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O Fim duma Viagem

Plums and Deer

JAPAN | Monday, 14 March 2016 | Views [499]

On Saturday I returned to Osaka Castle. It was a rather impulsive decision, since I’d been most of the way towards just taking another walk by the river when I decided I’d rather go back to Osaka Castle and see if I could find the plum trees and the Seattle’s Best. The Seattle's Best turned out to closed on weekends, but by paying a bit more attention to signs I actuall found the plum trees.

They were in bloom.

Plum Orchard


Plum Blossom

Sunday was the Ariyama-san trip to Nara. We were supposed to meet up at the Aikawa station at 10:00. Sarah, Rachel, and I arrived at the Shojaku station at 9:55, which was two minutes late to catch the train that would bring us there on time. But John, Brian, Dan, and Jin had arrived only a minute or so before us, so we could all be slightly late together.

Because leaving the train station would have been really expensive, we stayed on the platform and tried to figure out either which direction we’d need to be to get to Nara or where the Ariyama-san house was. Someone eventually concluded it was definitely the platform we were on, and I noticed one of the non-CET exchange students in an Ariyama-san apartment within sight. Near her was the Ariyama-san son. No one else was around. Guess we weren’t that late.

The only other people to show up were Midh and Elena, which made for a rather small group. Especially when Sarah and Rachel split off from the rest of us early on.

Nara is famous for two things: deer, and a giant statue of Buddha. Not the largest one in Japan (that one’s in the vicinity of Tokyo) but decently large. Unless you’re South Korean, and you look at even the largest Japanese Buddha and are disappointed because that would be an average Big Buddha in Korea. It’s worth noting that the one near Tokyo is large enough that people can and do walk around inside it.

I can certainly confirm that Nara has deer.



Because the trip turned out to be far more expensive than I was expecting and I barely had enough money to allow me to eat lunch and get back to Osaka, I didn’t go see the giant Buddha. Dan had seen it before, and didn’t think it was worth seeing a second time, and John decided that there were enough other people going in that he didn’t have to.

As it was explained to me, John is susceptible to the opposite of peer pressure. If almost no one is doing something, he’ll do it. For example, coming to Nara. If a lot of other students had come, John probably would have stayed home. But since most people weren’t really interested, and the Ariyama-sans were being nice by having it as an event, John had come.

Similarly, if more people had been hesitant about seeing the Big Buddha, John would have said he wanted to go in so that someone else who wanted to see it, just not alone, could go. But most people were going in, he didn’t. Instead, Dan, John, and I wandered around.

Our priorities were rather different. John wanted to find a bench to sit down on, and I was in the frame of mind where I saw a set of stairs and went “that looks exciting! We should climb it!” You’d think this would have been a conflict of interest. And yet it wasn’t. We went up the stairs because the inside looked interesting, though it became a lot less interesting when we realized we weren’t sneaking in a secret back entrance to the temple. But by wandering through, we found not just a bench, but a set of chairs with a table and everything.

“It’s too bad I didn’t bring a deck of cards with,” John said.

I immediately pulled a deck out of my purse and started shuffling it. “What game do you want to play?”

He didn’t know. Dan also couldn’t think of any good three-player single-deck games, so it was up to me. After a little bit of thinking, I remembered ERS, or Egyptian Rat Screw, or any of the other names it goes by. We had all played the game before, but we had very different approaches. I played just by reflex… if I saw a double or a sandwich, I would slap. John played exclusively by memory: he knew which hands had doubles in them, and would go for those when he had the opportunity, but if a combination came up that he wasn’t expecting, he would lose. Dan played with a mixture of both strategies.

During the course of the game, each of us went out, and each of us looked like we were winning. A fablelized version would probably have Dan winning because he was the only one who knew how to combine strategies, but he probably spent more time out than John or I, and eventually went out permanently when he tried to slap back in on something that wasn’t a double. John and I went back and forth for most of the game, though I had a hard time slapping back in after I lost all my cards, because I wasn’t as involved in what was going on. But eventually I did, and won. So the real moral of this story is that remembering and planning ahead doesn’t matter: it’s all about having fast reactions. And telling distracting stories, which was my winning move last summer.


We met up with the others and followed Ariyama-san to another temple, meeting more deer along the way. Dan discovered that some of them had been taught the trick of bowing. People who hadn’t seen it seem to think we’re making it up, but some of the deer in the touristy areas did actually know how to bow. You’d need to start, and then they’d nod their heads. And if you fed them, and then bowed your head again, they would imitate you once more. Only in the really touristy areas, though. Once you got even slightly off the beaten track, they’d just stare at you dumbly and go “what is this human doing, and are they going to feed me?”

Speaking of food… we didn’t get lunch until after we’d seen another temple and Ariyama-san had headed back, leaving Jin as the only Japanese student in charge of making sure we got back. Lunch was good, but nothing spectacular, and then we headed back. Somehow, we didn’t get lost, since “sense of direction and ability to understand what the trains are doing” appeared to be inversely proportional to “experience in Japan and Japanese.” I think there was a lot of confusion at the train station we transferred at, but to be quite honest I was pretty absorbed in my book at that point and was only paying enough attention to what was going on to make sure everyone didn’t leave without me. By the time I finished my book, I was walking on the platform of Shojaku station, so someone must have navigated us there successfully.

Manhole cover

So that was Nara. I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but it’s the kind of place that it’s nice to be able to say I went. And the deer were cute.

Tags: cards, deer, manhole covers, nara, nature, shrine, temple

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