Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
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
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)
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
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.