Every once in a while, you have to go into full-blown tourist mode. I am positive that everyone does it at least once when visiting or living in someplace new. Usually it involves overzealous sightseeing, diving into the local culture, and perhaps spending a bit more money than one should have spent. This is all well and good in moderation, though, since it gives someone the chance to experience something unique in the world and take in a breath of fresh air.
For me, I had my first real tourist experience a couple weeks ago when I vacationed solo in the Kansai region of Japan. I picked Osaka as the main hub, with access to a plethora of temples and history in Kyoto, a unique coastal town in Kobe, and Nara as a strangely interesting and entertaining intersection of nature and civilization. Of course, I did not plan my vacation entirely around photography…my first couple days were a nice mix of relaxation at Spa World and crazy fun at Universal Studios Japan!
The following days, however, I brought my camera along and set out to capture some sights and sounds of the region…as best as a solo traveller could possibly do who really has no idea what he is doing. The main reason for my choice of Kansai over other regions in Japan to visit was the festival time in Osaka—specifically, the Rice Planting Festival at Sumiyoshi Taisha! I arrived at the shrine on the rainy June 13th ready for festivities, only to find that I misread the dates and the festival was the next day.
On the upside, the grounds were nearly empty, so I took advantage and made some photographs before changing my plans. Not only is the shrine one of the oldest in Japan, but it also displays a unique Sumiyoshi-zukuri architecture that is free of influence from mainland Asia. Despite the gloomy skies and light rain, the area was very pretty and got me excited to return the next day for a more sunny festival.
Even the local ducks were tired out from the rain and sought out sleepy shelter from the elements.
I finished up my walk around the grounds by noon, so I decided to catch a train to try out Nara’s sights and sounds. Friends told me of the friendly wild deer there, so I figured they may make for some fun up-close wildlife shots! Little did I know just how many deer there were in Nara Park…Upon exiting the station and walking for just ten minutes to the park, I came across my first buck just yards away from me, sniffing around people to look for extra rice crackers. Vendors around the park sold packets of these sweet treats to hand-feed the deer for pocket change. Some deer I saw have even learned to bow to visitors to ask for food!
I wanted to save my crackers for some less-opportunistic deer rather than those that just huddle around the cracker stand, so I ventured a little deeper into the area to find some more curious deer. It did not take long to find another nosy buck. This one in particular poked me in the back with his antlers whenever I took too long giving him another cracker…
After satiating him with a few treats, the deer let me pet him a bit and get up close. It’s amazing to see deer in this way at this distance. The whitetail deer back home in Kentucky are much larger and so afraid of humans that people can rarely get within 100 yards without getting spotted. Though I knew antlers were a living part of a deer’s head, it was still so surprising to see how warm they were to the touch.
As I was walking away from this buck (who decided to follow me for the better part of a kilometer) I spotted a small fawn following its mom through a field. As a sucker for the little critters, I followed close behind until it met up with the rest of a small herd and generally lazed around always close to its parent.
I gradually made my way deeper into the park to find the entrance to Mt. Wakakusa, a small 342 meter mountain situated right at the outskirts of Nara Park. From its many viewpoints, visitors can catch a wide view of Nara, as well as hone in on the massive Tōdai-ji temple from a distance. Tōdai-ji is not only the largest wooden building in the world, but also houses the largest bronze buddha in Japan, bigger than even the massive Kamakura buddha that I recently visited.
As I made my way back down the shorter part of the mountain, I made a couple stops along the way at Todaiji Nigatsudo and a couple cobblestone paths, thinking I had enough time to make it to the main Tōdai-ji temple.
Unfortunately, I was wrong by about 30 minutes. By the time I made it down the rest of the hill, the gates were well closed and no traffic was allowed in or out of the complex. I made the best of a bad situation and photographed the surrounding grounds instead. 🙂
By this time in the early evening, I had not eaten in 7 hours. I was understandably very hungry, having just climbed a mountain! However, my photo-bug kept biting even on the way to a local eel restaurant. I made one last stop at Nandendo Hall to see the symmetrical octagon-architecture.
Done with photos for the day, I filled up on a great meal of eel and other fine foods at Edogawa Naramanchi and just kicked back to relax! I knew this would be the start of a great week of photos and experiences, so I couldn’t wait to see the Rice Planting Festival (in its proper time) the next day!
That’s all for this part of my trip to Kansai, guys and gals, thanks for dropping by! I still have a good amount of photographs to sift through in Lightroom, and not a lot of time to do it (about to go on another work trip). Due to a massive stroke of bad luck, I found that most of my videos from the trip did not import properly before I formatted my card for a recent quick trip to Singapore. Most importantly though, many from the Rice Planting Festival made it, so I should be able to share some from that event, at least. Either way, as always, have a great day!
P.S. All those deer in Nara didn’t always cooperate with my photographic pursuits. Often they would just be standing in the way of other things I was trying to photograph…just waiting for another rice cracker from my pockets!