Asian Adventures, Spring 2015: Uji and Nara, Japan

May 25th, 2015
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As I’ve spent a few weeks spending some time in Japan, Korea, and China, over the next few posts, I’ll be outlining my itinerary with explanations of what exactly I experienced and thought of the cultural exposure in each of these countries. You can read what I’ve posted already by clicking on the link below:

Japan

Having done the tea ceremony in Kyoto, not only did the host of the ceremony mention Uji but a couple did as well.  Uji apparently is one of the best place to get tea – it was explained during the tea ceremony that the soils in Uji are perfect for growing tea which is why it is known for their teas. So I decided that I should make my way down to this city and as it was on the same train line as Nara I stopped off here first.

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UJI Shopping Area

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UJI Shopping Area

It was such a wonderful walk from the train station to their main shopping street and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ujigami Shrine and Byodo-in. There were many tea shops and cafés so I popped into a few to see what the prices were like to buy tea leaves and drink some tea.

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Byodo-in’s Phoenix Hall

I then followed some tourists along a path through a partially forested area along the river to the Byodo-in temple.  As I wasn’t intending to enter the temple grounds, it peaked my curiosity as you could see the building along the pathway.  It was beautiful to see once I entered the grounds.  The temple includes the Phoenix Hall which was built in 1053.  It was a separate fee and a two hour wait to enter the hall so I decided to just walk around the temple and it’s gardens instead before making my way back towards the station.  The garden of this temple is a nationally-designated historic site and a place of scenic beauty and I could see why.  All gardens that I saw at the shrines/temples I had visited were very beautiful and serene.  I learned later that gardens in Japan were initially for the Buddhist temples and shrines and the imperial families.  Only much later did the Samurai and upper classes of Japan incorporate gardens as part of their homes. The common Japanese families would have gardens of their own much later.

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Byodo-in’s Phoenix Hall

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Uji’s Matcha Soba Noodles

Before heading back to the station to continue on to Nara, I stopped in one restaurant to have lunch.  I decided on matcha soba noodles in a broth with a tempura shrimp. I enjoyed the meal and it was even more fun when two old Japanese ladies sat at my table to have their lunch.  It was a fun conversation with them in which we communicated in our language.  These ladies said only three English words the entire 20 minute conversation we had and with the gestures and body language we were able to figure out what the other was saying.  It made my day.

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Nara’s Deer Park

Nara is another small city a short train ride from Kyoto.  It’s on the same train line as Uji so it made sense to combine Uji and Nara on the same day trip. My purpose for going to Nara was to check out the Deer Park.  Deer roam free and wild in the park but I hadn’t realized that they are all over the place and not just in an enclosed, fenced-off park.

The deer made my afternoon.  They just approach everyone, particularly if you have food for them.  I found that you could touch them without any problems.  They are wild so I was more cautious when petting some of the deer.  I had read online while I was taking a break in the park that if you bowed to a deer you encountered, the deer would bow back.  I noticed a few the tourists doing this and indeed the deer returned the bow.  I spent most of the afternoon hanging out with the deer in the park before heading back to Kyoto.

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