we headed off to town in search for food. Since we were used to staying in a city, we were quite surprised to find the shops in Nara closed pretty early.
We finally stumbled upon this quaint udon restaurant and decided to have our dinner there. Signs, newspaper articles, signatures and photographs were displayed outside the restaurant and we guessed the restaurant’s food must at least be somewhat well known and decent to garner such attention…
Stan and I ordered the same dish but with different style of presentation. Stan got himself a bowl of udon wrapped inside a giant tofu pocket whereas I got myself a bowl with an adorable deer print seared onto the tofu skin. The broth was savoury and slightly sweet. The bowls of steamy udon really satisfied our hungry tummies.
Seeing that we had quite some time to kill, we stopped by an arcade nearby the train station to play some games before heading back to our hotel. It was a very fun day out and we would probably come back again some time in the future to explore the area further. Before we left, saved some senbei for the deers at Todaiji Temple, as they need dinner too!