Arrived the evening before at my hotel, the Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring Hotel (what a mouthful…). Only a few minutes’ walk from the station, and the most expensive hotel so far – but still only £100 per night. Traditional Japanese interior but very modern and bright, the reception area was granite floored, but then the rest of the hotel was tatami matting – even in the lifts. One of the staff took my suitcase and carefully cleaned the wheels, then showed me the little lockers where I could put my shoes – no shoes on the tatami! Really nice room, and hot spring bath facilities downstairs.
Found a little yakitori restaurant a few minutes’ walk away, a welcome dinner of chicken bits’n’pieces on skewers, washed down with sake.
After a lie-in, headed to Starbucks for breakfast (yes, Ok, I know, but it was only a few steps away at the station tourist info building, and I had a need for their iced coffee and apple pie). Then to roam the city. Yesterday I was the only western face in an amusement park full of Japanese people. Today – tourists everywhere, even later in the season Nara is still a big draw. Decided to head to the south of the city to avoid them.
Strolled out through the old town area of Naramachi, with some lovely old buildings and a characteristic style of ‘latticed houses’ – vertical latticework covering the wooden frontages. Side streets had a real mix of the old and new, the usual power lines on poles that you find everywhere in Japan contrasting against the aged wood and beautiful roof tiles. Spotted an interesting piece of modern apartment architecture: Happiness Heigts (sic). By the look of it, I think the name was a tad aspirational…
Stopped to take a few pictures of the lovely buildings at Shonen-ji Buddhist temple. Along the way I spied a very old example of the ubiquitous street vending machines.
Suddenly, found myself walking past Harushika sake brewery! Of course, I had to take advantage of their 500 yen sake tasting… with free glass! 5 different sake styles with tasting notes in English, and a helpful expert to talk me through the selections. From dry to sweet, and even a sparkling sake, sweet with a cloudy appearance. A selection of Narazuke (pickled vegetables) made with the sake lees (what’s left after the sake is made) rounded off the tasting, not really my thing but the smoked pickled squash was pretty tasty.
Carried on out of Naramachi heading for a path which led into the Kasugayama Primeval Forest – sounded like my kind of place! Passed by another small Buddhist temple with fabulous roof tiles and decoration on the way. Heading up a slope, the path took me into a forested valley with a large stream running down the middle – and occasionally down the path as well. Lots of smaller streams running down from the sides joining the main flow. Quite beautiful. Feet in sandals did get rather wet and muddy at times though, and with the hand laid stone paving lining lots of sections – which had accumulated moss and lichen – footing was a little uncertain at times.
Got to the top of the stream and the path joined onto a wider, well graded path shown as the Kasugayama walking path. Halfway along I came across another Buddhist temple, Kishibosonjin – clearly this was a place of pilgrimage, with the long hike to reach the site and then the steep steps to the temple buildings tucked away in the forest.
The path then took me back down towards my starting point at the edge of the area of the shrine grounds, and as I neared the exit from the forest I saw movement among the trunks to my left – a small herd of deer darting away as they saw me, crossing the path further down along where I was heading. Really lovely to see them in the forest rather than in the middle of the shrines or the park – it felt like they were in their proper place. There was a male and a dozen or so females, and predictably just as I got perfect shots lined up they would turn away or move behind a tree. Still, got some good ones.
Stopped into a bar/restaurant called LBK Craft that I’d found online, to grab a pint and book a seat for dinner later. Quick stop at the hotel for Onsen and a change of clothes, then back to LBK. The owners, Bob (American, long term resident of Japan) and Lily (Chinese, also long term in Japan) were fantastic hosts.
Before bed, decided to try the onsen baths on the ground floor. The hotel provides loose jinbei style pajamas that you can wear around the hotel and onsen, and towels for each day. Separate male and female baths were accessed by room key, and I followed the usual etiquette (great guide at http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php) – and after my long day hiking the 43degC bath was very welcome – once I got used to it!