This post is the second part of my Silver Week vacation. Read about the first part in Kyoto here.
On Monday morning we left our luggage under the stairs in our hostel and hopped on the train to Nara. The train was packed as a woman repeatedly made an announcement in Japanese, English, and Chinese about where the train would and would not be stopping.
During the 45 minute ride from Kyoto station to Nara station, the dense city of Kyoto slipped away into a much more familiar countryside. As we passed fields and bamboo glades I realized how accustomed I’ve become to the constant background of tea and rice fields after barely two months in Shimada. It’s amazing how quickly our brain can adjust to a new landscape.
Nara Park has been on my list of places to visit for many years. It’s a beautiful park full of temples, families, and most importantly, deer. Lots and lots of deer.
I am a sucker for spending time with animals. It’s true. Back in Arizona there is a tiny town called Oatman where wild donkeys spend their days fighting, being fed by tourists, and generally causing mischief. Before I left I visited Oatman one last time to bask in its run-down Wild West glory.
Nara Park was everything I wanted it to be. The trees make a shady respite for people and deer alike in the late September sun, and families from across the globe walk amongst the deer, feeding them the special deer crackers sold by the old ladies under their umbrellas that dot the path.
The deer themselves range from cute nervous babies to enormous beasts with their antlers removed. While they were generally well behaved, it’s probably best to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty as you may get a wet nose in the back if a particularly hungry deer is feeling ignored.
We made one stop in Nara Park at the impressive Todaiji temple. Todaiji, and the giant Buddha inside, were definite highlights of the trip for me. The first gate you pass through towers over you, making everyone in the tightly packed Silver Week crowd look tiny. After paying the entrance fee, you get your first unobstructed view of the temple itself.
No picture can truly capture how large the building seems. The most incredible part, I think, is just how monumental standing below Todaiji feels.
I would love to return to Nara Park one day and spend the entire day walking and thinking. If this is the sort of place that interests you, I’d recommend budgeting more than just a morning to see anything.
We, however, had to get to Osaka. Getting to Osaka was a bit complicated, though, since we had left our things in the hostel in Kyoto. We had to take the 45 minute train back to Kyoto station, walk the 10 minutes to our hostel, grab our things, walk back to Kyoto station, and hop on the train to Osaka station. From Osaka station we took another train the 20 minutes to Tennoji station, which was a short walk from our AirBnB reservation. It was getting on to 5 o’clock when we reached the apartment, and we were exhausted.
I, however, a veteran of many an “intensive study” trip with my elementary school and family, had another engagement to get to immediately.
Two girls from my alma mater, Northern Arizona University, are currently studying abroad in Osaka. Vanessa and I had taken Japanese 201 and 202 together two years ago, and Shelby had been my student when I was the TA for Japanese 101. After two months away, it was great to see some familiar faces and relive some of the first month jitters again as both of them had only just recently arrived.
After dinner with Vanessa and Shelby, I met up with the Stephanies for some okonomiyaki (a second dinner, but it’s a local specialty and I was on vacation) and some exploration of the Osaka night life.
After Kyoto, Osaka was edgy and dark. We passed underground hiphop dancers (note: literally underground), were harassed by drunk Japanese men, and were up way past our bedtimes. To me, Osaka had the same big city at night feeling of New York or Dublin that I didn’t feel in Kyoto. It’s a surging city that I simply did not have enough time to begin to understand.
One of Osaka’s biggest claims to fame is that it is the home of Universal Studios Japan (known as USJ), and the world’s second Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The three of us being, as one of my teachers put it, from the middle of the “Harry Potter generation” as well as coming from states far from the original park in Florida, the chance to visit Hogsmeade was an intoxicating one.
I had been warned that, in order to get in to Harry Potter world, you need to arrive at the park early. It being the third day of a whirlwind trip, though, I did not heed that warning, and when we arrived at the park around 11 o’clock the earliest timed entry ticket we could get to enter the Wizarding World was for 6:10pm. Having already paid to enter USJ, and never being one to accept failure, we spent the rest of the day walking around and waiting for our chance.
USJ is fairly small, as theme parks go on the American scale, but with seemingly the same number of people in the park as an average day at Disneyland, the lines for rides were sometimes exceeding 2 hours long. The line for the biggest rollercoaster was at one point 225 minutes. Japanese people are amazing at waiting in lines. Americans? Not so much.
The day was hot and long, but when I first glimpsed the lights of Hogwarts in the distance and saw the Hogwarts Express steaming away at the platform, I forgot all about it.
I was honestly at one point on the verge of tears because I was so excited. This was not a proud moment, but I am committed to an honest telling of my time here in Japan. I took more pictures in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter than anywhere else during Silver Week.
I spent basically my entire remaining travel fund in the shops. I bought a wand, a robe, a scarf, an iPhone case, a souvenir Butterbeer cup, and omiyage for the teachers at my school. I still don’t have any buyer’s remorse, so I think I did alright.
When the park closed at 9, we left with the exhaustion that comes only after a burst of childlike adrenaline driven energy. We had a late but delicious dinner outside the park, and headed back for our last night.
Though we were exhausted, we made one last stop at Osaka Castle before catching a train back home the next day. It was quite the production to get four truly tired ALTs out and on the right train, and between us we lost (and thankfully retrieved) a train ticket, a cell phone, and a wallet.
Osaka Castle is impressive, and the surrounding park is gorgeous. As the day warmed up, I spent some time just appreciating how just completely pleasant the area was.
After lunch and yet another cute café (a true epidemic in Japan), it was once again the two hour shinkansen ride back to Kakegawa, and the 20 minute train ride back to Shimada station before catching a taxi back to my building.
It wasn’t until I was coming back that I realized my apartment in Shimada is really becoming my home. I think I have a long way to go before I’m completely used to living in Japan, and I am sure there will always be surprises, but traveling made me appreciate what I have here in a completely different way.
I don’t know where in Japan I’ll be going next. For now I’m focusing on work, my own health, and seeing more local places. I am possibly going on a trip to Hokkaido in February, though, and we’re currently in the process of buying tickets for a trip to Bali for Christmas. Life in Japan is chugging along as fast as ever, and I’m here to see it all.