Day 7: Nara and Ninjas
Let’s get right to it. We got on the train to Nara from Kyoto station first thing in the morning; about a half hour ride. After getting off at the nearest Nara station, you simply walk up the main avenue until you see the park. You’ll know when you’re at Nara park (奈良公園) when you see these guys walking around.
Nara park is a large park containing several temples, gardens, and 1000+ sika deer roaming freely. I would say that it can easily take a whole day to see it all. As for the deer, there are deer cracker salesmen scattered throughout the park if you want to feed the deer. But beware, these deer are cracker addicts and will follow and chase you down if they suspect that you have deer crackers.
Some deer learned a bowing technique as a way to signal that they want you to give them a cracker. I’ve found them to all be approachable and friendly since they are very used to people. Since we only had a few hours to explore, we decided to check out Kofukuji (興福寺) Buddhist temple, Todaiji (東大寺) Buddhist temple complex, and the park/gardens in between. There is also the Kasuga grand shrine but we did not have enough time to venture that far.
The closest temple to the train station and toward the entrance of Nara park is Kofukuji. After feeding a few deer and running from others, we saw a 5-story pagoda and just headed toward it. Kofukuji’s main buildings consist of the 5-story pagoda, Tokondo (東金堂) east golden hall, and Nanendo (南円堂) south octagonal hall.
Todaiji temple is perhaps a 20-30 minute walk from Kofukuji. But it becomes an hour easily since there are some shops and food stands setup right at the entrance and you would be hungry by this point. How about a whole squid on a stick.
Keep in mind that there are deer scattered throughout the entire park so there’s that. Before you know it, you’ll arrive at the Todaiji temple complex entrance.
Once you pass through Todaiji main gate, you’ll feel small in front of a very large temple; Daibutsuden (大仏殿) Great Buddha Hall.
I would’ve never guessed what was inside the Buddha hall and why it needed to be so massive. Maybe because the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha is in there. A photo won’t capture the size difference between the statue and a person. I can just say that I am approximately the size of its pinky finger. It’s truly a masterpiece.
Like I said before, there is more to see and more strolls to take in Nara park but we had a 3pm appointment back near Kyoto station. A ninjitsu (忍術) appointment to learn the secret art of the ninja (忍者)! Yes, I found a cool authentic ninja training dojo in Kyoto called Ninjadojoandstore. As a youth who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, ninjas were the thing. Since I’m in Japan, it had to be done. In an hour, they dress you up in ninja gear and teach you several things staring with meditation, main concepts, and ninja walking.
It turns out that there are trap doors everywhere; it’s a ninja dojo after all. Ninja … vanish…
Then one-by-one, the weapons are introduced. First, the katana (sword). How to properly sheathe/unsheathe and cutting techniques for small enclosed areas.
But wait there’s more. The Kunai (dagger), the shuriken (ninja star), the stick type shuriken, the ninja blow dart, and a general show and tell with other miscellaneous ninja weapons. And this isn’t a museum, you get to swing and throw everything. You’ll feel like a junior ninja in no time. Did I mention that there is a photographer taking photos during the entire time. If you’re in Kyoto and like ninjas, then this is the place for you. Also, there is a store if you want to buy some ninja weapons to satisfy your inner ninja. It was a lot of fun and the ninjas are very cool even though they are deadly.
After becoming ninjas, we decided to stroll through Nishiki (錦市) market which isn’t too far from Shijo dori where we happened to be at the moment. This marketplace is several blocks long and has and overwhelming amount of foods and goods. You should several things you were looking for as well as things you weren’t looking for but will end up buying anyway. Japan has a neat way of making you buy things without pressuring you at all. They can take some random object like a garbage can, and give it a smile and turn it into a cartoon character, and then make foods, clothes, magnets, watches, bags, earrings, and a whole bunch of other items that will make you think, hmm, I think I want one. Also, it doesn’t hurt to try out some new food, 9/10 you will be glad you tried it.
Well, that’s all for Nara and Kyoto. The next day would be full of brand new terrain, we would head to the city of Osaka.