Friday, March 9, 2012

nara - outside of nara park

Finally after checking out all the things I wanted to see inside Nara Park I decided to venture out into the great unknown of Nara, where English signage existed but not clearly enough to prevent me from getting lost. Gangō-ji is a Buddhist temple that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and since I had an interest in scouting all the ones I could get to in Japan I went by to check it out. I was following the brown signs in English when I happened to glance across the street and see a giant sign...

I walked down the little alleyway the sign was at thinking that I was going to hit the entrance of Gangō-ji. Turns out that alleyway led me inside the temple, bypassing the front gate. I just assumed that the shrine grounds were free like Tōdai-ji and I would only have to pay to see any special exhibits or treasury rooms they had on the grounds. Well I assumed wrong because after exiting I found out that the front gate had a ticket office. Oopsies! Honestly though the Gangō-ji isn't worth the 400 yen admission fee or even the time to check it out if you're on a tight schedule. People must have known what a rip-off it was since there was one other person besides me on the grounds.

Gangō-ji Gokurakubō Hondo - or the Main Hall
There were also some other halls that contained an exhibit of ancient artifacts and some artwork done by some artists. Everything was in Japanese so I didn't really know what any of it was. There are a lot of Buddhist statues on the grounds and interspersed amongst these religious icons are statues of demons. Don't know why there would be statues of demons on temple grounds but they were funny and I guess you could do a Where's Demon? thing.

Gangō-ji used to be a huge complex in the area that is now the Naramachi, a former merchant district where traditional buildings and warehouses have been preserved.

Most of the buildings that comprise the Naramachi were machiya, long narrow townhouses that served as the living quarters and shops of the local merchants. Taxes in the past were based on the property's street access rather than on the total area so the machiaya's front was kept narrow to save on taxes. A few of the preserved machiya are open to the public and I had the opportunity to visit one, the Koshi-no-ie Residence (Naramachi Lattic House). However I got lost because there wasn't any signage at this point and I must have taken a wrong turn. I ended up in front of what I believed was the Naramachi Promotion Center, according to the tourist map I had. There were a whole bunch of flyers at the entrance way but they were all in Japanese (again no help whatsoever) so I went up the stairs. I'm not sure if I was trespassing or not because I stumbled upon a group of old men who seemed like they were having a meeting or reunion of some sort and I had clearly disturbed them. One of the men walked me back downstairs and actually walked me all the way to the Koshi-no-ie Residence which was just down the street. Can the Japanese get any nicer??

Koshi-no-ie Residence
naka-niwa or inner garden
Love love love ancient Japanese architecture with all the paper screens, tatami mats, and wood. There is a staircase that doubled as shelving to save space. The steps were almost half the size of my foot... Small feet anyone?? They gave out free origami souvenirs, I chose an origami top that could spin!

Then checked out the Nara Craft Museum which had some pretty cool displays and accompanying English explanations. I liked the dolls the most!

I still had a lot of time to kill before the Shuni-e "Second Month Service" started at 7pm so decided to finally grab a bite to eat and to check out the covered arcade I had rushed through in order to reach the Naramachi. I had printed out stuff I should try while in Nara and most of that was comprised of certain types of noodles. I even asked the lady at the information booth to verify if these food suggestions were an accurate representation of food found in Nara. Saw a quaint little noodle shop, in the covered shopping arcade, and showed them my paper asking if they sold any of the ones listed which they did! So for my super belated lunch I got to eat Miwa sōmen. Sōmen are thin noodles made of wheat flour and I guess the Miwa version came from the Miwa area.

miwa sōmen
A set cost 800 yen included a piece of sushi and what looks to be a bowl of mushrooms cost 800 yen but I just got the noodles which I believe cost 650-700 yen. You can order the noodles to be made hot or cold and since it was freezing I went with the hot variation. The broth had a seaweed taste which isn't my favorite but was delicious and so warm1 It also came with pork, fish cakes and pieces of seaweed. The addition of chili flakes and soy sauce made it taste even better.

I even happened across a Daiso and managed to score some snacks for later. Even though Daiso is a 100 yen store, everything cost 105 to cover the 5% tax.

They had ume flavored Mentos which has to be special to Japan - ume means plum. The ume flavor is nasty, I would not suggest getting it unless you are like me and just wanna try all the flavors of Mentos and Hi-chews you can get your hands on. The Meiji strawberry chocolate bar had bits of marshmallows inside which were pretty good. They have the regular Meiji strawberry chocolate bars here in Taiwan but I haven't seen the marshmallow ones.

The Details
hours: 9am-5pm
admission fee: 400 yen
directions: from Kintetsu Nara Station take exit 3. At the fountain located right in front of the exit turn right down the covered shopping arcade. Continue walking a long way until you exit out onto a busy street (as in there is car traffic preventing you from going any further) then turn left up the hill. As you are walking you will see the sign I posted a pic of above across the street on your right hand side if you want to bypass the ticket office. 

directions: After the covered shopping arcade mentioned in the directions above, instead of turning left to go up the hill, just walk straight across the street.
Japan-guide Naramachi - has a very general map and information on structures of interest in the area

Koshi-no-ie Residence (Naramachi Lattic House)
hours: 9:00-17:00
closed: Mondays and from December 25 - January 6
admission fee: free

Nara Craft Museum (Nara Kogeikan)
1-1 Azemame-cho, Nara-shi, Nara-ken 630-8346, Japan
tel: 81 (0) 742 270033
hours: 10:00-21:00 (last admission 20:30)
closed: Mondays and from December 25 - January 6
admission fee: free
directions: After the covered shopping arcade mentioned in the directions above, instead of turning left up the hill, turn right down the hill.

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