Shortly after visiting the Fujiko F. Fujio museum, I headed west on a mini two-day trip to the Kansai region! There I spent a day in Nara, and then spent the night and next day in Osaka. I’d never been to those cities before, so it was a fun first time.
It was also my first time taking the shinkansen (bullet train) by myself! The route I took was Tokyo-Kyoto-Nara, and the whole journey took about three hours.
Before I got on the train early in the morning, I bought a bento for breakfast. Bento boxes sold at train stations are called ekiben, and they usually come with special ingredients that are unique to each regionThis ekiben is the 30-ingredient Balance Bento from Tokyo station, and it comes with all sorts of yummy things from vegetables to fish to meat. It even had my favourite kinchaku (tiny tofu pouch)
Once I arrived, I met Oba-san (not really my aunt but a family friend whose hometown is Nara) and she brought me around the city!
You know you’re in Nara once you see the deer.
In parts of the city, deer are just as much citizens of Nara as the humans are. They roam around open spaces and parks and even walk around the streets. The locals are accustomed to them and the tourists love it, so everyone’s happy
There are small pushcarts at the park that sell shika senbei (crackers for the deer) for ¥150, so you can feed them (and bribe them to like you)!
I also visited Nakatani-dou, a famous mochi shop that was the place I most wanted to go to in Nara. They specialise in traditional yomogi mochi and make it fresh onsite everyday. Yomogi is a type of plant called Japanese mugwort, which is where the nice green colour comes from.
The signature attraction of this shop is their high-speed mochi-pounding performance! Well it is the actual process they go through to make the mochi, but there’s so much action and thrill in watching them do it that it’s a performance in itself. Nakatani-dou even won a championship on TV for being the fastest mochi pounders in Japan
It’s a dramatically fast process that involves giant mallets that they use to batter the mochi into a smooth dough, while the head mochi master (on the right) flips the giant mass of mochi around in between blows. You should watch a video here to see what it’s really like! They’re such professionals that you know they won’t ever get their fingers smashed, but it’s still riveting to watch them pummel away at such high speed.
The result of all that action is soft, chewy yomogi mochi dusted with kinako powderKinako is roasted soybean flour and it has a slightly nutty taste that goes well with the natural flavour of yomogi. Since the mochi is made fresh, it was still warm in my hand
Bite into it and out oozes sweet red bean paste! A single mochi is just ¥130, so it’s a simple and affordable snack that I think you should try at least once
Since the shop is barely 10 minutes walk from Kintetsu-Nara station (which is where the express train from Kyoto comes to), it’s easy to find! I’ll leave the address here:
Hashimoto-cho 29, Nara City
Nara Prefecture 〒630-8217
They’re open daily from 10am to 7pm, and everyday you can watch them pound away at the mochi. They do it about once every half hour or so, but it mostly depends on the size of the crowd or whether they still have stock from the previous batch.
After eating delicious mochi and a hot bowl of udon for lunch, Oba-san brought me to Mount Wakakusa-yama for a small hike up the mountain. There we saw even more deer who were happily chowing away at the mountain veggies. There was an elderly man who came with a big bag of bread crusts too, so the bunch around him enjoyed a carb-fest.
There’s a gorgeous view from the topA few other people were there too, either taking a stroll or sitting down to soak in the scenery. There aren’t any mountains in Singapore, so being able to climb one in Nara was great.
We later came down the mountain and visited Todaiji, a historical landmark of the city and one of the most famous temples in Japan.
And so we meet again, deer
This was one of those places where you could really see what a popular spot it is for sightseeing. There were dozens of Japanese and foreign tourists milling about, but even though it was touristy it was still a genuinely beautiful place to see. With all the deer walking around it felt even more special
Especially when they get up to antics like eating cherry blossoms right off the tree. Oba-san says that in Nara the trees only flower over a certain height because everything below gets eaten by the deer.
The big majority of visitors were Japanese high school students. It was the season for school trips, which means you get a lot of teenagers and their teachers going around the sightseeing attractions along with you.
The deer are well used to it by now.
As a souvenir I also bought this pack of deer boogersJust kidding. That’s what they call it, but it’s really cocoa-coated peanut balls. I found it so funny I got it as a present for my brother.
For dinner Nara Oba-san and her husband brought me to a small casual restaurant, and we had sashimi and sansai (local mountain vegetables)There was also a dish of grilled squid rings stuffed with squid roe, but by that point I was too busy eating the good food in front of me. In Nara restaurants aren’t as expensive as they are in Tokyo, so you can have more fun ordering different dishes to try and share
After dinner we drove over to Osaka where their house is; it’s in the rural countryside so I experienced a very traditional stay in the mountainside village. Please look forward to my next post about it