Nara Tastes

Nara: An afternoon with the deers and Japan’s historic treasures

As my friends and I neared the corner leading to the Todai-ji Temple, the largest of the Seven Great Temples of Nara, I heard the one thing I did not expect I would be hearing in Japan: People shrieking.

One thing I observed during our first few days in the Land of the Rising Sun was that we were in the company of introverts. The Japanese people tend to be a subdued bunch, at least in the places we’ve visited before Nara. How many cafes and restaurants in both Kyoto and Osaka did we go to wherein we felt like we were the only people talking in the room? One too many. And this happened a lot in transit, too. M, B and I would go about with our usual chatter until we’d reach that point when we would realize that ours were the only voices heard in the train. I found it a little unsettling yet comforting at the same time. It further reinforced the fact that I was indeed a stranger in a strange land—and that, to me, is always a good thing. :P

When we finally reached the path that would lead us to Todai-ji, we were pleasantly surprised to hear a sound that reminded us of home: good ‘ol noise. The reason? This little guy right here:

Deer again!

And probably a hundred of his friends freely roaming around the place.

There are more deers than people in this neck of the woods!

There were schoolchildren having a field trip in the temple grounds and they alternated from excitedly chasing after the deers to being mildly afraid of them once the deers approached to be fed (hence, the shrieking). It was such a delightful mix of sight and sound, and it made reaching our final destination all the more thrilling.

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Marlon and his Japanese posse!

Entrance to the Todai-ji

Entrance to the Todai-ji

It felt like we were reaching the end of a pilgrimage.

Entrance to the Todai-ji

When we finally found ourselves facing the massive home of the Great Daibutsu (Buddha)—also said to be the world’s largest wooden building—we were rendered speechless.

The Todai-ji Temple, a world heritage monument of Ancient Nara

Todai-ji, home to the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, was truly a sight to behold.

The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Nara

To give you an idea of how big this statue is, its open hand is as tall as a human being.

Other smaller statues were also on display in the main hall.

Inside the Todai-ji

At one point, I felt like I was in that scene in Mulan where Mushu was waking up the ancestors. Especially after I saw this one:

Inside the Todai-ji

This statue of Binzuru, one of Buddha’s disciples, was my favorite. It is commonly believed in Japan that when a person rubs a part of the image of Binzuru and then rubs the corresponding part of his own body, his ailment there will disappear.

Binzuru, one of the sixteen arahats, who were disciples of Buddha

Earlier that day, we also paid a visit to Kofukuji, where Japan’s second tallest pagoda proudly stands at 50 meters.

Japan 2013

The National Treasure Hall

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A monk offering prayer in one of the temples

What I loved about Nara is that all the sights of interest are in one location: Nara-Koen.

Nara-Koen

The park is a 20-minute walk from the JR Nara Station, which could extend to an hour because you’ll be distracted by the quaint shops you see along the way.

Along Sanjodori, Nara's main street. Lined with restaurants, thrift shops and stores selling yummy Japanese goodies <3

Antique store along Sanjodori

Nara-Koen

Nara rooftops

That afternoon spent amidst Japan’s World Heritage monuments was what made me fall in love with Japan. Everything about that day was just perfect—from the time we spent walking along quaint Sanjo-dori street all the way to Kofukuji and Todai-ji. A gloomy raincloud had followed us around for days, but the sun finally came out that amber-hued afternoon, and it set the stage for us to experience Japan in full glory.

There was just something otherworldly and ethereal about Nara that day. When we came back this spring and retraced our steps, it felt different. The place was the same, but I guess the magic of seeing a beautiful place for the first time wasn’t there anymore. Still, I will always have a soft spot for Nara. And I really wouldn’t mind seeing it again and again.

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9 comments

  1. OMG, you started off this blog post the exact way I was thinking of starting mine off about Nara: with shrieks! Seriously, there were so many people shouting out “Kowai!!” (scary!) when I went that you’d have thought we were amongst a pack of hungry tigers, not deer. But they get pretty aggressive when you have a deer cracker in your hands. I tried to avoid all the ones with antlers!

    Todaiji truly was spectacular. Even though I’d heard it was the world’s largest wooden structure, I was still surprised by it’s size. And the Buddha was just awesome. As always, spectacular pictures from you and a great write-up!

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    1. Haha that’s a funny coincidence! But really, that was the one moment in that trip to Nara that really stuck! Kids were running around all over the place, screaming with both fear and delight :D When I went, there weren’t any deers with antlers—it would’ve been nice to see some. haha. Glad you enjoyed this entry :D

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  2. The temple, the Buddha and the disciple – beautiful, very intesting and magical.
    It’s true Japanese are introverts, or simply are just mannered people. Even their laughs are just tiny giggles.
    I love how their uniforms change according to the season. ;)
    I’m currently planning to go to mainland Japan. Question – how do you go around? How did you go from one city to another?

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    1. Yes, the Japanese are among the most well-mannered people I’ve encountered. They really go out of their way to help you out—there was one night when the stores were already closing and I needed to get my dollars exchanged for yen…a man working in Daimaru even went with me to a building across the street just to show me a money changer that had good rates. It was quite unexpected and I was really grateful for his help because it’s quite difficult to find a money changer with decent rates in Japan. And yes, the Japanese are a trendy lot. When I was in Tokyo this spring, everybody was wearing camouflage and chambray. They all looked so chic, and I felt like a country bumpkin. haha. :)

      With regard to your question, if you’re planning on going from Kyoto to Tokyo, then I suggest getting a Japan Rail Pass. It’s very convenient and it saves you a lot of money, too. With the JR Pass, you can ride most of the bullet trains (three hours from Kyoto to Tokyo, and you can easily check out places like Hiroshima and Miyajima too) and most of the JR trains. Check out this site — http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361.html — it has everything you need to plan your Japan itinerary. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! That confirms it. I pretty much have read those when I was researching. But they were giving me too many options that I don’t know which one to choose. I’m signing up for a tour in Tokyo. Then I’m hoping to go to Kyoto and possibly Nagasaki.

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      2. Vietnam’s close proximity to my country is something I’ve long taken for granted. I should really make a trip there soon. Always been on my list of places to visit too!

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