Japan

There are two things about Nara, a small city in Japan just east of Osaka, that everybody knows:

One is that it is home to Tōdai-ji, a 2,000-year-old temple whose central icon is the biggest slab o’ bronze this side of the Mississippi. You can get a globe later and ponder which side of the Mississippi river Japan is on. For now, imagine a 50-foot solid bronze Buddha surrounded by guardians and bodhisattvas, smiling languidly at a mob of loud tourists taking flash photos. I’ll admit that I accidentally took one flash photo.

Nara is also home to hundreds of free roaming deer, which have become an attraction in and of themselves. They look the same as North American deer, except they are so used to people they will walk straight up to you and stare at you until you feed them. My gut reaction to deer, after living with them, getting lyme disease from them and watching them eat my dad’s vegetable garden, is that they are a nuisance. But I found myself warming up to them after a while and I bought them some “deer crackers” as a thank you for all the photo ops.

There is one thing about Nara that nobody knows:

There is an elderly man who lives in the suburbs out by the train station who can sing old American folk songs in perfect English. We met him while taking the long way back from the temple. I guess we looked lost because he approached us first and asked if we needed any help. Then he made us tell him what states we were all from and when one of us answered West Virginia, he proceeded to sing the first two verses of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia”. His pitch was solid, but his smooth country western accent was amazing. We were already standing but we gave him an ovation.

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