Friday, August 17, 2007

Enlightened By Donuts

On 0ur last day in Japan we toured the city of Nara with Chris Rowthorn – Japan guide extraordinaire and travel author for several Lonely Planet guide books

Nara, just a short train ride from Osaka, was the original capital of Japan. The first emperor came to power here and it is also considered the cradle of Buddhism in the country.

Having a local guide give you a private tour of a city is the best money you can spend on a trip – especially with kids. And having a guide that is not only an expert in the area, but also a great teacher is invaluable. We got more out of our six or so hours with Chris than we would have gotten in a week bumbling around on our own.

We visited Nara-koen Area Park, where small but amply horned, young dear roam from tourist to tourist mugging them of the biscuits purchased for feeding them. At one point the deer had Charlie up a tree and Anna atop a park bench. They are about 1200 in number, and considered national treasures. Prior to the introduction of Buddhism, they were thought to be messengers of the gods. It would seem the gods’ message is “Buy more deer biscuits”.

At Todai-ji Temple, we got to see the world’s largest bronze image of Buddha – all 53 feet of him. According to one guide book, four or five monks can fit into his palm when they are cleaning the statue.

Also in this temple is a tall wooden pillar that has a hole bored into it near the bottom – said to be the same size around as the Buddha’s nostril. Visitors line up to see if they can fit through, as success at this indicates you will find enlightment.

Charlie and Anna both fit through. The rest of us are clearly already enlightened enough, albeit by donuts, thank you very much. It was very entertaining to watch the crowd – mostly Japanese – of all ages and sizes trying to fit. One young woman nearly lost her skirt, but made it through in the end.

After Nara, Chris took us back to Osaka for lunch. I had the most wonderful sushi of my life. He called it “toro”, and said it is considered the “Kobe beef” of tuna. It was divine.

Then we took a tour of part of the modern shopping and entertainment district of Osaka. This was a series of wide corridors teaming with life, movement, sound. At every turn was a sea of people, neon signs, whirring, ringing, and clanging noises. It was like being INSIDE an animae cartoon. Seeing Japan like this, from the ancient to the modern, with such a knowledgeable, likeable, fun guide was the greatest experience we could have hoped for. I can’t wait to go back.


Blogger Nicky said...

Good-day Julia I've been reading this site for the past few weeks and I must say I wish I was on an adventure like yours. Allan from Belize told me about this site and I make it a must to read weekly. I've enjoyed reading all your posting thus far but I think I enjoyed your stay in Japan the most. Im at work now so I can write too much but you'll hear form me again. Ohh plz forgive if I didn't introduce myself in the beginning, I'm Nicole from the beautiful island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, u can e-mail me at
Take care and looking forward to read your families next stop.

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