We’d camped the night in a michi-no-eki beside Lake Biwa, which for those of you who like facts, is the largest lake in Japan. When we arrived we couldn’t see much other than ‘The Rainbow Bridge’ that crosses it, but this morning after breakfast the skies had cleared and we had a clear view of it. I’m sure that in places it’s a beautiful lake, but from where we were it wasn’t that impressive.
Because we (I) chose to come to Otsu to sleep, we had a fair bit of backtracking to do to get to Nara. It was a messy combination of roads, roads that change number without notice, of multiple roads with the same number and my most hated, intersections that don’t say what the number of the road is. Generally travelling is free from issue, but it’s been absolutely unpleasant driving around Kansai. 60km took over two hours.
Finally in Nara, we parked the Delica in a 7/11 and unpacked the ‘cub so that we had the freedom to explore. First stop was the giant Buddha in Todai-ji and the deer of Nara-koen. As we walked into the grounds, there were banners hanging everywhere saying ‘Arms Down’. At first I thought it was warnings about the deer… until we got closer and I read the subtitle “Religions for peace”. Oops. We payed the ¥500 admission fee (to enter Todai-ji), and set up on one of the lawns was a stage/giant monitors like what you would find at a rock concert. It was more from ‘Arms Down’. Although the concert staging was the first thing to catch my attention, it didn’t hold it long. The giant temple housing the Buddha was, well… giant. We joined the crowds and walked towards the enormous building, which was only getting larger as we approached it and were able to properly appreciate the sense of scale.
… and then we saw the giant Buddha. At first I was surprised (and slightly disappointed), because I was expecting a reclining Buddha. Once I had gotten over the shock and I started to actually appreciate it, it was amazing. It’s hard to get a perspective of the scale, but the hand is (apparently) 4m from finger-tip to palm, each hair follicle (of which there are 800) is 30cm high, and 18cm in diameter. It’s enormous, truly. Oh, and it’s 1,300 years old. In the same building are another two smaller (though still enormous) golden Buddhas, both of which would be an attraction anywhere else, but here they are totally eclipsed.
Content, we started walking around Nara Park. The park is full of deer, which at first was fun/cute. Take a few photos, bow to the deer (and the older ones bow back). The fun stops if you start to feed one. They all want some of your food and will walk up to you and push you with their nose. It’s quite confronting (though, watching the kids running away screaming is quite amusing). Within the same park are dozens of other temples, but it was starting to get late so we only went to a few on the hill, where we spotted a large pagoda some distance away, which naturally we used the ‘cub to get to (it was a few kilometres away).
Oh, and we loved the mascot of Nara, Sento-kun. A cross between a deer and a Buddha. Something that I couldn’t imagine in a Christian/Muslim country. Could you imagine crossing your deity with an animal, and making it a cute character? Oh, Japan…
Happy enough with what we’d seen in Nara, we tried to leave. I’ve been stuck in pretty bad traffic in Brisbane before, but this was horrible. We needed to travel about 20km to the nearest michi-no-eki (which we’d stayed at last time we visited Nara). Narrow roads, combined with near stationary cars wasn’t a fun drive. We turned off those narrow roads onto wider roads, which were still stationary. Cars that continued driving through red lights made it even more unpleasant. Roads that turn into overpasses (over the road that I wanted to use) frustrated. And, the final piece of fun. The road that is marked on a map (complete with a number) is barely wide enough for my van. The road resembles a bike path more than a road. In places it was as steep (and rough) as a 4WD trail. And it was dark. We were just lucky that there were only a few other cars coming towards us. Eventually, the road became so ridiculous that we couldn’t help but laughing and thinking of it as a fun ride. Amazingly, we came around a corner near the end, and we had a spectacular view over the city below (though, not as spectacular in my photograph). All that was left was to navigate the maze of streets in the new developments and a short cruise to tonight’s car park.
Dinner was an interesting combination of udon, kimchi, pork and vegetables (and bibimbap sauce) cooked in a frying pan. Udon was only ¥17 for a packet at the supermarket, so we had to make use of that. The result was pretty damn good, thanks Risa! It’s been quite some time since we’ve cooked dinner, so it’s nice to be keeping the costs down again.