On the Deer Path

Nara, Japan

Fall Trip Part 3

Utterly delightful, Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital from 710 to 784, so it has multiple older temples and shrines. Nara is further unique as 1200 tame deer freely roam the city. These Sika deer are considered a national treasure, and many people believe their close proximity to sacred religious sites make them messengers from the Shinto Gods. Nara Park begins just after exiting Nara Kintetstu station and many of the historical sites are also located in this large park. This adds to Nara’s charm as it is relaxing and easy to see many of the main sites. Within moments of entering the park, the Nara deer welcome visitors. I’d read that some of Nara’s deer will bow for food. 5.1475539200.will-bowing-to-deerI was skeptical that we would witness this phenomenon; however, I soon saw that most deer we encountered, even the still speckled fawns, knew this trick. We hung out in the front part of the park, visiting with the deer before strolling through the grounds of Kofukuji Temple. It was a lovely day so we decided not to enter the pagoda or museum and just continue to walk through the park. The deer are truly everywhere. Feeding, petting and bowing back and forth with then definitely brought back a child-like wonderment. Although Will was initially nervous, he was still excited at every deer we encountered. He soon was comfortable petting and feeding the deer. Although we saw hundreds of deer, they continued to add to the enjoyment of the day.

5.1475539200.inside-todaji-s-buddha-hallWe wandered through a few souvenir shops, giggling at the chocolate candy resembling deer poop. I realized that although there were deer everywhere I hadn’t seen a whole lot of deer poop. A small, practically invisible army of Japanese workers must be scooping up the pellets on the main walkways. We spent some time outside the main gates of Todaji Temple, stroking our new friends before entering the sacred place. Todaji Temple was originally constructed in 752 as the head temple of all Buddhist Temples in Japan. Today’s main hall was rebuilt in 1692. It is the world’s largest wooden building despite being only 2/3 the size of the original temple.The original temple must have been massive. Immediately upon entering, the world’s largest bronze Buddha (50 ft tall) looms large filling the front of the hall. I cannot even imagine how this Buddha was cast back in the year 749. Will quickly spotted a drum he was able to bang—this kid does not miss a thing he is allowed to touch (and often things he is not). Other large statues were displayed including what looked like a wooden samurai. We also saw a model of what the grounds originally looked like before being devastated by fire. It was a truly impressive sight. Again, Will noticed a line of people and a crowd gathered around a large pillar. People were crawling through a small hall in the pillar. People were clapping and cheering as each went through. Will, of course, wanted a turn. The line was quite long, but he was willing to wait. I like to encourage any activity with him that requires patience. Unfortunately, Mike has never mastered the art of patience, so I sent him on to shop for souvenirs. The wait passed quickly as it was hilarious to watch some of the people squeeze through this hole (see video below). A quick look at the guide for the Temple explained that the hole was the same size of the bronze Buddha’s nostril and if one can fit through it they will reach enlightenment. Japan never ceases to amaze me with strange things. 5.1475539200.reaching-enlightenment-at-todajiCan you imagine visiting a church and going through Jesus’s nostril? This thought cracked me up. When it was my turn, I realized the hole was smaller than it looked from the people going through. I went it straight, banged my arm and concluded I needed to start sideways. I slithered through and Will crawled through behind me. Did I reach enlightenment? I don’t think so. I was left with a nasty bruise on my arm that has only recently gone away, but I don’t regret doing it. It was fun and the memory makes me laugh. I never once envisioned snaking through a replica of Buddha’s nostril. One never knows where life might take them. It’s not enlightenment, but perhaps happiness which seems good enough.

We headed deeper into the park. Of course, there were more deer. One deer was a little aggressive and kept butting Will’s back with the top of his head. We had seen some alpha deer fighting earlier, but the vast majority of the deer were tame and gentle. We picked Will up and walked up to Nigastu-do Hall. Part of the Todaji Temple complex, this hall is famous for a festival held each March where giant torches shower onlookers with embers promising a safe year. This hall, built into the side of the hill, was quite picturesque. Large and small lanterns hung from the ceiling of the three-sided deck. Will rang the temple bell while we took in the views of Nara.5.1475539200.looking-at-nara-from-nigatsudo

Although there were other places it would be nice to see, we decided to leisurely stroll back to the station and start making our way home. We did spend a bit of time feeding more deer and letting Will play tag with a little boy from Shanghai. We picked up our luggage at the station and hopped an express train back to Kyoto. Soon afterward we boarded the bullet train back east. Exhausted, Will almost immediately feel asleep and slept through the Shinkansen ride back to Yokohama.I absolutely recommend adding a day or two in Nara to a Kyoto itinerary or even as a separate trip for those that live in Japan. They were plenty of things we didn’t see in Nara, including but not limited to Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine and Horyuji Temple. I’m contemplating a second visit, especially if a US visitor wants to go (anyone? anyone?). We saw so many amazing and beautiful things on our trip, but I think Nara may have been my favorite.

More pictures, our video links and travel info below…


Travel Info


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