nara



I check out from Hostel Zen and, after grabbing breakfast from a nearby 7/11, take the train to Nara. The ride is about 1.5 hours long, and the station in Nara is conveniently located near everything I want to see (it’s a small city). Nara Park, for instance, is a short 5 min walk away. Even before entering the park, I spot a dozen or so deer hanging out on the street. These aren’t your typical North-American deer — they’re disease free, pretty small, and far from shy. And unlike at the Monkey Park, you’re actually allowed to get close to the deer and pet them. The deer especially love shika senbei, their own special crackers that can be purchased throughout the park.

On top of its friendly deer population, Nara Park has even more to offer. Indeed, it is home to a number of historical monuments, most of which originate in the early 8th century. The first site I see, Kofukuji, was for instance established at the same time as Nara itself, in 710. The temple includes an impressive five-story wooden pagoda — Japan’s second tallest.

I then walk eastward through a deer-filled path. It takes me twenty minutes to arrive at Kasuga Taisha, but that’s only because I spend some time hanging with a baby deer on the way. Kasuga Taisha, also built at the same time as Nara, is apparently the city’s most important shrine. After walking a little more north, I see a few buildings that are part of the Todai-ji, such as the Hokke-dō and the monumental log cabin-style treasure house Shōsō-in. My favorite building in the Todai-ji would probably be Nigatsudo, a raised temple whose expansive view allows you to see all of Nara. 

I leave the park and walk back downtown for a few minutes to get lunch at Cafe Wakakusa, a friendly restaurant known for its crêpes. Curious to see (or rather, taste) this place’s interpretation of my favorite French dish, crêpes. Wakakusa has a reasonably priced lunch set, which I’d recommend. I first enjoy a delicious carrot soup and a fresh salad before my main arrives. The presentation of the crêpe is quite lovely, but the ratatouille crêpe itself is meh. However, I’m very impressed by the mini-dessert included in the set.

After lunch, I wander around the area south of the train station. There, I discover Rokumei Coffee, a high end café with a simultaneously sleek and natural design. I fall in love with Rokumei’s packaging, and impulse-buy a gift set of drip coffee packs for Cyrus — the boy loves his coffee. (Updated: he liked it.)

I somehow remember to pick up my luggage-backpack from the train station storage, and soon find myself off to another city!

The train from Nara to Osaka takes less than 75min, so Nara really is the perfect city for a day trip. I check in at CharinCo Hostel, whose lobby/lounge area is by far the most European-looking of all the places we’ve lodged in (in fact, it seems to attract many Europeans). And yes, there’s a hostel bar.

Deciding it’s safer for me to walk than bike (CharinCo rents out bikes for free), I head over to the Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street. This packed, 600 meter long covered arcade hosts a mix of western fashion stores and more local brands such as Sense of Place, my personal favorite. There are some quiet little alleyways nearby in an area called Hozenji Yokocho, which is known for its tiny restaurants. For even more shopping, there’s also Amerika Mura (affectionately known as Ame-mura), just off Shinsaibashi-Suji. As its name suggests, Ame-mura is filled with vintage Western clothing stores. While it’s certainly busy and touristy, Ame-mura’s street murals and hip coffee shops do give it a certain charm.



































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