We visit the deer park in Nara and see the famous Todai-ji temple with the largest Buddha statue in Japan. Our last stop is Osaka, where we go to Maikoya for some great Japanese experiences; a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, we get dressed up in a kimono, we get a tour through the Samurai museum and have a try at Japanese calligraphy.
From Kyoto we go to Nara, almost an hour drive from Kyoto because of the many traffic lights and low maximum speed. Nara is a small town, especially if you compare it to nearby cities like Osaka and Kyoto, but it does have a lot to offer. Especially the deer park is great. It’s not really a park actually, because it’s not fenced and the deer can run around freely. They can even go to the town center, but normally they wouldn’t because people feed them deer ‘cookies’ at the park. Sometimes they do wander into the shops close to the park though, which is a funny sight.
Nara Deer Park
We park the car and walk towards one of the ‘entrances’ of the park. There’s no admission fee and you can just walk in there. Like we said, it’s not really a park. When you just follow the path, you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by deer. Even though we knew they’d be here, we’re still a bit surprised to see them wander around everywhere. After a few more steps the element of surprise quickly fades away though. They are literally everywhere, there’s no way to miss them when you visit the park. They are in between bikes, on the grass, on the middle of the road, under bushes, next to trees, in front of and inside some shops, in the temples, nothing is off limits. They don’t have any fear of humans, because they feed them off course. Not something we really agree with, but I guess we’re not going to chance anything about it unfortunately. At least they are treated well, even when they wonder into a shop. We’d expect them to be worked out of there in the fastest way, not the most friendly way, but they actually don’t even get worked out of the shops at all.
Close to the ‘entrance’ where we enter, there’s also a large temple, but we decide to first go for a walk around Nara, through the park and the forest. The weather still looks nice, but we think it’s about to change soon. We follow our Lonely Planet guide and do the recommended Nara Walk that’s in there. It takes about 3 hours, because we take so many photo’s and of course we want to have a look inside the temples, drink some tea and get back on track. It’s quite easy to get lost with the description from Lonely Planet, but luckily we always find a way back to the path after we’ve wandered off again. Eventually it turns out to be a very nice walk, covering all good sights of Nara.
On every part of the route we see deer, big and small, old and young, it’s really nice to see and we get to take some really good pictures. I think there’s at least 3000 deer in the park. Some of them have beautiful antlers, but unfortunately most of them only have two stumps. We suspect that they had to be cut (?) because of the many tourists here and the danger of hurting the tourists. It’s such a shame and we don’t agree with these kind of things at all. I think it’s horrible. But, we don’t know for sure if that’s the reason, so we shouldn’t judge I guess. A few minutes later we see two male deer fighting each other with their stumps, and they still show a tremendous amount of strength, something you don’t want to wish encounter as a human being. We can imagine why they would cut the antlers after seeing this. Imagine what they could do with it. But still, we think it’s very sad and probably only necessary because people are being stupid or because the parks management doesn’t want to be at risk of being sued.
Half way the route there’s a street where they mainly sell deer cookies, made of rice to give to the deer, and cookies with the picture of a deer, which are waffles filled with chestnut paste for the tourists. You can have a free cup of tea in these shops, sitting next to the machine that’s making the cookies at that very moment. We can stand the delicious smell for 10 minutes, but then we’re off buying one. It’s still warm and very tasty. We have so much fun while eating these cookies for some reason, resulting in these hilarious pictures of each other.
At the end of the route we come back to the large temple, Todai-ji Tempel. This time we do go inside. By now it’s started raining so our timing is pretty good. The temple houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan, and it indeed is huge. It’s really nice to see and well worth the entrance fee that we had to pay. Next to the large Buddha statue there’s also 2 smaller ones and when walking around the statue we find some more amazing statues and miniature temples. Really worth a visit when you’re in Nara.
When we’re almost back at the entrance/exit, we see a huge line of people, queuing up to something. We don’t feel like blindly stand in line so we pass it to find out all these people are waiting for their turn to crawl through a hole in a huge, wooden pillar. It’s probably for good luck or something, but it looks very silly, haha.
Parking in Nara
After seeing all of the deer park we get back to our car, which is parked on a, by now, deserted parking lot. The entrance to the parking lot is suddenly locked by a chain, that’s strange! We didn’t read anywhere that this was a private parking, but that might be because we can’t read Japanese of course…
While we put our bicycles in the car and get ready to drive to Osaka, a Japanese man comes walking towards us. He starts talking in Japanese, thinking that we’d understand that I guess, too bad! Apparently he’s not very happy with us parking here, whoops! We thought it was weird that there’s a free parking this close to the deer park, but we didn’t see anyone where we could pay. Time to behave as real tourists who don’t understand a thing. After drastic hand gestures and a lot of Japanese talk, the man gives up after about 10 minutes, opens the chain and we take off. Osaka, here we come!
