Bow to the Biscuit Beast

Ooof, these early mornings make for long days. But it’s the only way to avoid the crowds and heat, so it is worth it. Especially because being early meant we basically had all the deer to ourselves! But by midday it was so hot we didn’t want to be out in the heat any longer, no matter how many beautiful stone lamps we found in the park.

We got some special biscuits from a stand and immediately found ourselves surrounded. These deer aren’t daft, they know exactly who sells them, who buys them and who to target to get fed. But without squealing girls who drop the food and run away, they went for us. Although I may have squeaked a little when they nipped me too close to the crown jewels. Mostly they just tug on your shirt or pocket to get your attention, but it can be quite a shock to receive a nip from a small assertive horned horse rather than the fleeing fear of docile, skittish animal you are expecting!

The deer at Nara park, part of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, are not afraid of traffic or people. It is said that the deity enshrined here, Takemi Kajichi no Mikoto, rode to Nara upon a sacred deer from Kashima Shrine. Because of this legend, deer were thought of as sacred animals – the helpers of gods – and have been carefully protected for many years. You are only allowed to feed them these special crackers and they must be treated with dignity. 

They will come up to you and bow, as if to request a biscuit. You can then present them one and maybe have a little stroke or scratch behind the ears. It’s quite surreal bowing back to a deer and while its a trained reaction to the possibility of food, it does feel personal. A bow is such a conscious human act you do get a sense of connection or vaguely spiritual experience. But thats only when they aren’t in a pack, being bold knobs clamouring for the food. If only they knew my history with biscuits, they might be more respectful! Find a chilled out deer on its own and they are beautiful gentle animals. It was amazing to be so close to so many of them. Aimi had eyes like saucers the whole time we were there and we probably got thru about 50 biscuits.

Having been up early we had an early lunch at a microbrewery. Really decent sausages and thin crust stone baked pizza with locally brewed IPA meant we collected together so many nationalities in one meal! It was delicious, but we left room because from here we negotiated the trains back to Kyoto center and found the food market we stumbled across yesterday. I wanted some authentic Takayaki, which we found. Then 50m later we saw it again for half the price… ah well, tourist tax. We had some fried Chicken and some huge grilled prawns on a stick. Lastly, bursting at the beltline, Aimi found the little hard sweets we had at the tea Ceremony.

We then spent a couple hours in a coffee shop planning a few more movements and hotels in Bali. Hard to think we are approaching the end of this trip, but not yet! For the second time while travelling, I got myself a haircut. We were walking back to the house down some teeny tiny streets (or as the japanese would say: streets) and there stood a barbers. Well we dove in and accepted the language difficulties – it couldn’t be any worse than the cut I got in Krabi. Maybe the barber would make me stylish in Japan? 

I can honestly say that Mr Takeshi Matsunaga of Matsunaga Hair Salon gave me the best haircut of my life. After a small amount of faffing, umm-ing and ah-ing about how to succinctly ask for what I wanted using G-translate, I found a picture of roughly a “short back and sides”. Gone are the days of green hohawks or ponytails and shaved sideburns, I’m not so extreme now. But Mr Takeshi understood the request perfectly. He checked that I wanted a “gradient” on the sides and to “thin” the bulky bits I’m still able to grow around my thinning bits. 

He made me comfy and less sweaty by turning up the aircon, and then started with some lotion in my hair and a damp towel to remove the day’s contaminants. Then he went to work with some ancient but clearly well cared for electric clippers and his set of special scissors. He worked on my hair with precision and expertise, it was like watching the modern application of a samurai’s skills. Instead of just using different length guards for the shaver to get a gradient he used his scissors and comb to expertly shape what seemed like every individual hair to the right length. Honestly, this was a first class haircut. It was nicely finished with a wet shave to line out the edges and get my neck hairs. 

I was so impressed and comfortable with Mr Takeshi that I asked him to give me a proper barbers wet shave too. I like to keep my beard medium length and a bit scraggly (nothing to do with laziness I assure you, this is a style choice) but to look my best, I like my neck clean shaved and beard edges neat. He was very happy to oblige, even though I had arrived near the end of his work hours. He started with some lotion massaged into my neck and chin, some hot towel compresses which he wiped clean before applying the shaving creme. With cut-throat razor in hand, he lined out my beard and then gave me a super close and clean shave. Aimi said I looked thinner when he was done! 

I would fully recommend all men in Kyoto have their hair cut by Mr Takeshi Matsunaga. I’m very happy with the result. It’s the best haircut I’ve ever had!