It was a big, big, Buddha.

We saw our conversation partners Friday for the first time since we met them in class. After a rushed lunch at a nearby restaurant (we honestly didn’t have time to finish eating), we still couldn’t make plans. Thus, Mike and I have yet to get to know the people assigned to us. It’s frustrating.

Anyway, after class, we took a trip to Nara to see 東大寺 (Toudaiji, a bigass temple) and the 大仏 (Daibutsu, the bigass Buddha within). Shinto (and Nara) consider deer sacred creatures, so they’re allowed to roam freely throughout the area, and they’re used to people. The deer on the temple grounds are even friendlier, because you can buy round, flat crackers to feed them. It’s called 鹿煎餅 (shika-senbei, literally “deer rice cracker”), and a stack of about ten runs 150円.

The massive gate at 東大寺.

That part of Nara’s not like Osaka in that it’s got more green space and many of the buildings look older. Many trees have been shaped to grow at odd angles, a few even propped up so they don’t fall over, and there were more than a few 人力車 (rikshaws). The approach to the temple is really long, and requires passage under a truly gargantuan gate (reminiscent of Rashomon). Past that, you still have a long walk to the temple itself. On the other side of the gate, the deer are nonexistent (probably because they’d have to climb steps and jump the wide gate barrier).

Furthering international relations since 2011.

There were, however, many groups of elementary-school students there for sightseeing, most from farther away. We were stopped several times by students with booklets and pencils. They’d ask if they could talk to you for a few minutes, ask your name and where you were from, explain their names, ages, and what school they attend, ask you to write your name down, and then want a photo with you. One girl asked if she could speak with me for a moment, and I answered 「もちろん」(of course), which made her do a double-take at the fact that I answered her in her own language.

Heaven and I always helped out, since it helped to promote international understanding (and these kids needed the grade). Hell, I don’t know if American middle-schoolers would have the guts to approach older, foreign strangers and speak in another language. We also got a few cheerful “harro” calls from high-school groups, one of which we saw again on the way out (and who seemed to be pleased to talk to us again).

They’re scruffy but friendly, the exact opposite of the deer I’m familiar with.

The temple, by the way, is staggering, and houses a gigantic Buddha statue, as well as some large statues of other famous figures. Their gift shop features a lot of deer-related merchandise, naturally. I fed some deer with two stacks of crackers, and most of them are calm enough you can pet them while they munch. (One of my group got a photo of a guy actually hugging a deer.) A few of them even bow before being fed (which amounts to them bobbing their heads up and down as they await their treat), but I don’t know if that’s a learned trick or a bizarre coincidence. One of the bolder deer walked up to me and accepted his cracker, and when I turned to feed another, he started nudging me in the backside with his (blunted) antlers to remind me that he was still there.

By then it had started to rain, so we went to a nearby 商店街 (shoutengai; covered shopping street). We did not, however, shop there. For whatever reason, we basically blew through the place, turned around, and blew back through without actually stopping.

After getting back, I stopped at the school with Okubo-sensei (rather than going to the station near the hotel), because I’d left my school stuff there after class so I wouldn’t have to carry it all over the place. He took an alternate route to get there becase the street was crowded, which took probably three times as long, but gave me a chance to chat with him. He’s a nice guy, the head of international student programs (like WVU’s OIP), and when I’d gotten my stuff, he gave me a ride back to the hotel (it was on his way, he said). He had a nice car, too; first time I’ve been in a Japanese car with everything reversed.

After that, some of us ended up talking for a long time, and by the time I was ready to go over to the Aeon, most everything was closed and the marked-down deli food was long gone. Still, an entertaining day all around.

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