Nara is nice, even when approaching by bus, the bus from Kansai airport I was on drove through some lightly industrial areas when arriving into Nara city. These areas carry a certain flair, devoid in Industrial parks everywhere, with heavily shaped and pruned Bonsai looking trees within the maintained gardens of the factories, these gardens display beautiful patterns of a stereotypical Japanese design, matching some of the ornate factories.
Most bus stations in Japan are next to the train station, so the terminal stop for Nara is the JR Nara station. My first impressions are great, this looks like a clean, easy to navigate city. With a small walk from Nara station to my hotel, in a local part of town, I tried to absorb all I could, Nara gives me a Scandinavian vibe, it seems all low key with simple design and functionality. Very cool, I felt a similar vibe in Tokyo’s Taito district, but in Nara with more wooden houses, wider streets and the cloud shrouded hills clearly within view I feel it more.
Walking to Nara’s main sights in Nara Park I am faced with a good stroll up through the newer part of the city, and although I still feel like an idiot due to my lack of Japanese, I’m relishing the local touches. The friendly greeting anytime you step into a shop, any shop, the gentle nod of the head when you catch someone’s eye, or give way to traffic. It is still taking me a while to get used to the fact that the footpaths are also cycle ways, I’m hoping that I learn before I get struck down or cause an accident.
In spite of the fact I have little intent on buying, the shops I peer into are intriguing, with plenty for the tourist and local alike. I’ve noticed that shops for locals have items that would make great practical souvenirs, these shops do however have less deer paraphernalia. Deer are one of the symbols of Nara and the tourist tat is adorned with cutesy versions of them, the majority of visitors I saw in Nara park are Japanese, they seem to love these deer that loiter around Nara park.
In Nara’s old city it is possible to find a few wooden building that looks older than time itself, with beautiful wooden features, screens on exterior and charcoal covered roof tiles that glisten even without the rain. It’s great low rise urban walking, there are hidden shrines and temples completely empty and jaw dropping-ly beautiful, it’s possible to see the preservation of the old scattered amongst some of the new. There are cool little shops and hip, albeit kitch coffee shops and all the trees are pruned as bonsai, of various sizes.
There are a few formal Edo period gardens near Nara park, these private formal gardens have a small cover charge but are well worth the few coins. Within these formal gardens it is possible to find tranquil places to sit and enjoy the serenity, to soak in the beautiful focus on form and composition displayed throughout. Thankfully for me the seats are covered as the rain falls constantly while I am in the gardens, shattering the surface of the pond repeatedly. The frequency of moss in the garden, enhanced as a feature show just how frequent the rains are, I watch the water lingering over the surfaces of rocks, flowers and trees, the forms within the garden showing how beautiful the rain can be.