Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nara and Osaka

It's taken me a bit but here is the last part of my Japan trip.  After John and I left Kyoto we headed down to the first capital of Japan, Nara.  Nara is a about 45 minutes from Kyoto and Osaka respectfully.   There are two reasons why people go to Nara.  First, because it is the original capital of Japan and has some pretty cool sights to see.  The second, is because there are deer there.  Not only are there deer there but tradition states that they are heavenly animals and are to be protected.  What does this mean, you might ask.  Well quite simply, in Nara Park (where all the cool old buildings are) there are tame deer.  Not only are they tame, they're quite friendly/forceful when they are hungry.  You can pet, take pictures with, and generally do things to deer that most people can only do once they're stuffed and mounted.  These deer lounge around the park waiting for tourists to pay about two dollars to feed them flour biscuits.  Once a tourist has purchased a set of biscuits the deer descend and jockey for position to get food.  Some have been trained to bow, others gently nibble at your clothes, and some just straight up headbutt you.  These deer want their biscuits.

Everything to see in Nara is centralized in Nara park.  Nara park is home to numerous shrines, temples and the world's "largest" wooden structure.  There is some dispute as to whether this is in Kyoto or Nara and both cities claim to have the biggest.  These structures are almost overrun with deer.  Which gives the entire place the smell of a petting zoo.  It's not overpowering but the smell of urine and feces is definitely noticeable.  After wandering around the town John and I went back to the park to see it all lit up at night.  Apparently there was some type of lantern festival going on while we were there.  All throughout the park were thousands of little paper lanterns arranged in various shapes and designs.  It gave the park a surreal feeling.  Nara for most tourists is done on a day trip only, but John and I spent the night.  We had time and I didn't feel like rushing.  After that night we headed to Osaka for our last two nights in Japan.

The first day in Osaka we went off and explored Osaka Castle.  Osaka Castle is a traditional Japanese style castle.  It was rebuilt after World War Two and offers excellent views of Osaka as well as housing a museum about the history of the castle and the local history surrounding the castle and the families that built it.  After the castle John and I ran off to a very famous restaurant to eat expensive but awesome crab.  Everything had crab in it and even though it was expensive it was pretty delicious.  Following lunch we explored a giant shopping neighborhood in Osaka and then wandered into America-mura.  America-mura is a counter-culture  center for Osaka.  It was interesting to walk the streets here because it truly felt like walking the streets of a beach boardwalk (without the beach or the boardwalk).  However, the people there were very much the type of people you would find wandering around Ocean Beach.  The next day we explored Osaka a bit more and then went to one of the greatest sporting events I've ever been to.  I went and saw a Japanese League baseball game.  The game was the Hanshin Tigers versus the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.  The game itself wasn't that great of a game, but what was amazing was the organized cheering by the home fans.  The home fans chanted the entire game when their team was at bat.  I have been to a couple of games in Korea and the chanting is quite common, the main difference was that the amount of chanting and the amount of people engaged in the activity.  It was endless, and everyone who was a fan of the home team chanted the whole game.  If this wasn't enough the team also has a tradition called jet balloons.  This tradition is done during the middle of the 7th inning, much like the 7th inning stretch back home, but it involves everyone in the stadium blowing up two or three six feet long, hot dog shaped, balloons and then releasing them at the same time.  These balloons have an adapter on the end that makes the balloons fly up in the air as the air inside them expelled.  They also whistle as they do it.  Now this might seem rather juvenile, but when there are 30-40,000 people doing this and close to 80,000 balloons being fired off at one point it is quite awesome.

The following day John and I boarded the ferry back for Korea and back for work.  The ferry ride again provided a nice bookend for the trip.  It was a chance to relax and decompress after travelling for 8 days straight.  The peacefulness of the ocean and the beer probably helped to make the trip go quite well.

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