It was on Tuesday morning at 8:00 that we were to depart from the University, so I awoke at 6:30. By the time we hopped on the bus, I was looking forward to a nice nap on our way to Nara, as that is how most bus trips go. But I was wrong. Dead wrong. Sleeping on a bus trip in Japan is infeasible. Why? Because the Japanese love Karaoke so much that they’ve made it capable on a bus. TVs, mics and the whole works. Throw in a few terrible voices and you’ll find yourself a little annoyed, at least that was my case. We made a pit stop at a rest area along the highway and I picked up some breakfast.
After about an hour and a half, we arrived at the first of our three stops in Nara, Koufuku-ji. It is an ancient Buddhist temple built in 669. It was amazing to be around something so old and sacred. Truly breathtaking. I heard the explanations and history from a tour guide, but I was too busy not understanding Japanese and goofing around with my friends. Pictures and fun now, reading and learning later is the way to go. Next we went to Kasuga Shrine. It is also one of the oldest buildings in Japan, established in 768. It is also considered a UNCESCO World Heritage site. It’s hard to describe in words what it is like to be in a place that is so different from back home in America, but I really enjoyed these two sites. There were so many of us and we were always goofing around and being slow. Because of our tight itinerary, the University staff kept hurrying us, which was annoying until they told us it was about lunchtime. The lunch was a pretty traditional collection of Japanese food.
There was fried shrimp, raw fish, and a bunch of other things I didn’t really know what they were. I couldn’t eat everything, but I tried it all. I realized something about how I had become accustomed to Japan during this meal. I realized that I don’t feel strange when I eat raw fish, and that I am very comfortable using the chopsticks. It’s a good thing….not a bad thing. Raw fish is delicious, and I’m sure I’ll miss it upon my return.
After relaxing and browsing the area, we had to hop back on the bus to go to stop #2, a very nontraditional tea ceremony for foreigners. I put together a project on tea ceremonies, so I know a bit about them. This one was not right, but it fit the situation well because there were so many of us and an official ceremony would have taken an hour. They mixed a few ultra huge bowls of tea up and passed them around the room. It was really funny to see everyone struggle to put the 10 pound bowls/cups up to their mouths and take a few sips of the really bitter tea.
With our thirst quenched, we were ready to move on to the best (in my opinion) place of our trip- Todaiji. It is the largest temple in Japan and houses one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It is an amazing site, with a busy surrounding area. There were streets with lots of little shops, and people everywhere. There were also deer everywhere. Since the ancient times, there have been many deer living around Todaiji, and it is seen to represent the amount of peace that exists there. The deer are completely tamed, as you can feed them, pet them, and take pictures with them. Actually, you can buy food for them and as soon as you approach the counter they start nipping at you and it looks a bit like an attack with the photos I took. We spent a good deal of time at Todaiji, talking with friends, browsing the shops and observing the people. Everyone began to gather as a result of our immense tiredness, and we got back on the bus to return to the University and begin round two of annoying bus karaoke.
I’d have to say that this day was one of the best days I’ve had in Japan to date for many reasons. It was really fun to be with such a large group of my new friends. I was also able to get a little closer with my classmates who cannot speak English. Prior to our class, we could only say a few words and it had to be done in Japanese. Now, it’s amazing that we can talk and have a good time together. It was the first time I truly realized how much learning went down, and the worth that it has to me now. Another reason this trip really hit the spot is because of the shit tons of studying going on the past few weeks caused me to not enjoy my time so much. This trip made me feel great once again about being in Japan, and it is the beginning of what should be an amazing break.