If the Japanese visit Nara to begin a sort of mystical connection between their ancestors and the ancientness of their homeland, I must admit that me, the gaijin, visited for the main purpose of visiting the free-roaming deer in Nara Park.
Lacking the intense interest in Buddhism – quite the exotic and foreign entity in Western eyes – temples and gardens are to me, aesthetically constructed entities for specific purposes. And that is pretty much the extent of my knowledge, other that the fact that Zen-Buddhism and its minimalist styles have been incredibly fashionable and aped throughout the past few decades. I derived some amusement seeing visitors gently butted by the deer who wanted more food. Sure, the temples were magnificent and their settings even more so in the circuit I did around Nara (Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Kasuga Shrine), but I preferred the moving counterparts.
Cold, tired, hungry and irritated after a few hours of non-stop walking in Nara, I made my way back to Kyoto and straight to Misoka-An Kawamichiya down Fuyacho-dori (a few streets off where I stay) intent on trying their handmade soba noodles (again!). Presumably with a 300-year history behind them (so the vague translation goes in their English menu), I found the interior more charming than their noodles. Japanese cuisine and connoisseurship are quite the furthest from what I’m used to.
I returned to the hotel and saw 2 missed calls on the mobile. It was the mother, frantic and panicking, because a 8.9 magnitude quake triggering a tsunami had struck off the northern coast of Sendai, felt all the way to Tokyo and affecting all vital services. It struck at 2.46pm Japan time, a point at which I was nodding off in the train back from Nara. The earth didn’t immediately move beneath my feet, as earth shaking as the news was – all the bad puns intended.
This was after all, Kyoto, a fantastically historical city where you still hold the power to make time stand still and physically and spatially removed from the unfolding disaster in the north. I returned to the hotel to a damning BBC ‘s report on the news channel – the only one I understand – and with growing alarm, I realised that anyone in Tokyo would have been badly affected, where the subway, the long-distance trains and flight had all ground to a halt because of the violent tremors. It was anyone’s guess if my scheduled train-ride back to Tokyo 2 days later would actually be running, let alone the flight back from Narita.
Many frantic phone calls and an immense amount of waiting time later, it became clearer that there was a possible way to re-route a flight back from Osaka Kansai Airport. Remaining calm (the zen-vibe really didn’t rub off much it now seems!) as things made no headway was a difficult task as the devil is in the details as they say: there were hotel booking cancellations, airport transportation and other tiny details to think about. The work is incredibly administrative and exhausting, and I went to bed having made sounds of fury signifying nothing.