Nara

Nara is probably one of the most peculiar places I’ve ever seen. 660 acres of park that are home to more than 1000 dear. Yes dears walk freely surrounded by people, who feed them costantly to get a picture with them!

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Nara has been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, given the numerous temples and beautiful park it holds. Nara was capital of Japan for a few years, from 710 to 794. Given that the city remained powerful even after the capital was moved, it was awarded the title of Nanto (The Southern Capital). Therefore the series of temples are known as Nanto Shichi Daiji, which means ‘the seven great temples’, these are seven influential temples built originally during the imperial period as Buddhist temples. These include: Daian-ji, Gangō-ji, Hōryū-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Saidai-ji, Tōdai-ji, Yakushi-ji.

Nara is located in the northern part of the Nara Prefecture, so it’s close to Kyoto, taking only about an hour by train. After a month of travelling in Tokyo and Japan on trains it really seems like a short ride!

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From the station you can walk to the park through the main street of shops, on which you can find some cute dear souvenirs and the best mochi I ate in Japan. Still warm! Beware of the stickiness of the mochi!

The main attraction in the park of course are the silka dears, which were seen as a sacred animal and have learned to live together with the hundreds of tourists that visit each day. They are very picky and know that people are there to feed them, so you must be quick in taking your pictures! You can only feed them Shika-senbei (deer crackers) that you can easily buy around the park.

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Inside the park there is also a series of important temples, I especially recommend you visit Tōdai-ji, inside which is kept the world’s largest bronze Buddha Vairocana statue, in Japanese it is called Daibutsu. Already walking up to the temple you can feel the imponence of the building in front of you. But nothing actually prepares you for the size of the Buddha inside the temple. On the way to Nara I read about how you could fit through one of his nostrils, and there’s a passage in a column to try it out! Yes I felt like Jack and the Bean stalk in the presence of a sleeping giant.

I also had the chance to visit Kōfuku-ji temple, which was quite interesting with its 5-story pagoda and golden Buddha inside the Tō-kondō hall (golden hall). The buildings of this temple complex are also considered as a National Treasure.

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The Kasuga Grand Shrine should be very nice to visit, a Shinto shrine of the Fujiwara Family, with its traditional bright red color and numerous lanterns (both bronze and stone), that lead the way to the temple.

I recommend spending the day in Nara, since we only had a few hours and we couldn’t see all that we wanted. Also because visiting the sights usually requires quite a lot of walking around!

-V

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