R Scott Okamoto
Osaka food and whale sharks to Nara's psycho deer and shrines
Day 7 (technically the 8th day in Japan) Sunday, July 2
Our feet and legs were aching when we woke up. According to our Steps trackers, we had been walking 8-10 miles a day for the past few days. Fortunately, right across the street was the Tenzoan Marketplace. We went and had some coffee in the entrance to what looked like a mall. But then we discovered the food area. It was like an outdoor food mall built inside. It was like a block of Sendai’s food area recreated inside the mall. So with very little walking, we ate our way through. Osaka-style takoyaki. Kara-age. Conveyor belt sushi. Mochi on a stick (dango). Curry-flavored popcorn. Ice cream. And ice cream.
And since it was there, we went to the aquarium. Having been to both the Monterey Bay and Aquarium of the Pacific, we weren’t sure if it would be worth going, but the Osaka Aquarium was awesome. They have two whale sharks swimming in the main tank. And lots of great displays and tanks that that path winds around and through. It was a relaxing day.
We looked up another marketplace for dinner near the Tsutenkaku Tower, the iconic tower you can walk through to see a 360 view of Osaka. We, again, ate at a few places. A kushi katsu place and an izakaya. The tower was interesting. It was built on a foundation that was modeled after the Arch du Triump and built to resemeble the Eiffel Tower. We paid the $5/person fee and rode up the elevator to see Osaka at night.
On the way down you go through a series of souvenir shops, including a shop and mini museum dedicated to Pocky. It seemed random, but apparently the company started in Osaka.
We returned to the apartment near the Aquarium and slept well.
Day 8- Monday, July 3
Miyuki had made arrangements with a guide who spoke English to take us through the town of Nara for the day. We got up early, packed up, and took the short 50-minute commuter train to Nara. We had to leave our bags at the station for about $35, but it was worth it.
Yoko was a volunteer tour guide based out of Kyoto. I think she was retired. Her English was excellent, and she had a dry sense of humor. She walked us all over Nara to see two Buddhist shrines and one Shinto shrine. Everything was great. It was shrine day. Seeing structures that originated over a thousand years ago was intense. None of them were original, as they burned down a lot through the ages. But they were still around 800 years old.
On really unique aspect of Nara is the deer that roam freely throughout the town. The deer are protected because they are seen as sacred. According to legend, the town was formed when a deity rode into the area on a white deer to be a protector. So, they have become as much a part of the city as the shrines.
For 150 yen you can buy these special crackers and feed them. Beware. The deer come right up to you, bow…yes I said BOW, and you give them a cracker. And all is well for about 5 seconds. If you don’t give them one, they will nudge you or even head butt you. They will try to eat whatever you have in your hand. You can hear groups of people screaming as they are accosted by these deer. It’s a surreal experience that borders on dangerous. Initially, everyone was really enthralled with deer following us around. After about 30 minutes it was downright annoying.
Maybe it was the heat and humidity, but Ethan and I seriously discussed whether or not we could knock one of those fuckers out with one punch. How hot was it? I drank two bottles of water and two bottles of green tea from the vending machines. I never peed once. I couldn’t have peed if I had wanted to.
I play bass in a band called Doctors and Engineers, which is a South Asian rock band. It has been an amazing experience being a part of something so culturally different from my own. But in Nara, I discovered partnerships between Japan and South Asia aren’t such a new idea.
When Emperor Shomu had the Todaiji Shrine built that houses the huge bronze Buddha, priests from India came to the dedication in the year 752. And here I thought we had some novel new alliance going with Doctors and Engineers.
The tour finished at the Todaiji Shrine, the largest wooden structure in the world, and we were beat. It was over 90 degrees with severe humidity. We were all drenched in sweat and feeling like we were dying, but Yoko never even sat down. She even walked us back through town to the train station to show me some stores specializing in local art supplies and green tea. We probably should have felt ashamed that a woman in her 60’s still had a spring in her step after walking us on a 10-mile tour in the searing heat and humidity, but we were too tired to care.
We hopped the commuter train to Kyoto and found our way to the next Air BnB. This one was larger than others, but it only had one tiny air conditioner. We cranked it up and sat there sweating for the next few hours. It wasn’t like a sauna. It literally was a sauna. Somehow we all fell asleep, either despite or due to the heat.
While fighting heat stroke and dementia, I thought about the day. The history of Japan and this region predated American history by over a thousand years. Yoko had talked of a period of 300 years where there were no wars. Just peace and prosperity. Leave it humans to fuck up a good thing.
My own country is in a kind of freefall in the aftermath of electing a complete moron with no moral compass, empathy, or impulse control. It will be a long time before we see extended periods of peace and prosperity.