Saturday, March 20, 2004
Postcard from Nara
I received a postcard from Uchii-san. She wrote:
Thank you very much for the really lovely gifts. I was surprised when I received them. I did nothing which deserves these hearty presents. I just walked around Nara with you and enjoyed it a lot. I still remember our being chased by deer while easting baked sweet potatoes. It was a lot of fun. Sunflora, you’re amicable and lovable. I appreciate your friendship.
I want to go back to Nara!!!!!
Let me tell you about Uchii-san and Nara. Uchii-san is an English goodwill guide with YMCA Nara.
Nara is a 51 minutes train ride away from Kyoto on the JR Nara line. Trains depart on platform 9 or 10 and the rapid trains depart at 50 minutes past the hour, and arrives at Nara ant 31 minutes past the hour. Fare costs JPY740.
Upon arrival in Nara, we went to the tourist information booth at the train station. If this was Europe, the tourist information at the train stations are the worst as they always make you pay for the maps. But since we were in Japan it’s a totally different story. The nice lady at the information counter, who was also from YMCA Nara asked if we wanted a goodwill guide who will show us around Nara. Her name was Uchii-san and she will be meeting us at the main tourist information centre about 15 minutes walk away. Off we go to meet her. Already then, I liked Nara.
After a short detour at the local supermarket, we found Uchii-san. And off we go. I have to say that I was uncertain about this goodwill guide idea at first. Having lived in London, I have learnt about the dark side of human nature. Nothing is free. Everybody, either mind their own business and if they approach you, they are either tourists or want something from you. But hey, this is Japan. It is a different story. We exchanged some pleasantries, and started on our day trip in Nara.
Our lovely guide, Uchii-san lives in Nara with her family. She moved there because her husband works in Nara. She has children and has a normal day job. Except that day, on her day off, she doubles up as a goodwill guide. How cool is that?
Having Uchii–san showing us around, opened to me some doors to the Japanese culture specifically to that in Nara which otherwise I wouldn’t have known if I was walking with a guide book. For example she told us about the story of the temple that has its back against the pond. You see a princess had committed suicide in the lake and that angered the God in the temple and so he turned his back against the lake.
She also told us about the hanging monkeys outside the houses in Nara. The number of hanging monkeys outside the house denotes the number of people in the household!
The incident of being chased by deer which Uchii-san alluded in the postcard happened on our way to the Kofukuji Temple. As we crossed the road, we saw a lady selling the Imoyaki. Imoyaki is a local delicacy, sweet potatoes baked in a charcoal oven. Uchii-san asked if we wanted any, and we thought why not, we may not have the opportunity to try later. Since she was already giving us her time, I wanted to pay for the Imoyaki but since Uchii-san regards herself as our host, she prefers to buy the Imoyaki for us to try! We hassled a little but since I don’t even know how much to hand out to the seller, Uchii-san paid for our Imoyaki and I thanked her for it.
So now that we have the Imoyaki, we had to find a place to sit down and eat it. In Nara deer are allowed to roam freely in the parks. Uchii-san told us its because the deer was the messenger of God (I forgot the whole long story but will find out and tell you later) and since the people of Nara are grateful for the deer, they are allowed to roam freely there.
So we sat a few steps away from the main path. It was rather peaceful. Then suddenly a whole herd of deer came after a lady. She had just finished feeding them and guess what!! They are still hungry. They saw me and Uchii-san with our imoyakis and decided they wanted some too! Rebecca at that time had ran across the road to get some drinks from the vending machine. So she was spared from the deer chasing incident. And boy I can tell you that the deers are pretty persistent. But as much as I wanted to feed the poor pretty things, I think the Imoyaki was a pretty penny and I didn’t want to waste any on the deers that should be eating grass! We quickly walk towards the temple grounds hoping to shake the deers away. I held my imoyaki as high up as possible away from the noses of the deer. But alas, I finally gave up and kept the rest of my Imoyaki in my bag.
Will try to tell you more about Nara and my trip to Japan. In the meantime, let me enjoy my moochi and my ocha.