Sunday, February 27, 2005

Japan #11 - Lazy Nara pics

(At the end of August/beginning of September 2004 I took a pleasure trip to Japan. I meant to have all the blog postings done in the first week, I'm now on track to have it done within 90 days months of the trip.)

Nara
By the time I got to Nara a day later after Kyoto, I was starting to feel ill (probably had something to do with the five pounds of raw fish I ate earlier in the week). As well around this time, I came to my wits end with another aggravating bit d'Nippon: the absolute dearth of places that accept credit cards. If you picture the U.S. in the early eighties, you'll get the picture. I was particularly tweaked since I could walk down to the end of my street and pay for a Big Mac with my credit card, but in Japan, I had to pay cash for my friggin' $300 hotel bill! There were a variety of reasons why we didn't bring a mountain of money, but my last few days were none too pleasant due to this issue. It was also about this time that I realized that 400MB worth of SD card (more than 300 pics worth) was not nearly enough and I had to take pictures sparingly until I got to get taken on an SD card at Akihabara a couple days later.

Nara is home to several pagodas and a giant, impressive Buddha. I tried in vain to get a picture that would convey the sheer size of this Buddha, but it was all for not. Since it is enclosed in a building barely bigger than it is, it's impossible to get a picture with any apt size comparison.

This was, also, the first time that we had slept on tatami mats in a hotel that sported an onsen instead of a traditional western bathroom arrangement (the rooms didn't have a bathroom, there was shared restroom on the floor (which was a real joy to go to in the middle of the night), and a shared (though gender separated) bathing areas in the basement). The mat setup was somewhere between the comfort level of a normal bed and camping in a sleeping bag. I didn't have any problem with it, and I can picture sleeping in that fashion on an ongoing basis, except for one fact: it's amazingly difficult to scrape yourself off the ground, especially when you're still groggy (and hungover...from jetlag). While at the hotel, I also had a bit of a revelation, I was going to save this bit for later, but since I had the revelation here, it's a good time to bring it up.

I, along with many other Americans, had been raised to believe that Japanese are neat freaks. Although this is true to a certain extent, sitting on a stool in the onsen got me wondering as to how many butts that thing had seen (lots) and how many times it had been sanitized (not lots). I then remembered back to Hiroshima at the okonomiyaki bar where they had a two liter tupperware jug of mayonnaise that had obviously, from it's sick, semi-translucent, yellow color, had not seen the inside of a refrigerator for several hours, or possibly days. This in and of itself might be forgivable except for the fact that the handful of times I had seen mayonnaise in Japan up to Nara, it had been in the same condition. Then I recalled that public restrooms rarely had hand tissues (though at least half had soap) and that, despite the army of vending machines in the country, I found myself carrying backpacks of garbage because of the lack of garbage cans (slash recycling centers) in the country. At that moment, sitting on that porous, warm, moist, germ factory of a stool, that realized that the legendary Japanese cleanliness was at best, half true. (Compounding this fact, I heard a second hand story about how some restaurants offer free to use chopsticks that rest in a sickly, never changed pail of water that patrons put and retrieve their used chopsticks from when they want to eat, yummy!)

Well, enough complaining, how about some pictures!



At a restaurant we went to, the patrons would purchase sake and put whatever they didn't finish on the shelf with their name on it. At least that's what we were told, it still seems hard to believe. Sake goes down pretty smooth, so I can't picture anyone not being able to finish it, and, from what I know, unsealed, unrefrigerated sake would go stale before too long.



Nara has several beautiful pagodas. This is a shot from the our onsen enabled hotel room.



If a town in the U.S. had the number of deer that Nara does, there would be sharpshooters about. It was pretty entertaining though to see the deer going after silly school kids playing around with the deer treats they sell on the street (the deer are quite aggressive, especially the bucks).



This is the giant Buddha, it took up just about the entirety of the huge building pictured below...



My buddy's wife makes a successful attempt to make it through a hole that is the same size as one of the Buddha's nostrils, in a support pillar in the building . I'm about twenty years too old to come close to trying it.



(When I decided to wrap this post up, I discovered I had started writing it back in November, ugh.)

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