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Nightmare In Nara, Japan

With comments in bold parenthesis by Vicky


by Kōfuku-ji  temple in Nara Japan

“Just because you are reading this does not mean we are not already dead” – Us

Couchsurfing In Nara

When we arrived in Nara from Osaka it was already pitch dark and we were still faced with the daunting task of connecting with our couchsurfer. We decided a good first course of action would be to ask the clerk at the metro station if she knew the address, figuring it was nearby.

As I held up the ruffled paper with the scribbled address, instant confusion ensued. I knew we were in for a trip when she immediately grabbed her partner and pulled out a rather large map. Where ever this place was, it was certainly not near the station. 5 minutes of Japanese, a magnetic compass, and a dice later and they had reached a conclusion.

It was in the far north and we were going to have to catch a local bus.

I consider buses a whole new level of travel. The metro I can do, tourists take the metro, but buses are for locals. Even in Washington DC I didn’t take the bus once in two years (and I only took it twice – to and from the Chinese embassy to pick up the visas). In Japan, where English is pretty poor, getting on a bus could leave you in some random part of town without any course of action if things go awry.

We decided to give our host a call to confirm. In spotty English, he indicated that we would need to take a bus and that he would meet us at the stop.

We had come this far, so why not a little further?

We boarded ghost bus #23 as instructed and made our way, doing the only thing we knew how, which was to show the address to the driver and hope he would indicate where to get off. The passengers all had the same look on their face – you don’t belong here.

5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes later and we had reached the end of the line. Everyone else had left…but us.

With his skeletal arm, the bus driver pointed to the exit, indicating that it was our turn to get off – but was it because this was the right stop, or simply because it was the end of the line and we were the last people on the bus?

The sound of closing doors behind us, the driver let out a ghastly bellow. I turned around to catch one last glimpse of the bus before it drifted off into the fog. Yes, there was a thick fog that night, too (mostly a figment of Dave’s dramatic imagination to be exact).

I suppose one successful day in Osaka had made us feel undeservedly brave, so we waited for our host to arrive.

Where was this Hellish place?

Did something just move?

False bravado quickly turned to anxiety. Our options were limited – there wasn’t any sort of accommodation for literally miles. No phone either. Our water bottle nearly empty. No one to hear your cries for help. Vultures circled above.

We were left for dead.

OK, I’m embellishing a tad. The surrounding area actually looked quite like Japanese Pleasantville, but that doesn’t change the fact that we were somewhat hung out to dry with no guarantee that the bus would be running back to the station if we needed to turn around.

Cool, calm, collective – assuaging Vicky’s panic by drowning her out with my earplugs, (completely untrue – my panic has not yet set in) I held firm in my belief that our host would arrive. We had every reason to believe that this foreign stranger who we found on a random social networking, who had just made his profile a week ago, who had one positive reference from a Japanese friend was dependable (why did I put Dave in charge of connecting with the couchsurfers?).

But would he arrive soon enough?

Yes, he would.

All of the sudden, the sweet sound of a rogue, rickety bicycle chain and someone calling my name “Dave!” filled the air.

We were saved.

Masahiko had biked all the way from Nara (20 minutes) to meet us at the stop. Some might say he was a bit late, but to us, he was just in time and consequently, out of breath.

He led us to his house where there was another Couchsurfing couple. A French duo who were cycling/camping around Asia and Europe for two years – kinda like the badass version of us. With food and shelter secure, we would be ready to head to Nara in the morning (and happily retreated to our private room laid out with mats for beds and a cool fan blowing on us – an upgrade from the previous night’s couchsurfing adventure. For breakfask Masahiko served us cold noodles with a tempura like sauce – our first Japanese themed breakfast. He also took the liberty to escort us to the bus stop with umbrellas in hand, which he insisted we keep – so sweet of him).

Sleeping Arrangement at Couchsurfers in Nara Couchsurfer in Nara Japan

Temples And Shrines Of Nara

The story is a lot lighter from here on out. Let me break the ice with this picture:

Deer in Nara deer in Nara Japan

Nara is very small compared to the bustling, mercantile Osaka. You can walk the whole way around in probably a few hours. On your way you’re likely to encounter herds of deer, as shown above. Despite our lack of rabies vaccinations, Vicky and I got a kick out of petting them (correction – Dave did, I for one did not pet them). If you want you can go so far as to feed them for 150 yen ($1.75) (Dave wouldn’t let us buy the deer crackers – reminding me that we are in fact trying to economize).

At the information center they highlighted three main sites, the first of which was Kofukuji Temple.

Kōfuku-ji Nara Japan

Kofukuji Temple

Established in 669 by Kagami-no-Ōkimi, Kofukuji Temple is one of Nara’s eight Unesco Heritage sights. Damaged by civil wars and fires, the temple has been rebuilt several times over the years(this seems to be the case for the majority of the historical sights in Japan). All the same, it is an impressive sight.

To the right, one of Japan’s largest pagodas. A 5 story tall beast, this pagoda stands as a testament to Japan’s unique architecture.

Eastern Golden Hall Nara Japan

Lastly, visit the national treasure hall, which houses a wide array of ancient, Japanese statues.

After about an hour at the temple we walked about 20 minutes to the next site, Kasuga Shrine:

Kasuga Shrine, Nara Japan

Kasuga Shrine

Over a thousand stone lanterns line the path to Kasuga Shrine. Had we come in August, they all would have been lit. All the same, they are quite the sight.

Lanterns at Kasuga Shrine, Nara Japan

Dating back to 768AD, the shrine is modest in size (by Japanese standards), and you can walk around the grounds easily in 20 minutes. The vibrant colors, particular orange columns, truly illuminate the surroundings.

