By 10.30am, we were in the Nara Park, ready to climb up to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine. On the walk up, we started to see the smaller shrines in the brilliant vermilion color so typical of Japan’s patrimoine.
And as our minds started to travel back in time when monks and samurais were walking in that very same forest, we realized that we are being watched.. Sitting on the edge of the forest, a handful of peaceful deers were starring in our direction.
These deers are actually tamed and very friendly, they roam across the entire town freely. It’s said that the mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital. Since then, the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country.
Nowadays, they keep a close eye on tourists because they know they might get one of these “deer cookies”! But no luck with me, this one was quite mad because i didnt have anything to give him besides an imaginary sushi!
Additionally, more than 2000 stone lanterns align the walkway and another 1000 are inside the shrine. The lanterns are lit twice a year for religious celebrations. That might be quite impressive to see.
Walking around the woods around Kasuga Taisha was a very spiritually relaxing experience.
But it was too good to be true! After 11.30am we started to see more and more groups of Japanese kids visiting the park as well. It got really busy and it got a bit on our nerves to be surrounded by hundreds of kids screaming all over.. We moved on to the next site on our list!
Todai-Ji and Todaiji Nigatsudo Temples
The Todai-ji Temple is where everyone goes. It’s one of the biggest wooden structure in the world. The current building is 187 ft (57m) long and 160 ft (50m) wide, but still about 30% smaller than the original building which was destroyed in the 18th century by an earthquake.
Inside the temple, there is the biggest Buddha statue in the world. It’s 49 ft tall (15m), weight 500 tons and made entirely of bronze covered with gold. It was way too big and too busy with people for me to want to take a picture but i found this one online to show.
Despite having been damaged and destroyed multiple times, due to fire, earthquakes and accident (in 855 the head of the giant Buddha suddenly fell off) both the buildings and the statues have been continually repaired.
Fun fact: The statue nearly bankrupted Japan’s economy at the time (750 AC) because it consumed most of the available bronze and ruined the country to import the necessary gold.
There are also 2 dancing Guardians called “A-Un”. Usually, the right one has its mouth open to pronounce the sound “A”, while the other has it closed to utter the sound “Um”. Together, they represent the beginning and the end of all things. Unfortunately, i only take “Um” pictures! The image on the left is from the Nara site, and the other is from a Kyoto temple (we spotted them a bit everywhere).
We were also surprised by how many wishes were left around the shrines and temples. Sometimes candles are lit up, but mainly people attach small tinder plaques on which they leave their wish or a prayers.
It was now time to find a place to have lunch!
On our way to the last set of temples, we came across Yoshiki-en, a city-owned garden which is free for foreigners (we didn’t ask too many questions..) and were able to relax and digest. The gardens consist of a pond garden, moss garden with tea house, and camellia garden.
Our final destination in Nara was the Yakushi-ji Temple, a famous imperial Buddhist temple. I have to admit that by that time, we were both brain-fried with historical facts about Nara and the great dynasties that i can’t recall much.. So i recommend heading to wikipedia for the facts and dates!
Nara was a very important cultural and religious center about 1400 years ago AC. At that time, seven great temples (Nanto Shichi Daiji) flourished before Japan’s capital moved from Nara to Kyoto in 795.
We came back to our comfy futons in Kyoto, quite exhausted by all the walking but happy to have experienced a slice of the cultural heritage of Japan. We grabbed a bottle of white wine and a japanese beers to congratulate ourselves 🙂