Weather: Another beautiful day with the sun shinning giving the sky a lovely light blue colour. Small fluffy white clouds helped breakup the monotony of the blue. At 4:30pm the skies darkened and a few drops of rain fell but nothing too bad.
MP3 track of the day: Auld lang Syne - BBC Synphony chorus and singers
Ironically, I woke up pretty late considering it was my check-out day. Before checking-out, I went for breakfast at McDonald's. I didn't want to. This was my forth McDonald's breakfast in a row and I'd had my fill of their food. I begrudgingly ordered another sausage muffin, after which I begrudgingly paid the amount asked for. Finally I begrudgingly ate the thing I'd purchased hoping above all hope that in Nara, there was another place that I could get breakfast from.
The muffin felt like a stone within my stomach as I walked back to my B+B. I checked out and thanked the staff for their help – the woman working there was lovely. I then proceeded to Kyoto's train station and caught the next express to Nara. At first the train was packed however, after the first three stops everyone still on-board could get a seat. I opened my guidebook and read about the city which I would be heading to next. Nara was Japan's first real capital city therefore, it consists of quite a few temples within one huge park and … well … not a lot else. There was an 'old city quarter' which I decided that I would visit to break-up the 'temple viewing'.
Only fifty minutes later and I'd arrived in Nara. Immediately after I progressed through the ticket barrier my heart – and my stomach – leaped. In front of me was a 'Vieda France' (a bakery). Though slightly expensive, if I could choose anywhere to have breakfast in Japan, this was it. Even after a couple of hours I could tell that my stomach was still having difficulty digesting the McDonald's muffin therefore, for the next three days at least, I had another alternative. I then proceeded east from the station towards Nara's park and, more importantly, my hotel. On the way I found a place for dinner and so things were looking-up on the food front. In fact, I hadn't seen a McDonald's since I'd arrived; I was beginning to like this city.
The hotel in which I will be staying in is the most expensive hotel of this trip. Three nights here cost more than the four nights I had in Kyoto. Still, looking at the building I could see why; the whole place seemed shiny new. I was met at the door by, I guess, the owner. He was a young Japanese man with his hair in a ponytail. Putting that aside, he was charming. He took my bags and asked what my plan was for today. We spoke in Japanese and he produced a map which I could take with me free of charge. He then told me that, because today was New Year's eve, the main temples which I wanted to see would be open at midnight and, best of all, they would be free to enter. I'm not sure if it's the backpacker in me but, I still always jump at the chance of seeing things for free. After I'd calmed down, I realised that this wasn't going to be as good as it sounded. The temples were free so that the people of Nara could welcome in the New Year; this would mean that, as the clock struck twelve, the place would be full of people and I wouldn't be able to see a thing (plus decent photos would be difficult). The hotel owner agreed; we decided together that I should see one of the two main temples during the day – either Todai-ji or Kasuga Taisha temple – and leave the other for my night visit. It was easy to choose which was for when. Todai-ji is Nara's most famous temple; it holds the world's largest wooden building and Japan's largest Buddha statue. I would therefore head to Todai-ji now, and leave Kasuga Taisha for later. With that decided I left my bags, said thank you to the owner and headed out.
With my hotel being in the centre of Nara's 'old quarter', I decided to roam the streets of that for fifteen minutes or so. Once done I ended up just to the south of Nara's park. Facing me was the first temple of the day – Kofuku-ji – and it's dominating five-storey pagoda. This temple was owned by the Fujiwara clan and was deemed extremely important … until the family fell out of favour with the emperor. Today, the pagoda and one of the temples were 'photo worthy' however, the main building is under intense renovation and won't be open until 2018! I therefore decided not to pay to enter this temple.
I continued east through the park where I encountered more than just crowds of people and food stalls. Nara's park is home to hundreds of wild deer whom have lived here for around a 1,000 years. My guidebook said that they were allowed to roam free however, when my guidebook used the word 'free', I still thought that there were some barriers or restrictions. There are not. Seriously, if a deer fancied doing a bit of sightseeing before heading into town for food and to catch a train to Kyoto, there was nothing in place to stop it. Even though the deer had their antlers cut off, I still didn't like moving in between them encase of scaring them. What made this worse was that, people were encouraged to feed the deer due to the fact that 'deer biscuits' (which have been made specifically for deer) could be purchased almost anywhere within the park. The deer knew this and hunted out anyone with their hands near their pockets or bags, or small children as they must have learnt that these were signs that they were about to get food (people would pull these 'deer biscuits from their bags or coat pockets plus, a lot of children were encouraged by their parents to feed the deer). Personally I believe that the deer have the same right as we do to the grounds therefore, they should be allowed to roam free however, I do feel that the feeding of said deer should only be allowed within certain areas. I had hoped that there was a 'deer free' path to Todai-ji however, there wasn't.
As I approached Todai-ji, it was impossible to hide the main wooden building behind it's outer-gate; it was so huge. The sun was shining and the sky was blue therefore, I stopped to take numerous photos of the building from the outside, before paying £2.50 to go and see what the inside of the world's largest wooden building looked like. The crowds weren't too bad and I was able to find ample room to stare up in wonder at the fifteen meter tall Buddha in front of me. Though made out of bronze, it was actually black in colour and had to be cast several times before it came out right. I've seen so much Buddhist stuff now that I usually pay my entrance fee, walk in, say 'wow', take a few photos and then leave however, this was something else. The sheer size of the thing, flanked by two golden Buddha's made it 'awe worthy'. As usual I still photographed the thing to death however, after, I put my camera away and just looked up in awe at the thing and the building in which it was housed. This put a big smile on my face.