When booking our accommodation in Osaka we we’re quite lucky, because we found a very luxurious hotel on Agoda, which is about 10 times more expensive on booking.com! We quickly confirm the booking, because it’s probably a flaw in their system or something, haha! I guess they put the comma one place too far to the left. The hotel has incredible reviews, a high rating and lots of extra’s like king size beds, huge rooms and bathrooms, breakfast included and lots of luxury. Unfortunately we could only book it for 2 nights from tomorrow, so tonight we have to sleep in the tent again. By the time we arrive in Osaka it’s already time to find a place to sleep. Even though Osaka is not far from Nara, it took a lot of time to get here because of all the traffic lights. We also made a quick stop close to Nara for a free sake tasting at a sake brewery, which wasn’t really worth the detour but it was nice anyway. We bought some sake to take home, so if you’re lucky you can try some when you visit is in the Netherlands.
After about an hour and a half of driving in Osaka, we still haven’t found a parking that’s suitable for sleeping. Everywhere there’s signs saying it’s payed parking, private parking or you get a fine when you park there while you shouldn’t have. Luckily all three are quite obvious, because payed parking has a meter of course or a barrier. Private parking areas where people rent one parking space are always numbered, and then there’s the signs with high amounts of money which probably point out a fine. Eventually we take our chances on a parking where all things mentioned above are absent. There’s only 2 other cars parked here and it looks like a quiet neighborhood. Probably this is an office parking or something, so just in case we make sure to be out of here at 6 am.
We put up our tent in the trunk and go to sleep. Luckily we can sleep through the night and we don’t have any problems with the parking space. At 6 we pack our things and drive to a convenience store for the bathroom and some breakfast. Since we’re on a budget, we decide to combine our cravings for milk cereal and coffee, and put some iced cappuccino with our muesli. It’s actually surprisingly tasty. We can’t really get used to eating in the car though. It makes us feel like a homeless person, haha. Oh well, who cares.
We drive to the hotel where they are kind enough to let us park the car. We take our bikes and spend all day biking through the city. This is the first time we didn’t make any plans on what we want to see in a city. It’s actually very relaxing if you don’t have to do anything. We’re sure that any temples, castles or palaces here aren’t going to impress us that much anyway, after seeing so many in the rest of Japan. We see some nice shopping streets and neon lit neighborhoods.
Maikoya; tea ceremony, kimono’s and Japanese calligraphy
Since Osaka is our last destination in Japan, we are looking for a place to dress up in a real Japanese kimono. That’s part of the experience when visiting Japan of course. We decide to book a day at Maikoya, where they are real experts in turning any tourist into a real Japanese looking person. Maikoya also has much more to offer, because besides the kimono try-on sessions, you can also book a Japanese tea ceremony here or a Japanese calligraphy course. They even have a Samurai museum and the employees at Maikoya are really experienced and knowledgeable about Japanese culture and history. The best way to experience Maikoya is to just book a full day and enjoy all they offer.
We start the day with a tour through the Samurai museum, which is ordered in a chronological way that makes it easy to understand. Our guide provides a very clear image on Japanese history and cultural habits and he can answer any question we have. We walk past old Japanese costumes and swords, miniatures of famous Japanese castles and traditional children’s clothing. It’s a whole different experience then the Samurai Museum in Tokyo, where it’s more about entertainment and less about knowledge. Staff at Maikoya is very friendly and understanding and we get to take a break halfway through the tour to process all the information.
This is a good time to be dressed up as a couple of Japanese. A female employee helps us into our kimono’s; Riny in a male one and me in a female one which we get to pick ourselves. I didn’t expect to get dressed in this much detail; we even get the Japanese socks that are developed to fit perfectly in traditional Japanese wooden slippers. First I have to change into ‘kimono underwear’; a loose fitting pants and t-shirt with a stiff collar. Then it’s time for all the pieces of clothing, which really are a lot more than I expected! Most of the clothing isn’t even visible in the end, but is meant to increase the attention to the nicest parts of the female body and to mask the parts considered to be less beautiful. For example, the neck is considered beautiful, and the female chest has to be flattened. When you’re finally dressed, a kimono should show a flat chest and expose some of the skin in your neck.
After half an hour I’m fully dressed and even my hair is done and has some beautiful flowers in it. Riny has been waiting for 25 minutes, because the male kimono is not much more than a bath rope basically. Just slip it on and tie the belt and you’re done. Well, time for some pictures and then we start the tour through the museum again. After this we can join in on a Japanese tea ceremony, which we’ve already done before in Kyoto, but we think it’s good to have something to compare it with.
