Alright, so it was Nara, not Narnia, but our new buddy, Mike, with whom we exchanged silliness over beers one night, kept calling it Narnia.
And maybe it’s an appropriate name for the town that houses the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world, a giant Buddha statue who’s hand alone dwarfs a human, and hundreds of deer that just roam the streets eating out of people’s hands.
I decided to take side trip to Nara, which is a smaller town about an hour away from Kyoto by train, because of the aforementioned very old wooden temple and the recommendations of several people I had talked to.
The morning began smoothly enough. I found the correct train as soon as I arrived at the station, successfully purchased a ticket, and before I knew it, I was en route. Until the train stopped at a small station about a third of the way there, and didn’t start back up again. Sometimes trains wait for a while at stops, so I didn’t think anything of it, until one of the conductors came up to me and asked if I was going to Nara. I nodded an affirmative, and he pointed outside to a train that was on a different track. I was very confused, knowing that I was on the correct train, and wondering why on earth he would be telling me to leave. So I looked at him quizzically, and he proceeded to rattle off a whole bunch of stuff in Japanese that I of course did not understand. His tone became more demanding and forceful, and, having no clue what was happening, I was beginning to get slightly annoyed at the giant language barrier between us and the resulting helplessness I felt.
Exasperated, I gave up my failing attempts to communicate and stepped out of the train to try to figure out what was going on. The train the conductor had pointed to was indeed going to Nara, but it was much fancier than the one I had been on, a faster express train with what looked like reserved seats, something I definitely had not paid for. Wanting to avoid both being charged extra and another awkward confrontation, I hesitated about boarding. In less than 30 seconds, the decision was made for me, as the doors slammed shut and the express train took off. I turned, and, my conductor “friend” staring at me, I sheepishly ducked back onto the train that still showed no signs of going anywhere.
I sat back down with several other people who were also still on the train, and we all waited. Several more announcements played over the loudspeaker, and I observed what other people were doing. They came and went, mostly looking equally confused, until after yet another announcement, everyone got off the train. I took that as my sign that there was no hope of going anywhere, so I stood up and consulted the route map to see if there was any other way I could make it to Nara—if not, I’d just head back to Kyoto. As I stared at the maze of lines connecting cities and towns, a Japanese girl walked up to me and asked, in Japanese, something that was probably “Where are you going?” Seeing my blank look, she switched to English, and informed me that the train broke down. In order to get to Nara, I’d have to take another train for a few stops, where I’d then have to transfer to an entirely different train line, which would then take me to where I wanted to go.
I decided to trust her, and got on the other train, filling with relief when I saw the girl get on as well. A conductor must have seen her talking English to me, and called her over to translate for another group of foreigners…and then another, and another. Soon, there were about 20 of us all together on a train bound for who-knows-where, following this amazingly kind woman who had taken it upon herself to see that we’d all make it to where we wanted to go. When we got the the station where we’d need to change train lines, she shepherded us all off the train, explained our situation to the ticket man, and led us through the streets of town to an entirely different train station, where she had to once again explain the situation and that we had all already paid to go to Nara. All of this would have been slightly complicated but doable in a place where I could speak the language, but my very limited Japanese would have gotten me nowhere.
After seeing us onto the next train and making sure we knew where to transfer and then finally get off, our friend parted ways, and our group of incredibly grateful tourists were once again on our way. And so, despite my morning misadventures, I made it to Nara, where I visited the oldest wooden structure in the world, gazed up at the Big Buddha, and weaved in between the sacred deer that wander the ancient streets.