We made our way back through the woods to the last stop, Todaiji Temple.

Todaiji Temple Nara Japan

Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple is the largest wooden structure in the world and, quite fittingly, houses one of the largest Buddhas in the world. It is actually only a fraction of its former size, having been rebuilt after, you guessed it, a fire.

Buddha at Todaiji Temple Nara Japan

[Aside from the rain (which first went from a light drizzle to a consistent downpour at times) we spent a great day in Nara. We kept our expenses low by starving ourselves through the day (not purposely – we just were too cheap to splurge on tourist trap overpriced restaurants by the temples and chose to wait it out until our walk back to the train station). At one point we were ready to eat the deer crackers themselves – since a whole stack of them was only $1.75, but grumpily we carried on. After walking back and forth through an alley way near the station we settled on a small restaurant which seemed to charge reasonable prices. With the help of a English menu we ordered soup with barbecued pork, yaki gyoza (fried dumplings) and a rice dish with mayonnaise and barbecued pork. We meal was delicious and exactly what we needed after walking around all day in the rain. Full of good food we were ready for our next stop – Kyoto.]

Barbecue Pork Soup in Nara

Nara Logistics

If you’re planning a trip to Nara consider these logistics:

Food: It’s really best to eat in the station, food tended to be overpriced near the temples (surprise, surprise). Moreover, once you are out by the temples, options for food and drink are very limited so plan accordingly.

Transportation: You can get to everywhere you want on foot.


Kofukuji Temple – 500 Yen + 300 Yen National Treasure Hall (~$10.50)

Kasuga Shrine – 500 Yen (~$6)

Todaiji Temple – 500 Yen (~$6)


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26 Responses to Nightmare In Nara, Japan

  1. So the nightmare was that you were confused on a bus, even though you got the right directions and got off at the right stop? Come on now……… Really nice pictures though.

    Kiryl September 21, 2012 at 1:58 PM Reply
    • But it’s only day 2! Imagine day 20 – there’ll be thieves and pirates and stuff.

      Dave and Vicky September 21, 2012 at 5:22 PM Reply
      • Can’t wait for the pirate stories. Detour to Somalia in the plans? Haha. I guess I’m just sayin u might want to avoid using the word nightmare in order not to give ur family heart attacks. Or ull be like the boy who cried wolf. Really happy u guys manage to get CS hosts after all. I imagine staying in hotels would be pricy.

        Kiryl September 21, 2012 at 5:28 PM Reply
        • So far spending $40 per day, per person, includes everything – food, transportation, accommodation, utilities, gifts….

          Dave and Vicky September 21, 2012 at 5:33 PM Reply
  2. Love the picture of the little girl with the deer! I’m glad you guys are ok!

    Laura G September 21, 2012 at 2:04 PM Reply
    • We stay nearly as long with the deer as the first temple!

      Dave and Vicky September 21, 2012 at 6:28 PM Reply
  3. Felix and I are living vicariously through you both, especially when you post the pics of the food! We love the blog. Keep it up!
    Kim and Felix

    Kim September 21, 2012 at 6:03 PM Reply
    • Thanks Kim – Vicky makes sure to put food pics in every post!

      Dave and Vicky September 21, 2012 at 6:09 PM Reply
  4. Love the tall tales! I am glued to the computer awaiting the next episode!

    mom September 22, 2012 at 12:03 AM Reply
    • Thanks mom more posts coming soon just trying to get some reliable internet!

      Dave September 23, 2012 at 4:47 AM Reply
  5. I can totally sympathize with freaking out about taking local transport in another country. Even when I know the name of my stop, if I’m lacking a little in the local language department, the way I’m imagining the pronunciation of the stop name in my head is probably way different than how it’s actually going to be pronounced by the driver; so I’m always completely paranoid about listening to all the stop announcements in case one sounds even remotely like the one I’m looking for!

    Jessica September 22, 2012 at 1:58 AM Reply
    • Defintely! One recommendation we got was to have someone (like our host, for example) send us the text to show the the bus driver, so he can indicate where to get off (if you sit right behind him). We’ve been OK in Japan but it might be good for China and places with worse English…

      Dave September 23, 2012 at 4:49 AM Reply
  6. Hi from the USA. I love your post! So proud and happy!

    Dylan September 22, 2012 at 11:22 PM Reply
    • Thanks so much!!!

      Vicky September 26, 2012 at 9:54 AM Reply
  7. Love your post , keep them coming and let me live vicariously through you guys

    Olga September 25, 2012 at 7:29 AM Reply
    • Thanks Olya! Hope you’re able to meet up with us somewhere!!!

      Vicky September 26, 2012 at 9:53 AM Reply
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  9. Yikes, sorry about all the trouble! Love your pictures. They make me want to get up and go to Nara now.

    Megan @Green Global Travel October 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM Reply
    • Thanks so much! It all ended up working out in the end but for a little bit there I was starting to get worried!

      Vicky October 10, 2012 at 9:52 AM Reply
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  12. I am really intrigued by these shots. I am now motivated to try something similar. Thanks!

    James @ Africa Tours July 19, 2013 at 3:28 AM Reply
  13. this is ridiculous. japan is the nicest and the people are the most polite you will ever meet. stupid americans

    lily chan January 10, 2014 at 9:32 AM Reply
    • Did you even read this post or the rest of ours on Japan?

      Dave and Vicky January 10, 2014 at 9:53 AM Reply
  14. It’s always so funny when americans decide to go to see the real world hahaha. Good on ya guys 😉

    Tom August 31, 2014 at 8:20 PM Reply
    • Just trying to write a bit of a funny and overly dramatized article for a fun read.

      Vicky October 1, 2014 at 2:18 AM Reply

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