Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My trip to Japan - Oji-Nara (Day 11-12)

For today we planned an overnight stay at Gyokuzoin, a temple ryokan (a ryokan is a traditional japanese hotel where you sleep on tatami mats etc.). It was such an amazing experience and I recommend it to everyone!

In the morning we took a Shinkansen back to Osaka and left our luggage in a coin locker. Then we drove to Oji-Nara and took a local bus to the temple. The bus drove up a steep hill on narrow streets, and it drove so slow I had fear it would just roll backwards. Since there wasn't any description on how to get there by bus, I had to find it out through Google Maps and japanese websites, so we ended up at the wrong bus station. Well it wasn't completely wrong, it was even closer than the right bus station, however the street was VERY steep. I still can't understand how a car could go up this street but there were 2 cars at the top of the hill!

When we arrived at the temple, I wasn't 100% sure if it was the right one, however we were directly greeted by a monk and he told us to take a seat and then brought us Matcha tea, a mochi biscuit and a cold tea. I didn't even had time to ask xD. Two monks tried to explain everything to us, they barely spoke english but they were laughing all the time because they didn't found the correct words etc. xD. They were very relaxed and funny. Then they showed us the facilities and eventually left us alone.

We decided to explore the temple area. It was at the top of a hill and completely covered in small shrines, gates, statues etc. every few cm! It looked just stunning. You can also visit it without staying at the temple, I can really recommend it if you are in Nara and have time left, it doesn't cost any entry fee, only the bus ticket. There were almost no other visitors, only people for praying.

There were also turtles and even frogs in the little lake!

Then it was dinner time, we choosed the vegetarian dinner course and I was impressed how many different things you can make with tofu. I also ate some vegetables I have never eaten before. We had to sit on tatami mats, it was a little uncomfortable ^^' Next to us was the only other guest sitting, a japense women, she started to talk to us and it turned out she now lives in Amsterdam. She explained the food to us and asked us when we want to go to the Onsen, as she thought we might be uncomfortable being naked there. It was really nice of her and I was happy she asked, because it would be the first time ever for me in an Onsen.

So after dinner we went there (because it was also the only place to take a shower) and I have to say it is really relaxing. Our 2 hotels before had Onsen too but I was too shy to use them, but if I will ever have the chance to visit an Onsen, I will surely do it. However I couldn't stay long in there, barely 10 minutes, because it was just too hot for my Onsen-untrained body. After this we walked through the temple area again to view it by night. All paths were covered by stone laterns and we had such a scenic view. We also had the best view over Nara by night.

We also had green tea and cookies at our room, which we ate during the evening. The tiger is the symbol of this temple, so you can find it everywhere.

We went to bed and woke up very early to attend a fire ceremony at 5am. We thought all the monks would be there too but we were the only people besides the "priest". They have so many shrines there I guess every monk prays somewhere else. The ceremony was great and worth attending. I was amazed by all the movements the monk did. I think there was a very specific way how to lay everything, how to put on the fire, when to wait and do prayers etc. Everything looked like a piece of art. The ceremony took 45mins but the time flew by because it was so interesting. After the ceremony, the monk asked us where we're from, and it turned out he could speak german a little and even was in my hometown to learn the language.

Then we went back to bed for around 2 hours to wait until breakfast. The breakfast was delicious too. Afterwards we left quickly because the bus was coming soon and only drove once per hour.

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