We got to Nara station and there was a really friendly old man at the information desk who gave us a map and advised us on a route that we should take to explore Nara and everything it had to offer.
When we stepped out side the sun was shining and it was a perfect day to go and discover all the hidden temples and shrines that were tucked away in Nara's small streets and parks. The main attraction for me were the wild deer that roamed around the park.
We had arrived at about 10 and it was serenefully quiet as we strolled over the park to the first temple on our trail. This was Kofukuji temple, a five story pagoda Buddhist temple that's listed as a National treasure. At the base of it there were a few people going about their religious business, some quiet tourists taking pictures and a clever deer sniffing around for any biscuits that might be going spare.
Following that, it was starting to get dark and we were ready to head across the road to the Sake Brewery. I'd never tried Sake, but being Japan's equivalent of Korea's soju, I thought that it would be rude not to give it a go. We went to the brewery, which again was an old dark wooden building. It had a big deer head mounted on the wall as you walked in. We bought a shot glass, which had a deer imprinted into the bottom of it, then was lead to the room where there were lots of long benches with tables set up in a circle. The man served us 6 different types of Sake, by which time I was feeling slightly sloshed. Most of them were almost as unbearable as Soju to drink neat, and the best one was definitely a sparkling one, but once we checked out the price, we decided not to treat ourselves to any and skipped away.
The streets of Gion were exactly as I imagined Japan to be, I could picture Hatsumomo shuffling around in her kimono and geta, and the bath house where Chihiro worked to be just around the corner. The streets were cobbled and narrow, there were tiny bridges that led to shrines lit by glowing paper lanterns and all the doors and windows were locked tightly shut, but when you looked up you could see the glow through the paper blinds and every now and then hear laughter, as if there were lots of secret moments going on behind closed doors.
So at lunch time we headed to the food market which was under cover. It was bright, colourful and smelly as we walked through. There were weird and wonderful things on sale that I'd never even seen before, never mind considered putting in my mouth. It was packed from side to side with throngs of people trying to buy fresh produce for the up and coming New Year celebrations. Apparently New Year is a massive deal in Japan and food plays a major part in the celebrations.
Eventually we managed to break free and find a cafe called Cafe Independants, recommended on my lovely map. It was a basement cafe that had stone walls, mosaic floors and bright colourful art hung from the ceiling. It had a really European, industrial feel for it, playing records and people there were eating, drinking coffee or an early cocktail and just wasting away the wet afternoon there, exactly what we needed.
En was in a tiny little traditional Japanese house, we were led into the warm and tranquil room that was bare apart from a bamboo mat that covered the floor. The hostess was dressed in a kimono and asked us to sit on the floor. Unfortunately, after my meeting with the floor there was no way that I could kneel, so I felt very impolite sat in front of her as she looked so sophisticated. She talked us through the ritual of tea making and serving and preparing all of the utensils, then let us try making the tea for ourselves. It was really interesting to see how in depth it all was, and the fact that i make myself a cup of tea several times a day without thinking twice.
The most surprising thing that I found about the whole ceremony was the fact that you have to undergo ten years of training to become a master of the tea ceremony. Apparently you have to be knowledgable of Japan to become a hostess, so it's not all about how strong you make it!
Although I had a lovely time in Kyoto, the rain managed to put a stop to us enjoying it as much as we would have liked, it seemed pretty and quaint and I would love to go and look around a little more, but decided it was time that we took ourselves and my bloody knee back to Osaka.