We’d had to decide if we were going to take a day trip to Nara and the consensus had been yes, in large part because Bethy told us it was her favorite place in Japan. (Truth in advertising: all of us are prone to hyperbole.) We set the day’s plan: daytime at Nara and then back to Kyoto to see the Gion Corner show.
By this time, we were all getting pretty good at the trains—it wasn’t any trouble to find the Nara line and find seats for the one hour train ride. There was a tourist information booth right near the station and we were able to pick up maps in English. We also were given a similar map in Japanese that showed the bus routes. We were told it was about a three hour loop to the park, around the sights, and back to the JR station.
We had hoped to find food on the walk to the park, but our timing was off. We did, however, find an intriguing stationery store and Jennica and I both purchased pens. I bought an ink-refill pack of 10 different colors, and pens that held 4 colors each. Jennica found black pens in different widths than her set at home, which she uses for ink drawings. I also found a shop to buy a 300 yen fan—almost everyone carries fans here, which makes sense, since Japan doesn’t use air conditioning to the extent we do in the States.
I had read about the tame deer in the park (one of the reasons I wanted to visit Nara, even though there was so much more to see than deer). I wasn’t quite prepared for the sight of so many deer (all bucks) who were congregated at the entrance to the park. They so captivated us at first that I didn’t even notice the 5-story pagoda or other buildings.
Pagoda (hiding behind trees)
Shrine and Treasure House
Walk to other temple (disoriented, but we got there) (mango ice cream)
Temple (where we did get to take pictures)
Just as we were ready to return to the JR station, we stumbled across a line of cabs, so we took a taxi back to the JR Nara Station. This was starting to be a trend: walk/or bus there and then take a cab back). If we hadn’t found a cab, though, we were definitely going to find a bus—we’d already walked quite a bit.
We still hadn’t had lunch, but none of us were very hungry since we’d had lots of bevers and ice cream at Nara, including additional bevers for the train trip back to Kyoto.
Exiting the train
Leaving the train station ticketed area was a bit of an adventure. We left the JR trains the wrong way—we were stuck in the Shinkansen section which we’d never intended to go to and we needed tickets to leave. Stan, Jennica, and I had our JR passes, which was fine, but Bethy had already given up her ticket when leaving the local JR train area. We tried to explain what happened to a confused guard, but he thought we wanted to go to Nara instead of having come from there. Once he understood we wanted “out”, he let us out even though Bethy had already given up her ticket—I think he just wanted us to go away! However, we left by totally the wrong exit and walked for blocks around the station before arriving at the “front” (north exit) where the city buses were.
We took a city bus (206) for Gion. We got off at Gion without a problem (and even had seats on the bus), and then had more confused map time trying to find out way to Gion Corner for the show for tourists. Orienting yourself via a map is hard enough—adding in no street signs or street signs we couldn’t read made it even harder! We did make it to Gion Corner on time, though, and even had some time to sit and wait for them to start selling tickets. We waited outside rather than inside in line because it was actually cooler outside than in.
The show itself was expensive for just an hour show, but I’m glad we went to it. We wouldn’t have had time on the trip to experience all of the components of the performance, but not understanding Japanese, I don’t think I would have wanted to sit for a full performance of any of the individual pieces, while still enjoying each one and being glad to experience them.
There was a tea ceremony, not all of which we saw, since it was off to the side and hard to view. It was also going on during the flower arranging, which was on the stage in the front. It was amazing to watch how the maiko took a pile of greens and a few flowers and turned it into a beautiful arrangement. My experience and taste generally lend themselves to dense arrangements; this one was not dense—it was beautifully minimalist, and it led me to wondering if I could incorporate that sort of thing in my own home.
There were other pieces (list here). The comedy was almost slapstick in its humor approach, even if I didn’t understand any of the words. Bethy found it very humorous and was laughing. The puppet show wasn’t at all what I expected. For some reason, I was thinking marionettes or something similar, but it wasn’t like that at all. There were 3 people, all in black, including hoods over their heads who were visible on the stage, all manipulating a single female puppet. As I understood what was happening, she received bad news, climbed a tower, rang a gong, and then suicided. Bethy said it was because she rang the gong, but I didn’t understand why that meant she had to die.
French influenced dinner
Finding dinner afterwards wasn’t so easy—the inexpensive places were closed and the expensive places were expensive (5,000 yen per person—that is over $60/plate—more than we intended to spend.) After a lot of walking, we took a cab back to the hotel and went down to the mall where we’d eaten the day before. A restaurant had caught my eye there, and it turned out to be delicious. I had a hamburger steak, Japanese style. It came smothered with mushrooms, an egg, a baked potato, a few vegetables, and a cold soupy thing that I didn’t eat. Jennica ate most of my egg and the part of the perfectly cooked baked potato I didn’t finish. Stan and Bethy finished Jennica’s prawn. It was a successful meal all the way around!
We went back to the hotel and hung out in our room again, but we split up by 9:30 (or thereabouts) so we could all take cold showers and cool down enough to sleep!