Posts Tagged nara

March 29, 2006 part 2 – Rampaging Hordes of Deer

Nara Deer

Other than some very old shrines and temples, Nara is famous for the deer in Nara Park. The deer roaming the park are considered sacred by the local shrines, and they are allowed full reign over the park.

The deer are generally tame, and will completely ignore you until you walk up to one of the many vendors in the area and buy deer crackers. As soon as you pay your 150 yen for the small package of crackers, you will instantly find yourself surrounded by hungry, insistent deer who will all gently headbutt you when you aren’t feeding them. As soon as the crackers are gone, the deer will return to ignoring you.

The whole experience is a bit intimidating at first. We did see a few parents laughing after handing a stack of deer crackers to their unsuspecting children, which I personally thought was hilarious!

Because the deer are wild animals, there are some helpful warning signs around the park that remind you of deer safety. Helpful that is, if you can read Japanese.

Unhelpful sign is unhelpful

Unhelpful sign is unhelpful

I could read just enough to understand that the deer are not pets, and there are certain times of the year when the deer may be aggressive. I personally don’t need a sign to tell me not to piss off wild animals that are used to getting their own way, but I understand that this may be important for some. Fortunately for me, the worst thing that happened in my interaction with Nara’s deer was getting some deer snot on my jacket.

We would have spent more time in Nara, but the day was cold and it started raining. Since most of the sightseeing places involved walking outside, we decided to head back to Osaka for some indoor exploration.

Feeding the deer in Nara should be on everyone’s western Japan to-do list. It was a really cool experience!

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March 29, 2006 part 1 – Very old buildings in Nara

Nara Todaiji

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.

My parents next to the giant bronze Buddha

My parents next to the giant bronze Buddha

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.

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