Posted by: soniahs | August 22, 2012

The tale of a sweet potato

On our day trip to Nara, we didn’t really stop for lunch and so were getting a bit hungry after our day walking around temples and being accosted by also-hungry deer. The day was also cold and fairly windy.

Main gate to Kasuga Taisha. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

As we were walking back toward town from Kasuga Taisha at around 3 pm or so, we saw a woman selling sweet potatoes out of a little portable oven. This was kind of geekily exciting, because years ago this was one of the things illustrated in manga that my sister and I would puzzle over (sweet potatoes as a snack?)- so we decided to buy one.

The price on the sign was 200 yen per 100 grams, so we mentally expected that we’d be buying maybe a quarter or half a potato, and that it’d be 300-400 yen. Wrong. Unfortunately, we did not realize that we would have to buy an entire potato- and the things were huge! Our intended “snack” clocked in at 0.5 kilos on her little scale. So voila, we were the proud owners of a $12 tuber.

The saving grace is that it was really yummy. It was actually a little sweet, nice and warm, and roasted the right amount, so it had a smoky flavor. So we can’t say it wasn’t worth it. And we did see other people buying the potatoes for the same price so it’s not like the woman took advantage of our ignorance.

That’s about $2 worth of potato right there. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

So we took our precious potato and sat down on a bench to eat it. And wouldn’t you know it 5 seconds later a freaking deer comes by and expects to get fed! We had to keep pushing the deer away so that it (probably “she,” from the lack of antler buds) wouldn’t nibble at the sweet potato! She used all her little cutesy tricks, bowing and bobbing her head, but we were firm.

You could see the little thought bubbles above her head: “Come on this is the part where you humans feed me, look how cute I am! I’m cocking and wagging my head in a particularly adorable way, aren’t I? Watch me bow and nod at you. How come you’re not following the script here?!” First she would try to move in on Yan, then move over to me, then move back to Yan. This was exactly like the bunny’s behavior when we’re eating fruit. Herbivores! Little beggars.

Eventually she spotted some little kids with ice cream and wandered off. We did not watch the potential carnage.

Yet more potato.

So we finished the potato, and energized by half a kilo of carbs, we walked back to town. We’d decided to stay in town for dinner (a fusion pizza place with pickled veggie-sake lees pizza! and salad!), rather than heading back to Kyoto first. But only an hour after eating the potato, we weren’t really hungry. We walked around town for a bit, and found our way to one of the ancient burial tumuli marked on our map (for travelers to Nara, note that the tourist map they hand out at the train station is not to scale).

These mounds were built between the 3rd-6th Centuries, before the introduction of Buddhism made cremation popular. The mound we saw was pretty overgrown (so much so that we didn’t take a photo of it, unfortunately), and only had a sign in Japanese. But it did have sort of a mound shape with a moat around it, so we’re pretty sure it was a burial mound. Pretty neat to see.



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