Nara, Ohara, Sake and Sukiyaki

The featured image is from a ceremony I observed at Nanzen Temple. There was chanting, incense and a Buddhist leader praying for the many attendees by holding a card to his forehead and meditating for a short while. I was also lucky enough to see in my neighborhood two beautiful geishas on their way to an appointment.

Since I last posted I have been a busy gal. I went to the ridiculously picturesque town of Nara via a one hour train ride. It was easy enough with only one transfer. Nara was Japan’s first capital in the 8th century and has many significant temples and shrines. First though, I headed out of the station to see the beautiful Yoshiki-en gardens.

Interestingly entry is free for foreigners. The nice man asked to see my passport ( which of course I don’t carry with me) and when I said it’s ok, I’ll just pay, he said, no it’s ok you won’t pay. Next to the gardens is the famous Todaiji Temple which houses one of the largest bronze statues of Buddha.

But the real reason to go the Nara is the deer! The deer roam wild in Nara– over 1,000 deer. Everywhere you look there are deer.

But the cutest deer are those up by the Kasuga Grand Shine that roam the stone lanterns. I turned around while walking up the hill to the shrine and there was this trio just looking at me. Overloaded by all that deer cuteness, I head to a brewery called Harushika Sake Brewery. Oh yes please I’ll try the six sake tasting with these two gents from Osaka. I actually know very little about sake but I learned a ton and by the time I left ( actually they poured me seven tastings since I was enthusiastic) I knew enough to know I like it and want to drink more of it.Home in Kyoto that night I followed my Melbourne friend Eugene’s suggestion and headed for a local Izakara called Yururi for dinner. So glad I did. Tobe, the owner who loves Hawaii and has Hawaiian music playing and surfboards for decoration was so attentive and fun, plus the food was excellent! He and I really bonded. I loved this place so much that when new friends from California came to town, I suggested we go there for lunch. It was late afternoon and the 3 of walked in to find they had closed until dinner. I accepted that, but Tobe, said “no Shirley-San, I will make you and your friends lunch”. He reopened just for us. He called in two helpers and we had a beautiful private lunch.

The next day, I decide to go to the little mountain village of Ohara. It is a rural town straight out of a timeless bubble, nestled at the foot of Mt Hiei with great hiking and a beautiful temple. I hop on the bus and I’m there within an hour and set out on foot up the path. There are streams and waterfalls and little family run 3 seat cafes on the path. The Sanzen Temple there is beautiful. I sit at this tiny window in a small room with flowers, incense burning and candles lit, overlooking the forest and then when I’m ready I go thru a small door outside and look back through the same window– magical what I can see from that side.

Farther up the mountain, I meet Kimichi who makes her own matcha tea and sells it. She let me try a cup of it as well as a cup of tea made with dried seaweed, Kombucha. I purchase some of her tea. I got to get back because I signed up for a cooking class at 2 pm. Running back down the path, I come to a screeching halt and snap this shot!

I go straight to the class and find it is 6 guys and 2 other gals. The people are from Australia, England, South Africa and Ireland. Right away we fire up our individual stoves and the teacher guides us through making dashi from scratch and then 5 different recipes. I am amazed how well we all do.At this point, out comes the sake. We drink it “sake in a box style”. That means you fill the glass to the brim while it is sitting in a cedar box. You drink your glass and naturally some spills into the box. Then after you are done with your glass, you pour that back into the box and realize the cedar has given it a new twist.

Kanpai!

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