For the past years, Nara has lived in the shadow of its 45 minutes train ride away neighbor, Kyoto. With the popularity of Kyoto and people fascination with Geisha, Nara has become a mere side trips for most traveler and I, among others am guilty on this one. On a rainy, gloomy Saturday, I went to explore the town and fell in-love with the laid back, simplicity of it and somehow wish that I spend a night or so.
Arriving at Kintetsu-Nara station, I directly made my way towards Nara Park where everything you need to see is a few minutes walking distance from there. Welcoming me to park or the town itself are freely roaming deer. Considered as sacred under Shinto belief, the thousand of deer living in the park are consider as messenger of gods and become the official city symbol. You can buy a deer food for 150 yen, but mind you they are hungry and you might find yourself surrounded by loads of them eagerly waiting for their snack. Mostly harmless but still don’t expect to pet them, they are still consider as wildlife and can cause trouble anytime.
I am pretty sure that the deer will be on every possible picture that you have about this town. They are everywhere- at the temple gates, besides the entrance of the restaurant, somewhere at the back of the park bench – but in general they are the ones that will make your picture unique and maybe someday will remind you of your day in Nara.
There are 3 temples/shrine constructed thousand years ago and are worth visiting – Todaiiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Taisha.
Consider as the world largest Wooden building, Todaiiji Temple houses Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha (Daibatsu). It’s easy to differentiate Todaiiji from the thousand temples that the Kansai Region has- just look for that horn symbol at the top. One of the most fascinating thing about the temple is the hole in the base pillar which is said to be the same size as the Daibatsu’s nostril, where people of different shapes and sizes are trying to pass thru under the belief that if they managed to they will be granted enlightenment on their next life. I actually witness several people trying to pass by the hole, with some weird magic or so a 40 year old big-belly man and an 8 year old kid both manage to pass thru.
Known for its Octagonal shape halls and 7 meter shorter than the one in Kyoto- five story pagoda is Kofukuji Temple. Unfortunately, during my visit some of the temple grounds are under renovation.
Hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns adorning the shrine buildings and grounds makes Kasuga Taisha different from the other Shinto shrine that I‘ve seen so far. During my visit, I was fortunate to witness a “Shichi Go San” where girls of age three and seven, boys of age three and five are dressed up in kimono. Together with their family, they visit the shrine to pray for the child good health and fortune.
Last 2009, Nara celebrated its 1,300th anniversary of its ascension as imperial capital. With its reach history mixed with hundreds of freely roaming Bambi, I urge you to consider Nara on your bucket list and not just another side trip.