More Deer

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Saturday, September 15, 2012

Having mastered the art of traditional Japanese furniture; beds (mats on the floor), tables (no legs), chairs (pillows), toilets (don't ask)- it was time to try our first ryokan in the town of Nara. Ryokans are accommodation facilities which are imbued with the traditional culture of Japan- living in a room with Tatami (straw mat) flooring, changing into a typical Yukata (robe) after taking an Onsen hot-spring bath, sleeping on a Futon (bedding) put down directly on the floor- it's very different but we're not traveling the world to check out the various Holiday Inns.

Arguably, the highlight of Nara is the Kasugayama Primeval Forest which together with the eight temples, shrines and ruins in Nara, collectively form the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And according to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital. Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country so of course very tame deer roam through the town and especially in Nara Park. Vendors sell "shika sembei" (deer biscuits) to visitors so they can feed the deer but after having her shirt shredded during her last deer encounter in Miyajima, DH wasn't going to play with the deer of Nara. To be fair, these deer were even more aggressive and it looked as though, at some point, the antlers get cut off of the ones that are particularly angry (probably deer imported from Eastern Europe?)- I have to admit some satisfaction in seeing deer chasing screaming kids back and forth across an open field although the parents didn't always see the humour in this.

We also saw that Nara is a destination of choice for Japanese tourists and pilgrims so it's never the easiest place to find a room but it was particularly difficult while we were there because there was a music event going on, and, as any film buff would know, the Nara International Film Festival was in full swing (how does the Toronto Film Festival, which happens at the same time, survive such competition??). I tend to limit myself to horror flicks and any action movie where a lot of things blow up but DH sees herself as a standing member de rigueur set, for whom art films are all the rage. And a Japanese art film at the end of a red carpet at the Nara International Film Fest- where do we get tickets (and what the Princess wants, the Princess gets). Never mind that even our best cloths look, and smell, like they just came out of a backpack, we picked up a couple of ducats for a Japanese film that was in contention for top honours. What a painful experience that was- something about a down-and-out Japanese dude whose life got progressively worse during the three hour celluloid expose to where he was hiding in an old boat hidden in a cornfield?? We managed to sneak out at the end just as they started interviewing the Director (if it was me, I'd be asking why he didn't blow anything up just to add a little excitement to the piece).

 After the film, we wandered the town trying to pick from a plethora of restaurants for some late night dining. The Japanese are passionately protective of their cuisine and it certainly is unique if not always identifiable- cooking shows fill the airways and you can't swing of length of tofu without hitting a restaurant. And how do these restaurants tempt the passersby- by displaying plastic replicas of their various menu options in their front windows- plastic is an incredible product and highly useful, but plastic food replicas will never start the salivating process. Unfortunately another trait of Japanese restaurants that will limit your appetite is the amount of smoking that is allowed which is very odd because even in outdoor areas where you are allowed to smoke, you don't see much of it- very little walking and smoking (or even eating or drinking) as it's presumed to be rude (which it is). No cigarette butts littering sidewalks and parking lots (they really make you work to find trash cans and yet the cities/towns are spotless). Most restaurants, however, have a smoking section with that invisible line separating the smoking and non-smoking sections- the more 'progressive' spots like Mac D's have those goofy pods,which politicians and restaurant/bar owners used to pretend protected us from the evils of cigarette smoke. Apparently many Japanese politicians have seedy connections to the cigarette industry and are blocking all reform attempts. 

 On the other hand, Japanese restaurants (and all other portions of the service industry) may be the last true hold-out on the most evil of all American exports- tipping. It has been so nice to simply pay the amount on the bill and to not have to worry about figuring out how much extra to pay for no other reason than it's expected (it made sense of the notes that waiters in Honolulu were including on all bills when we were there- probably targeted to a large Japanese tourist sector not used to the concept- that suggested tips in the order of 20 and 25% and even calculated the amounts to be 'helpful'). 

So how can you be so forward and backward at the same time?? It's all part of the charm of Japan where plastic food, stuffed animals, and comic books for adults sit next to technical innovations that are years away from North America and an unbelievably comprehensive transportation infrastructure that runs on time to the minute.
Trying to sleep on the floor of the ryokan, digest my plastic food, and thinking about the cornfield dude didn't allow for much snoozing so it was a bit of a chore to drag ourselves down to the train station for our onward  journey to Kyoto.

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May on

Tipping is almost unknown in most of was even banned in China. Yet the service is much better & the servers are happier.

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