Kyoto is listed as the must see city of 2017 on every travel list, so it’s easy to see how Nara can be a forgotten destination.
However, Nara is the perfect place to look back into Japan’s ancient culture and dramatic history. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital, from the years 710-794. Also known as the Nara Period. With eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most famously the Todai-ji, Nara is the ultimate destination for a walk back in time.
The main attraction is definitely the Toda-ji, which is a Buddha temple complex built in 752. The main building is the world’s largest wooden structure. and it also houses the Great Buddha, or the Daibutsu. This is a Japanese term for large statues of Buddha. Nara’s Daibutsu stands at an impressive 15 meters tall, and is the largest bronze Buddha in the world. The main entrance to the Todai-ji is the Nandaimon Gate. Two giant statues that represent the Nio Guardian Kings flank the sides of the gate as you pass through.
One of the most enchanting shrines I saw in Japan was the Kasuga Taisha Shrine within Nara Park. The shrine, in brilliant shades of orange, is filled with lanterns that worshipers donate. The path leading up to the shrine is lined with tall stone lanterns, which gives a mystical aura, with little sika deer peeking out at you. The lantern tops are covered with a soft fluffy green moss, adding to the aesthetics. Plan on paying the extra $5 dollars to see a more detailed interior of the shrine, its worth every penny.
As for the deer mentioned above, according to the legend of Kasuga, a mythological God arrived on a white deer to protect the area. Due to this legend, the sika deer are now considered heavenly sacred animals. Although I suspect they are more likely to be glorified pets of Nara at this point.
These sacred deer are closer to Japan’s pets. And they are everywhere! Anywhere and everywhere you go in Nara Park they are observing you and wondering whether you have senbei. Throughout the park vendors will sell senbei (deer treats) for 150 yen. I may have purchased a few packs. To my delighted surprise one walked right up to me and grabbed my train schedule from my back pack, in which I had to give a hard yank to retrieve it. Take note, they also like paper. Not only have these endearing creatures learned the art of begging, they ironically have learned to bow for treats as well. It’s really quite entertaining.
The best part about spending a day in Nara is that you can stay in Kyoto. If you go to the subway station you can catch a JR Line to Nara for roughly $7 one way. It takes anywhere from 45 min – to an hour to get there, but once you grasp the subway system its an easy commute.
People in Japan are extremely kind, so don’t be intimidated to wander around this little piece of history. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts on this incredible city in Japan!