Once out I realised that nothing else today could really compare to Todai-ji. I tried not to compare however, it was quite hard not to. Having seen around fifteen temples in the last five days I am quite 'templed out' therefore, for the rest of the day I only visited the grounds of the temples which required you to pay to enter. I did however enter the free temples. One such free temple is called Nigatsu-do, which was located up a long set of steps therefore, it provided good views of the city of Nara. Both Sangatsu-do and Kaidan-in required payment so I therefore took a cheeky photo at the gates of both before leaving. A small museum called 'Shoso-in' was closed for the holidays therefore, this finished the north of the park. I then decided to head south through the leafy mountainside towards tonight's temple; Kasuga-Taisha. The one thing I do love about Japanese Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines is that they are always placed within Nature. Usually on a mountainside or in a forest, they truly are places of peace.
Once I reached Kasuga-Taisha, I took some photos of the outside and it's courtyard, which included a view of a long line of bronze hanging lanterns which this temple is famous for. As luck would have it, it appeared that no-one could enter the temple as either a private 'thing' was happening, or it was getting ready for the festivities.
Once I'd photographed the temple grounds to death, I continued south until I left the park entirely. I proceeded to another temple called 'Shin Yakushi-ji' were I peered through the outer-gate, to have a look, as there was a £2.50 admission charge. With the photography museum next door closed for the holidays there was little else to do within this area and so I returned to Nara's park. By now my feet were tired but I kept going and proceeded past three lakes before finding a bench within the centre of the park close to Nara's national museum. The time was 3:30pm and so I had time to look around the museum however, my guidebook didn't give it the best of reviews. It stated that the museum 'was best for it's temporary exhibits however, there was a large collection of statues from the area displayed in chronological order'. After identifying that the current temporary exhibit was about paintings from some period within Japan's history, I decided that I'd seen enough paintings and I'd certainly seen enough statues. I therefore decided to give it a miss and, after five hours of continual walking around Nara's park, I left it fully satisfied that I'd seen everything that I wanted to. I was also extra happy because, on the way to Kasuga-Taisha temple I'd popped into a shop and bought a 'Kokeshi doll' which I thought looked stunning. The shop's owner was lovely and we had a chat for a few minutes. It was now time to get this doll back to my hotel safely however, before that, I stopped very close to my hotel at a chain restaurant. The time was now 4:30pm and the restaurant was deserted apart from a couple of students trying to study and a man who continually sniffed. Having not had lunch I combined the money I'd saved for lunch and dinner and ordered a lovely steak with rice, unlimited drinks, soup and a chocolate cake for dessert. As I was eating this lot, I managed to put away one coke and three cups of hot chocolate. The interesting thing was is that, back at the museum, I'd popped into their café to see what was on sale because, I was so tired and hungry. A café is a backpackers worst enemy because they are a total luxury. They serve no real purpose; they don't fill you up and they certainly aren't cheap. They allow you to have a luxurious break from a days sightseeing and charge you a fortune in the process. The museum's café in particular would have charged me 500 Yen for a single drink and here I was, in my restaurant, having paid 300 Yen for as many drinks as I'd like. I was glad that I hadn't succumb to the temptation of the café.
As I was eating my meal the sky darkened and the rain poured down however, when I left the restaurant, the worst of the rain had passed. Being close to the train station I went there in search of information for a 'day trip' I wanted to do in two days time but alas, the information office had already closed. Due to it being new year, I was unable to hire a car for my stay in Nara. I still want to head out into the country therefore, I want to take a train to the south of 'Mie prefecture' to a town called 'Ise'. Ise is the gate to the 'Ise-Shima National Park' and I quite fancied spending the day around there. Still, tomorrow I have to come back to the station so I could ask then.
Before heading back to my hotel I popped into a local convenience store to buy a few supplies for my stay. I had almost reached my hotel when I noticed that I had lost one of my gloves; I back-tracked and found it lying on the pavement – and looking very sad – outside said convenience store. I picked it up and returned to my hotel.
My room, though sparse, is very modern and has a big double bed. I also have an en-suite bathroom which looks as though I am the first one to use it. Seriously, the whole place looks brand new. I chatted once again to the owner of the hotel and told him my plans for my stay here. He showed me to my room before departing. Ten minutes later he knocked on my door. During those ten minutes, he had been on his PC and printed me out train times for my planned trip to 'Ise'. He was concerned that, when I returned to the train information office tomorrow, that they would advise me to buy an expensive ticket. He had found a super cheap ticket though, I do have to change twice during my journey. I thanked him a lot and he left me in peace.
So I'm now just chilling and waiting for midnight. I shall return to the park where I hope to see another Japanese new year come in. I shall then return to my hotel and make full use of my huge bed to have a wonderful sleep. Tomorrow I can afford to sleep in a little, as I only have four temples – within two areas – on my itinerary. Happy New Year everyone!