Look up, listen and learn
Look up. Simple advice, it’s true, but when travelling how many of us remember to really take in our surroundings.
Increasingly, people look down – at whatever electronic gizmo has their rapt attention. “Put away your devices and mind the gap!” comes the announcement on my train last weekend as it pulls into Hornsby station. Oh, dear.
Last month in the big-smoke capital of Japan, I sat on the open top deck of the merry red Tokyo SkyBus as we trundled about on an icy day. The commentary, in English via earphones, was slender but funny, mostly to do with gardens where young Tokyo-ites apparently go on dates at night. “Hold on!” our recorded voice warned as we hit the expressway. “This will be hazardous! Don’t wave your arms! Don’t stand up!” she trilled. Suitably discouraged, I looked up, though, and there it was, Tokyo Tower, now eclipsed by the fabulously sci-fi Tokyo Skytree, almost twice the height. But Tokyo Tower is still emblematic of the city and was one of my navigational landmarks when I lived there years ago. I had never seen it from this look-upthe-skirts angle, though. Click, click. “Here we go again! Hold on!” chirped the commentator. Yes, dear.
Later that week in Nara, looking up also proved a treat. The sky was a beaming blue and the roof-lines of Todai-ji, an eighth-century temple, appeared poised to soar clean away. Inside Todai-ji is the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha; the image’s ears are each 2.54m long. And later that day, in Arashiyama, on the western fringe of Kyoto, looking up brought wooded hills, their hard old trees in full autumn finery, all gold, russet, claret and copper.
Todai-ji sits adjacent to the Nara Deer Park, where about 1000 of these noble creatures roam freely and are protected by their sacred status in the Shinto religion as messengers of the gods. Their behaviour is not all that godly, though, as they head-butt tourists for food or just to play or annoy. Looking the deer straight in the eye is unsettling. Visitors buy osembei rice-cakes to feed them and woe betide you if a hungry one accosts you and you are clean out of crackers. “They walk about as if they own the place,” says the bluff British bloke beside me in the queue for matcha ice cream. I lick my delicious green tea cone and say not a word. Oh, deer.
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