Early morning our 6th day in Kansai, we checked out of our hotel and proceeded to JR Kyoto Station for a train ride for a day trip to Nara. It was a fairly short journey, only 40 min if I recall correctly since the two cities are very close to each other.
奈良 Nara, like 京都 Kyoto is an ancient city. In fact, it is reputably older than Kyoto, being the capital city of Japan during the Nara period. The city celebrated its 1300th anniversary in 2010 and our trip was scheduled then, in hope to catch some of the festivities and celebrations. Alas all was not meant to be and the trip had to be postponed til early 2011. But that is another story altogether.
First thing when we’d reached Nara was to find a luggage locker at train station, which thankfully was not too difficult to locate. No way we are lugging our bags around the city! Then it was off to Nara Koen, a mere 10 min walk away, but we’d opt to take the bus instead. Recuperating from all that walking in Kyoto and saving our legs for all is to come!
奈良公园 Nara Koen is basically a vast grass field which seemed pretty ordinary to start with. But its “occupants” are far from being ordinary! Serving as “messengers from the gods”, sika deer roam the compounds freely without barricades whatsoever and despite the signage found all over the park to remind that they are wild, the deer seemed very domesticated and definitely very used to humans. Souvenir shops around the vicinity capitalise on the animals and sell “deer biscuits” which one could purchase to feed the deer. Judging by how brisk business was and well-fed the deer were, we weren’t about to contribute to the Japanese economy this way. So no, we didn’t get any biscuits, but most certainly had lots of fun watching others do it! Sometimes we couldn’t make out who was more entertaining, the people or the deer.
We love depachikas! And we most certainly made no attempt to hide it! Depachikas is surely a shopping phenomenon which was uniquely Japan before the concept was widely emulated in departmental stores all over the world. I remember the first time we walked into the depachika in one of the major departmental stores linked to Shinjuku station on our first trip to Japan and the experience was simply “fwah!!!!” to say the least. From appetisers to desserts, from English salads to Japanese homemade pickled foodstuff, depachikas provide an exceedingly wide repertoire of delectable foods prepared for all thinkable occasions, from a light meal to elaborated box sets for hanami or hina matsuri celebrations, from simple bentos for the nearby working lunch crowds, to delicately crafted dinner courses worthy of kaiseki calibre! And do not think that since its a “food-to-go” takeaway concept, the quality would be compromised and shoddy. In fact its quite the contrary! A large number renowned restaurants and shops have set up delis and counters in depachikas, just to keep up with the pace of the dining crowd and maintain exposure. The competition is often stiff, keeping everyone on their toes to present their very best. One doesn’t have to look too far when he needs to plan a feast! In fact, a decent spread from any good depachika is just the perfect excuse for him to hold one!
Our third and last day in Kyoto and we didn’t want to pack the day’s itinerary with too much activities but alas, I think we “underdid” ourselves as we were pretty much done with Kinkakuji and Kitano Tenmangu by mid-day, initially thinking that we’d probably need a full day for these two spots in northern Kyoto 洛北. Not wanting to waste any precious time in this beautiful city, a quick decision was made to visit sourthen Kyoto where the infamous 伏見稻荷大社 Fushimi Inari Daisha lies. But going there was not without hiccups… (more…)