Abbey and I beneath the weeping cherries and watchful eye of Himuro Shrine's Shishi. A shishi, which can be translated as "lion", often refers to a mythical creature with magical power to repel evil spirits..
Abbey's first day in Kyoto had been gray and rainy, but the next morning found us seated outside Starbucks, one of the many guilty pleasure we indulge in outside of Ena, enjoying sunshine mixed soy chai. As usual, we weren't exactly sure where the day would lead us, but since we were so close to the station, I suggested we head for Nara. Abbey had never been there, and in the interest of packing as much Kansai punch into her three day Kyoto foray as possible, she agreed.
A family struggles to satisfy the impatient hunger of Nara's tourist-chasing deer.
Within an hour we were walking the deer-infested streets of Nara, dodging their senbei-sniffing noses and side-stepping the plentiful pellets of deer droppings splattered on the surface of the sidewalk. One thing you'll never find in Japan is the desperate hordes of destitute, poverty-stricken children or tourist dependent adults begging and badgering you for money. Instead, they have sacred deer, free from harm, free to roam, and free from the burden of finding food for themselves. Tourists excitedly buy shika senbei, or deer rice crackers, to feed to the ravenous hordes.
Once the deer started to surround me, I made a break for it, hoping to escape unscathed.
I have been to Nara at least five times, but I had never tried or wanted to try feeding those freakin' deer. I knew better. But during my last trip to Japan, I was persuaded by a friend to give it a try. "It's not like they bite!" He laughed at my feigned excitement. Little did he know...
That's me getting attacked from both ends. The deer in front over-bit, planting a lovely slop of saliva on my fingers, while his buddy bit my bum from behind. I may look like I was pleasantly suprised, but I assure you that it felt anything but pleasant.
It's a hold up! Having unloaded all of his shika sembei on an unsuspecting victim (me), my friend escaped unscathed instead. To tell the truth, I'm suprised. Those deer don't look particularly pleased.
Elementary school children try to capture the craziness of Nara's infamous deer with their ketai, or cell phone, camera.
The five story pagoda of Kofukuji.
As we wandered through public parks and temple grounds, absent-mindedly admiring the anceint architecture and ethereal cherry blossoms, we stumbled upon a young American man traveling with his father who had seen us in Starbucks the day before. An exchange student spending a gap year studying in a Japanese High School, he had recognized me from my blog (something that, strangely enough, only happens in Kyoto). Before they knew it, we had high-jacked their peaceful father-son afternoon, insisting that they join us for our slow and study trek in the general direction of Todaiji, the Great Eastern Temple.
The great weeping cherry shading Himuro Shrine's gate.
Along the way we noticed a modest shrine on the main road overflowing with cherry blossoms in full bloom. They spilled over the brilliant tangerine torii, or spiritual gate, covering the graveled pathway like Anne's White Way of Delight. Sunshine spilled like watery jewels, dripping through the leaves, filtered by the velvety petals into clouds of playful light.
Our new friends flooded in sakura-filtered sunlight. (Snaps to Abbey for the shot).
Towering tendrils of blossom-burdened branches tumbling down....