On my second day in Kyoto, I was feeling rather uninspired. There were still many places I hadn’t visited — including the infinitely Instagrammable Fushimi Inari shrine — but I was already having second thoughts about everything. I’d been to two lovely temples and they’d had all the “right” elements, all the things I’d wanted to see — temples, maples, a rock garden, a moss garden. But it all felt a little hollow.
It was my fault, really. I hadn’t done my homework — hadn’t read up on Japanese history and culture before I left the Philippines — and as a result I was having a mostly two-dimensional experience in Kyoto. At that point in my visit, I just wasn’t sure what I would gain from a trip to another shrine. More pictures? If that was all — if I was only going just for the sake of seeing it and adding it to the list of places I’d been to — it didn’t seem worth it. I wanted to be moved, to be engaged. I wanted to be surprised.
Which is how I ended up, accidentally, in Nara.
When I left my ryokan that morning, I figured I might as well go to Kyoto Station as it was a good jump-off point for wherever I eventually decided to go. And then, after dawdling over a reasonably priced buffet breakfast at Portal Cafe, I figured I might as well go ahead and see Fushimi Inari, if only because there wasn’t really anything else that particularly appealed to me. The train station right beside Fushimi Inari was only one stop away from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line — and I had a JR Pass, and time — so I figured I didn’t really have much to lose.
I made my way to Platform 8 and noticed — in the vague way one notices things one thinks are important but not too important — a sign that said: “For Inari, take a local train.” I got off the escalator leading down to Platform 8, saw a Rapid train waiting with its doors open, and got in.
You’d think a girl who got lost three times in 24 hours in Tokyo would be more careful but no. Apparently, local trains are not, like, “local” as opposed to regional or national or international. And apparently, rapid trains aren’t, you know, “rapid” as opposed to slow or Shinkansen-level fast. (Don’t laugh! 😀 I’m the silliest person on the planet, I know.) Rapid trains are apparently rapid because they don’t stop on every stop, unlike local trains which do — so, yeah, I was on the wrong train. I figured it out after none of the first few stops were called Inari. 😀
At first I considered getting off the train at the next station and heading back to Kyoto. But then I thought to myself: where’s your sense of adventure?! You wanted to be surprised. So…surprise!
I stayed in the train.
And went all the way to the end of the line — to Nara.
And it was perfect.
Nara was not in the plans but it was exactly what I needed. Perhaps it was exactly what I needed precisely because it was not in the plans. It was never in my list so it wasn’t just something to tick off. It was spontaneous, it was serendipitous. And as I stepped off the bus from the train station to Nara Park, as I found myself surrounded by trees and fresh air, and as the first of many deer started heading my way, nibbling on my backpack in an attempt to find dinner, I felt like here, at least, was somewhere I was meant to be.
And my heart, as I left Nara, was the lightest it had ever been since I arrived in Japan.
Perhaps some mistakes are really just divine interventions in disguise.
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 18 April 2016.