This time the geisha hosting the ceremony even has her hair and make-up done the traditional way, so beautiful. Her English is very good and she’s very thorough with explaining all the details of the tea ceremony. After this she teaches us how to make a cup of tea according to the Japanese traditions, including purifying the utensils, which we didn’t get to do in Kyoto. The treat we get before the tea is really something special. It looks so pretty that it’s almost a shame to eat it, but since that’s considered rude (such a shame, haha) we eat it anyway. It’s really delicious and quite a mouthful too. They are quite generous here at Maikoya.
Last up is the calligraphy course, which is taught to us privately by the same geisha that hosted the tea ceremony. She explains everything very well and has a lot of patience with us, even though it takes us at least three tries to get confident enough for the ‘finale’. After practicing we get to make a final drawing of the Japanese word for ‘samurai’ on nicer paper. We even receive a very cool cover, in which we can easily hang our work on the wall. It looks very fancy and reminds us of the decoration in the room of the tea ceremony; very traditional. The whole day has been amazing and we would highly recommend the whole experience when visiting Osaka. You can book it here.
Love Hotel Osaka
After being lost in the city because of two dead batteries in our phones, we finally end up back at the hotel. We take our stuff from the car and check in. Our room even exceeds our expectations, it’s absolutely enormous. We enter in a sort of porch, after which there’s a hallway leading to the bedroom and a door on the right leading to the bathroom. At least, the first part of the bathroom. This part is already bigger than most hotel bathrooms all together, and it has a toilet and a sink with countless free skin and hair care products, toothbrushes and a hairbrush. You can’t think of it or they have it. The second door in the bathroom leads to a massive wet area where there’s a shower, a 4 person jacuzzi and even a private sauna!
The bedroom has a king-size bed in which you could get lost. When Riny and I are both lying on the edge, our hand can’t even touch. Yes we did try this, haha! There’s a sitting area with a sofa, table and tv and the room even has a minibar, microwave, water boiler and lots of closets. There’s free water, snacks, thee, coffee and even condoms and we find some bathrobes and warm slippers to use. After a while we find out that there’s also another ‘minibar’ with sexy dresses, lingerie and sex toys, there’s a vibrator next to the bed and basically all tv channels are 18+… So, apparently we ended up in one of Japan’s famous Love Hotels, haha! It’s a popular phenomenon here and these hotels are mostly used by young Japanese women who book it for a few hours to meet one of their clients. Anyway, for couples it’s not a bad hotel either. We spend all the night in the jacuzzi with a nice cup of tea and have the best sleep since ages in the super comfortable bed.
The next morning we sleep in and have our breakfast in bed. When we try to work on the blog we find out that the WiFi is pretty crappy here, so we ask for another room, which isn’t a problem at all. I stack up on the free supplies, just to find a whole new stock in the next room, weehoo! In this room we also find a sloth machine and the bedroom is even more specious than the last one. During the day we bike through the neighborhood of the hotel, because the city center is a bit too far. We get some groceries and find out what’s the best way to get to the airport tomorrow. We don’t have much cash left and we don’t really want to go to the ATM anymore because they charge so much extra for every transaction. Luckily we find a microwave meal for only 100 Yen each, which doesn’t even taste that bad. All ingredients are packed separately, so Riny can take my fish-containing soup and I just heat the noodles with some leftover pesto and cheese. Not the worst meal I’ve had in Japan.
The next day we use our last money to get to the first big train station, where we can use my credit card to buy the tickets to the airport. We even have some money left to buy some snacks for on the plane. We arrive at the airport exactly on time, and through Chengdu (China) and Lhasa (Tibet) we arrive the next morning with 4 hours delay in Kathmandu, Nepal. In Lhasa we only had about an hour and a half to get onto the next flight, which is basically impossible with the strict Chinese border control. They want everyone to go through customs, even if you’re just on a layover, so it takes a lot of time. But it turned out we would still have to wait 2 hours for our flight to Kathmandu for some reason, so we had plenty of time. We just didn’t know, because there’s no information system in Lhasa at all. Not even a hand written note with the next flight. We just sat their waiting, without knowing anything, but it all worked out in the end. Apparently both Lhasa and Kathmandu are known for these delays and even cancellations of flights, so it could have been a lot worse.
Luckily, our Nepalese friend Shreejan is still waiting for us at Kathmandu airport. We settle into our favorite accommodation in Nepal; Nagarjun Homestay in Kathmandu, and prepare for our next destination in Nepal; Pokhara.
Have a look at more of our pictures of Nara and Osaka here.