So I was planning on consistently blogging about this trip each day, but tiredness got the better of me. Here I am, sitting in Kansai International Airport waiting for our flight to Taipei, and I’m only just now typing up the second part of my #IKansaiClearlyNow series.
For day two (three, technically, but I don’t really count the night we arrived!) in Nippon-koku, we headed out to explore Nara today, which means – yes – today, we saw deer!
There’s more to Nara than the Nara Deer Park though, although certainly it’s their most famous attraction. Back in the 8th century, Nara was the imperial capital of Japan. In 794 A.D., the seat of national government was moved to Kyoto. However, Nara’s ancient temples and shrines remained spiritually significant. To this day, eight of those structures are still standing. These eight, named the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. We wanted to see all of them, but the bucketing rain ruined our plans. Still, Nara Park was a non-negotiable, so we put on extra thick socks and waterproof shoes, grabbed our umbrellas, and off we went.
I heard from some people that it’s best to feed the deer in the morning, so we decided to head to Nara Park first. There’s loads of deer everywhere, so you won’t have to walk far to look for them. We bought shika-sembei, or “deer crackers”, from one of the sellers (they’re everywhere too, don’t worry).
And yes, my friends. You can eat the deer crackers. (They’re disgusting though. Would not recommend.)
The ideal way to feed the deer is to get them to bow three times. You do this by first holding the cracker high above your head, then by hiding it behind your back, then raising it again. Each time, the deer will bow. Then you reward the deer with the cracker. Only the older deer still have the patience to go through all three bows; most of the younger deer will nibble at your clothes or repeatedly keep bow. They’re not dangerous. Just, you know, don’t wear anything you would mind being slobbered on.
We spent the whole morning feeding the deer and taking pictures, but a little before lunch, the rain got stronger. We sought shelter at the Starbucks in the JR Nara Station (where I ordered what was going to be my second out of four total white chocolate mochas ordered on this trip – my sorority sister Zia mentioned in her own blog post about her and her boyfriend’s trip to Japan that the white mocha in Japan tastes better than the white mocha in the Philippines, and whoo boy, was she right) and discussed what to do next. Cas remembered that we hadn’t gotten to see Fushimi Inari-taisha the day before, and, after a cursory inspection, we saw that the JR Inari Station was only a few stops away from the JR Nara Station. Cas really wanted to see the torii gates and the rain was beginning to let up, so off we went.
The Inari Station itself was tailor-made to fit Fushimi Inari. Instead of the usual hospital-white surroundings, the walls were painted the same vermillion color as the torii gates; and the roofs were shaped like the traditional roofs of a shrine. Once you leave the station, you see the entrance to Fushimi Inari right away. We didn’t bother taking pictures since there would be more to see inside, and headed up.
Fushimi Inari is dedicated to – as you can probably tell – Inari, the Japanese Shinto god of rice, tea, sake, industry, and prosperity (sounds like someone you’d want on your side). Foxes, or kitsune, are sacred to Inari, so statues of them are all over the shrine.
After going around the main level for a bit, we went up to Fushimi Inari-taisha’s main attraction: its thousands of torii gates. These gates were donated by Japanese businesses as offerings to Inari (remember, Inari is the god of industry and prosperity). When you walk through all the gates, you eventually get to the top of Mt. Inari, which is 233 meters above sea level. There’s not much of a view at the top, but there is a large shrine. We tossed some yen coins into the offering box and my sister and I prayed for good grades and success in our professional endeavors.
After going around the shrine, we decided to head back to Osaka for dinner. We ended up going to Dōtonbori, which is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Osaka.
A local entrepreneur by the name of Yasui Dōton wanted to connect the north and south branches of the Yokobori River with a canal, hoping to increase commerce in the area. Unfortunately, he died in the famous Siege of Osaka fighting on the side of Toyotomi Hideyori, but his cousins eventually finished the canal in 1615. The new lord of Osaka Castle, Tadaki Matsudaira, named the canal Dōtonbori to honor Yasui Dōton, even though Dōton had fought on the losing side.
Today, Dōtonbori is known for its many restaurants serving both traditional and modern takes on Japanese food, as well as its bright neon signs and billboards which could give Times Square in New York a run for its money. Its most famous sign is probably the Glico Man, which has also more or less become the unofficial symbol of Osaka.
We met up with some relatives who were also visiting Kansai, and went to have dinner in Ichiran. I totally, absolutely recommend that you eat here at least once any time you’re in Japan. One bite, and I swear, I saw the face of God.
We also had dessert at the Melonpan Ice food truck, that famous green food truck that serves “the second best melonpan in the world”. (Great marketing there.) Melonpan is basically melon bread with ice cream in it. The food truck serves three flavors: vanilla, vanilla with chocolate syrup, and green tea. I ordered green tea! (I’ve been gorging myself on green tea ice cream since we got here. It’s amazing.)
After eating, we walked around Dōtonbori, just taking pictures. Even if you don’t eat at any of the restaurants or go shopping, I still really recommend making the trip downtown. Just the sights alone are worth it.
Here’s a sample of some of the fun, crazy signs that are prevalent in Dōtonbori.
Tired, full, and happy, we went back to our AirBnB to get some rest for our third day.