Today my parents and I visited Nara, which was another city on my “must see before I leave Japan” list. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 – 794, and is home to some very old and very impressive buildings from Japan’s past. Conveniently, Nara is just slightly west of Osaka and almost directly south of Kyoto. The greater Tokyo area has lots of fantastic places to visit, but you can’t beat the Osaka / Nara / Kyoto triangle for history.
Todaiji is one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, despite the current construction being 30% smaller than the previous version. It was originally finished in 751 AD, and nearly bankrupted the country due to the high cost of construction. The current building dates back to 1709, which is still pretty freaking old by Canadian standards.
When you see Todaiji from a distance it’s hard to get a sense of how immense it truly is, until you focus on how small people look right in front of the entrance. The inside of the building features the largest bronze Buddha statue, along with other very impressive artifacts that you’d find in a 1000+ year old temple.
After Todaiji we visited Kasuga Taisha, Shinto Shrine from the time that Nara was the capital of Japan. The shrine itself was good, but the treasure room inside was really interesting. We happened to be there on the last day of a display of 1000 year old Japanese picture scrolls. We also saw giant ceremonial drums that were over 900 years old.
I always enjoy thinking about the stories behind some of these very old artifacts. How many different people have seen them or touched them over the years? How did they survive wars, fires, storms, earthquakes? For me it’s easier to really connect with something a few hundred years old than millions of years old. We only saw a few of the highlights in Nara, but they were all fascinating for me and I wish I had more time to see everything.