The walk to Hotel Fujita from JR Nara Station was only 500m, along Sanjo-dori which is the main pedestrian route to Nara Park. Central Nara was surprisingly low-rise, with myriads of lanes accessing small shopping complexes.
The Hotel offered bikes for hire, the comfortable single-gear jobs, with a basket on the front. Extremely practical for holding a back pack with jumper, camera and water. I really enjoy being able to get out on a bike, even for a short time, to explore the back lanes or to enjoy observing locals being locals. I have had the pleasure of doing this in San Francisco, Kyoto and now Nara.
|families urging on a home run|
Since Nara Park and its numerous cultural sites was on the plan for tomorrow, I headed in the opposite direction westwards along Sanjo-dori before turning south along a canal-side bicycle road. Sunday afternoons for 20 years have been occupied by playing soccer, or watching one of my 3 kids play. Baseball is the major sport in Japan and it was not long before I passed by a game in progress, being watched by a group of reserved but attentive families. Along with some 5 other people I leaned up against the chain-wire fence, hoping to witness the game-winning home run. Alas, after some minutes, no-one had connected with a pitch, so I moved on.
|my bike at Daian-ji Temple|
Found the main Nara Fire Station and looked around like a kid in a candy store. I need to learn Japanese and then have the gumption to knock on the office door! Another trip maybe. Lanes criss-crossing crop fields got me to the Daian-ji Temple.
Such places are very spiritual. In the time I was there, a man sat almost motionless on a seat in what seemed to be quiet contemplation. I felt uneasy taking his photo, even from a distance, as if I would disturb his space.
|a beautiful avenue|
As I write this blog some weeks after being in Nara, I have yet to actually work out where my bike odyssey took me. I did pass by this fantastic shrine which had an covered avenue of trees leading to it that was spectacular. A ‘discovery’ like this of the beaten track provides an enduring memory of the bike ride. At this place, a lone old man – maybe in his 80’s – offered short simple prayers before engaging me with a smile. Then I was the only person at this place, that was established some 800 years ago.
|Farmer resting in his field|
Later on, I observed a lone farmer resting in his field. I wondered if his thoughts were like mine – this is the sort of landscape and rural dweller that have been consumed by Friday’s tsunami.
By this time I had the bug for traveling along paths and tracks across the rural outskirts of Nara – or atleast I thought it was Nara. At a railway crossing I had to wait with 2 motor scooter riders as a single carriage train rolled by. I could see a station up the line to the left, and multi-storey buildings to my right in the distance that I took to be Nara. So turn right I did do.
Through kilometres of laneways, past at least 4 Volunteer Fire Corps sheds, and a few more rail crossings, I turn up at the Obitoke-dera Temple. By this time is was nearly 4:30pm, and there was only 4 Japanese folk and myself at the temple. I was keen to have a look around, and paid my entrance fee – not knowing that I was now entitled to the guided tour. At this point, one of the Buddhist priests greets me and led on the tour. A small amount of information was available in English, and I had read already on my tourist guide that this temple is renowned as a place where 5-month pregnant women come to pray for easy delivery of their child. This enabled me and my priest guide to communicate by gestures and recognition of symbols, not language. It was very nice. The priest insisted on me having the Temple guide, in Japanese, to take home. These experiences might seem trivial, but this was the intent of exploring these sites of rich importance and significance to many Japanese people. This makes the country special.
After the spiritual interlude, back on the bike, and in hindsight another wrong turn! Finally I got near enough to a main road to read the signs. Only 9kms to Nara – in the opposite direction to the way I was going! I need new batteries in the human GPS.
Atleast the ride in was flat, getting back to Hotel Fujita just on dusk which was handy as I did not have any lights. A great 3 hours!
(Sunday 13th March, 2011)