To juxtapose a half-nerd day on Thursday, on Friday we caught the regional train to Nara, which was only about an hour away from where we were staying. The town promised plenty of awesome, and it certainly delivered.
After getting off the train we headed down to the sightseeing bus terminals and jumped on board to see Toudai-ji, or as we remembered it – the temple with the giant Buddha. Nara is a really pretty city – not too fast-paced with a blend of old and new that was reminiscent of Kyoto, but more welcoming in some intangible way that’s difficult to describe.
After arriving at our stop we wandered through the park that lead to the temple, going through the closed-off pedestrian street with souvenir and food shops to one side, with the native deer walking or lazing around the place. It’s amazing to see all the deer at relative ease with everything without the need to have the areas closed off with fences and what-not.
Following the growing surge of tourists, including hordes of amusing middle school students attending as class groups, we made our way to the enormous outer gates, then followed the crowd to the main entrance. After paying the fee to attend, we walked through the inner entrance that opened up to a stunning view of the carefully cultured lawns and gardens that led the way into the main temple. In all seriousness, I figured the place was going to be big, but the scale and immaculate state of everything really was incredible.
After making an offering at the gates of the main temple and lighting some incense, we crossed the threshold to behold the amazing statues therein. It is inconceivable that human hands so long ago put such amazing works of art together. Like a lot of the aspects of this trip, it’s hard to succinctly put into words the awe and reverence of this place, suffice to say that it was an intense and awe-inspiring experience.
After picking up a couple of goodies from the temple we exited back onto the main leading street after I made a stop at the men’s room (and was greeted by another amusing drop toilet) to adjust my prosthesis for the wander back to the train station. On the way we picked up a few more skewered dango from a street vendor and Wifey fed some of the native deer. Because I’m daft I decided to grab another matcha soft-serve ice cream cone on the way out and we walked back probably about half way to the main Nara train Station before jumping aboard another sightseeing bus for the final bit.
As we were pulling up to the final stop opposite the train station I spotted a shop out the corner of my eye that might have been packing nerd stuff, so after jumping off the train we walked around the corner and came upon a local Geo store. Having never been inside one I wasn’t sure what to expect, but drilling to the back of the store was the game section. Like most of the mainstream second hand places the majority of the stock was NDS, PS3 and PSP games, with a small selection of PS2 and PSone for reasonable prices. I decided to snap up a handful of PSone titles, then we were off again on the train back to Osaka.
The original plan was to grab some ramen at the Osaka station, so we assumed this wouldn’t be an issue given the prevalence of amazing (and cheap) ramen places in all of the other major stations we travelled through. After hunting through the convoluted complex several times, it appears as though Osaka Station, unlike pretty much every station we had travelled to at this point, had no cheap and awesome ramen places, at least that we could find. Instead we eventually settled on tea and waffles in a posh-looking restaurant modelled after the Japanese interpretation of an English tea house. It wasn’t what we were craving, but it was still yum!
While we were at Osaka Station we also had another stop, this time especially for Wifey – we visited the official Pokemon Center! The massive store is located within the labything selection of buildings and is packed with all sorts of goodies that celebrate the franchise’s past and ongoing evolution. We picked up some plushies, candy, bento boxes and all sorts of stuff here. We were tempted to pick up some of the Pokemon-themed kitchen appliances and bakeware but decided to err on the side of caution since we only had limited space and weight for our luggage.
With our fun over, from Osaka Station we travelled back to the Dotonburi shopping precinct, with Wifey getting some overdue shopping for herself (instead of being dragged by me to nerd places). We ended up dropping into the Sakaisuji shopping mall (near/off Dotonburi, I can’t remember exactly as we approached it via the Crystalis underground mall), and lo and behold if I didn’t see the warming glowing warmness of a Book Off towards the tail end of the mall.
Like most Book Offs, the selection was mainly geared towards current gen consoles – PS3, XB360, NDS, PSP and PS2, with a reasonable selection of cheap PSone titles and a smaller selections of Famicom, Super Famicom, Saturn and Dreamcast titles. I picked up a couple of games across most of the systems (including some very reasonably priced Famicom titles), and from there we made the trek back to the hotel.
We decided to eat lightly that night since we were catching a 3-hour Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo the next day, so we ate some delicious sushi at a place near our hotel that served up fresh morsels of yum on a conveyer belt (just like our beloved Sushi Train at home), and grabbed another crepe to eat back in the hotel.
We did the usual pack-up when we got back to the hotel, this time taking advantage of the extra piece of luggage we picked up at Tokyu Hands the day before, and got ready for an entertaining day of travel to follow!
To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.