Nara, Japan

Today, Perry and I ventured to Nara, Japan, about an hour by “rapid” train (not the super fast ones we’ve been taking which go about 500km/hr). Nara is famous for its deer population, which are respected by locals (well, ancient locals and seemingly appreciated by current locals) due to their religious significance. As we could tell walking towards Nara Park (where the 6 major World Cultural Heritage Sites are for the most part), deer are a serious business here in Nara.


Soon, we figured out why: the 1200 deer walking the park and allowing tourists to pet them, offer them ‘deer biscuits’ and otherwise interact with them.


Of course, I had to pay $1.50 to give the deer some snacks, which was totally worth the love (read: aggressive desire to eat biscuits) that the deer paid me.


The one deer kept attempting to eat my jacket to gain my attention, so I rewarded him by giving him several biscuits. As we continued through Nara, we discovered that the ancient temples, dating back to the time when Nara was the ancient capitol of Japan (around 790-850 CE, I think), include a lot of deer imagery as well (and the deer clearly roam freely- we even saw one deer climbing the stairs of the local shrine pictured below).


Our first stop was the World Cultural Heritage Site, Kasuga Taisha shrine. It was so beautiful- the walkway and entire shrine site seem to be engulfed in lanterns, and that is a theme throughout the shrine. The deer also roam freely, and if you pay admission, you can go in an incredibly beautiful space which includes many golden and green lanterns, as well as a darkened room filled with illuminated lanterns and mirrors. That was definitely a highlight of today. The first picture below shows a deer at the entrance to the shrine, where Shinto followers perform the first step of shrine practice, which is washing their hands and mouths.


After this temple, we cut through the first (another world heritage site) we decided to check out the Wakamiya Shrine, which was also beautiful.


Then, we went to the deer enclosure, which is where they house many of the deer in Nara (it said that most of them are wild, but we think this may be a breeding/rehabilitation area) where funds go to protect and aid the injured or sick deer. The translations weren’t great, but they had a deer rescue truck.


After that, we crossed Nara in the snow (the first snow, according to a museum attendant) to visit the Todai-Ji Temple, a Buddhist site with a huge, golden Buddha and now a medical fund that protects intellectually disabled youth in Japan through their Todai-Ji Temple medical center. The gate in front of it is huge, and the internal structure is honestly awe-inspiring.


Inside the Buddha is huge; they also have an interesting exhibit on the history of the reconstruction of the temple. It doesn’t seem like it in the photo, but that Buddha is at the least several hundred feet tall.


After Todai-Ji, we decided to escape the cold by visiting the Nara Museum, which had an incredible display of ancient and medieval Japanese artifacts, Buddhist paintings, and calligraphy sets.


After the museum, we decided to try to see a couple more World Heritage Sites before they closed for the day, so we went to the Kofuku-Ji Temple, which was slightly lackluster compared to the others, but continued the deer imagery and had several pretty pagodas.


Next, we attempted to see the Gango-Ji, another temple. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it, but we did find several of the sites where the ancient site used to be, which was interesting.


We also found the Goyoro Shrine, which was an additionally nice find.


On the way back to our hotel, we wandered into one of the old, ryokan style homes in the area (there are many), called Nara-machi Koshi-n0-ie. It was cool to walk through it and see all of the architectural features built in, which ranged from surprising to ingenious.


After that, we wandered through some of the more “urban” areas of Nara, exploring the shopping centers and picking up pastries and other things to sample. Of course, we found a store that was showing images of the Sumo wrestling, which was kind of interesting to see.


Now, we’re off to dinner!






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