A few weekends ago I spent the whole weekend in Nara city (the capital of Nara prefecture) where I helped some elementary teachers practice their English, hung out with some random Italians and Spaniards I met, and even drank Sake with the Governor of Nara prefecture itself. Not too bad for a weekend.
Day 1: English “Practice”
A few Nara JETs and I volunteered to assist an English seminar in helping elementary teachers practice their English. How were we going to do this? Well, of course by letting the teachers lead us on a tour of Nara city!
My guides were three teachers, two males and one female, who led me around Nara city’s pride and joy, Nara Park.
We went to Sarusawa Pond…or as I call it – Turtle Pond.
It apparently has existed for centuries, and even more importantly, has many turtles living in it naturally!
After the turtles, we went to see the Deer. Nara is famous for deer and they chase you down!
I decided to try to…uh…speak their language. It didn’t work.
Next, we were off to Todaiji Temple to see the Giant Buddha, which is around 50 ft tall (15m) and weighs around 5000 tonnes! It is one of Nara’s most historical monuments as it once served as one of the 7 ancient great temples of Nara and continues to house the Kegon school of Buddhism.
In addition to housing the Giant Buddha, I learned that a sub complex of the temple, called Nigatsudo Hall, holds a ceremony every March where they light fires around the hall in order to simulate a ring of fire around the complex. It has apparently been held for over 1200 years and is one of the oldest Buddhist ceremonies in Japan! I’ll definitely be writing a piece on that!
Just behind Todaiji Temple rests Mount Wakakusayama which is a famous date spot for people in Nara. This is where I apparently asked out one of my tour guides. She mentioned the mountain was a date spot so I asked if she went on dates there…
She thought I wanted to go there with her. Needless to say, she just blushed like crazy and kind of shut down for a little while giggling until I realized what was going on.
Coincidentally, this also happened after I successfully guessed her age; she was 29. This may sound weird, but Japanese women have been asking me all month how old I think they are. I always guess in the mid to late 20’s. I’m not trying to be nice…they seriously look like they are in their 20’s when in reality they are in their 30’s or older!
Oh well, at least I made that girl’s day and gave her a funny story to tell.
Day 2: Fun Fun Carnival:
On day 2 of my Fun Fun Weekend I attended the Nara Fun-Fun Carnival held for the foreigners in Nara city. It was meant to entertain and showcase Japanese and Nara hospitality. Here I met some Italians and other travelers, while also managing to drink some sake with the Governor of Nara at a press event.
It was held at a local hotel and upon entry you are asked to fill out a quick survey about where your from, why you are in Japan, and if there’s anything that has inconvenienced you while being here, etc…
Basically a, “Tell us if we are doing well, please!” kind of survey. It’s a good idea.
Afterwards, you are presented with a number of laminated cards like this:
Three cards may be used for purchasing carnival foods or playing games, another grants you a bento lunch box made by an Italian chef in Nara, others get you a sake tasting or entry into a beer garden, and finally the last card allows you to be dressed in a traditional yukata. Naturally, I jumped straight for the yukata dressing.
As I walked into the dressing area two sweet old Japanese ladies started prodding me, while sternly commanding me to strip. Soon after, I found myself almost stark naked as these women circled around me trying to find clothes that could fit me.
Somehow, I pulled it off.
Garbed in traditional yukata, I was off to the Sake Tasting. As I was handed a tray of three types of sake, it was explained to me which types of sake were in which cup.
Now, these are small cups, around the size of shot glasses. As such, I assumed I should take each like a shot. Well after doing just that, my shocked friend tried to explain to me that was wrong…but it was too late. I had heard some Italian somewhere in the same room and armed with some liquid cherry courage I was off to find the source.
This is when I met my two new friends from Milano. It was so great to talk in Italian again after so long. We spent a long time together and at one point I even had to translate some of the Japanese staff’s English into Italian. It was a lot of fun, though my brain did switch into Italian mode, which makes it very hard to speak to my English-speaking friends in a Japanese environment!
Soon after I was lucky enough to be asked to attend a “Talk With The Governor,” a few other foreigners, myself and festival attendees sat down for a ceremony with Governor Shogo Arai. Before the talk began, however, we broke open a massive barrel of sake from a Nara brewery in a traditional ceremony.
Here are a few photos of us hammering away at the barrel!
Afterwards, we sat around and drank the sake we just opened and shared a “Kempai” with the governor.
Once that had finished, it was time to go mingle and collect those Kodak moments!
It truly was a Fun Fun Carnival and a great way to finish off the Fun Fun Weekend…