Japan, like most of the world, has a thing about threes – three tallest mountains, three most famous hot springs – and at Nara, Kamakura, and Takaoka are Japan’s three largest Daibutsu. Daibutsu are enormous buddha figures, usually cast from multiple pieces of bronze. The daibutsu at Kamakura and Takaoka are exposed to the air, while the daibutsu at Nara is enclosed in a large building. But more on that later.

As might have been expected, everything took a little longer on the 21st than anticipated. I woke up late – precisely at 10, actually, when my Friendly Japanese Housewife rang my doorbell so that the gas man could shut off my gas and return my deposit. This was unfortunate mostly because it meant that I didn’t get a shower – I did wash my hair, but the water was almost painfully cold. Still, I got everything done with time to spare before she came back at three with the landlord company’s representative, who made sure everything was in order and cleaned and very generously didn’t mind when my friend spilled my flower arrangement sending water and petals all over my freshly cleaned floor.

Okay, the story behind that is that my schools both gave me flowers, but my only vase was about 5 inches tall, so I ended up taking them apart and making a new arrangement and the vase, which I made, was actually quite unsteady so I’d balanced it in a bowl. There were two, actually – one was just the Gabarra (??) daisies which didn’t fit into the other arrangement well. Anyway, I’d set aside a bunch of things to give my various friends here – one got her things the day before, and the other I’d asked to come over on Saturday before I left. She must have tried to carry too many things at once – and she definitely tried to carry the arrangement by the bowl, rather than the vase – and it tipped over and spilled everywhere.

Key point I missed mentioning – instead of just chucking the flowers out, which weren’t anywhere near dead because of course I’d only just gotten them about 2 days before, I’d decided to give them to my Friendly Japanese Housewife because she was extremely helpful and generous. After falling over, however, they weren’t anywhere near as nice looking. But I’m sure she made a successful arrangement herself once she got home.

Between everything, I didn’t get on the train for Kyoto until about 5 – I missed the 4 o’clock train, unfortunately – which meant I didn’t get to Kyoto until about 8:15. I foolishly misjudged the distance between Kyoto Station and Marutamachi-dori (I was thinking maybe a ten minute walk, but in reality it’s more like a 40 minute walk and longer with luggage) and then I got a bit twisted around trying to find the actual hostel, so I didn’t get there until about 10. (Maybe 9:45. I wasn’t walking the whole way, there was some Waiting For the Subway in there too.) Anyway, I had to call the hostel and ask them to please let me in, because the website said they stopped taking people at 9pm. Fortunately, that seemed to be a very loose rule – the man who answer the phone assured me he’d wait for me, and didn’t seem at all put out when I got there. He probably just gives such an early time on so that he doesn’t get people rolling in at 2am.

On the 22nd I got up and took my stuff to the station and skipped off to Nara. It’s about an hour away from Kyoto, and the ancient capital of Japan. There are scads of temples there, but the most important of course is Todai-ji, the Great Eastern Temple. Todai-ji has plenty of attractions – a beautiful gate with particularly fine carved guardians from the 13th century makes a splendid entrance way – but the main attraction is the Daibutsu and the hall that shelters it.

Nara’s Daibutsu is the largest in all Japan, cast in bronze, and gilded. Some of the gilding has come off – and it may not have been gilded in entirety – but there’s still quite a bit on there. The hall housing the buddha is the largest wooden structure in the world, and is still only about 2/3s the size of the original hall. There are a couple of other statues inside, though none so impressive as the Daibutsu.

Interesting fact of the 23rd: there is an enormous pillar behind the daibutsu with a hole in it, which I watched a young man squirm through fairly easily. Legend says that those who can pass through the hold are ensured enlightenment. I didn’t try. But the real interesting fact is as follows: the hole in the pillar is precisely the same size as one of the Daibutsu’s nostrils. Now you know!

Nara is full of deer. They were once considered sacred, but now they’re mostly considered hilarious and cute. (I have some pictures.) They pester people for food constantly, butting their heads gently at people’s behinds or poking their heads through people’s arms to blink up at them with wide, liquid eyes. In many places, there are vendors selling deer treats – and enough people buying the treats to keep the deer satisfied. However, I imagine that if this were not the case – or on colder days when fewer tourists are present – that people unfortunate enough to be carrying their own food have the dubious pleasure of being mugged by deer. Having been mugged personally by a swan, I know that this makes a hilarious story later but is rather unsettling in the moment. And I was only accosted by one swan – when I bought the deer treats like the gullible sucker I am, I was quickly surrounded by at least five deer.

That night, I hopped on the night bus for Tokyo.

Night busses in Japan are wretched. Or at least the ones operated by 123Bus are. It’s a bit like flying coach, except that conditions are even more cramped. I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but apparently it is. Japanese people are quite thin, and the seats are narrowed accordingly. I am not, really, that large, but I filled my seat precisely to the edges. There aren’t tray tables, so the seats are even closer together. There is approximately no foot room whatsoever. Fortunately for my sanity, I managed to curl up with my coat and sleep the entire time, and actually almost miss my stop at Shinjuku because I didn’t hear the driver announce it.

It’s hard, in Japan, because people never seem to announce just the information I need. They insist upon burying it in a full sentence, most of which I don’t understand, and which therefore gets a bit tuned out. I tune out a lot of things here, though I’m sure I used to do nearly as much of that in the States. It’s going to be absolutely crazy to be back though – here, everything in English is something that Requires Attention. Relearning which things I can ignore is going to be disorienting and strange.

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