Sunday, April 1, 2012


The kids and I made our way down to Nara yesterday. I have been wanting to go to Nara for a long time. It was the first capital of Japan and there are some truly ancient buildings there.  After a bit of a late start, we took the train down (a new train line for us, the Kintetsu line) and arrived in Nara about noon, just in time for a brief rainstorm. The weather forecast said it was going to be pleasant and sunny so all three of us were underdressed. But it wasn't too bad and the rain stopped pretty soon.

Nara is famous for its tame wild deer. The founders of one of the shrines there (in the 700s!) asked for a sign from the gods, and the god arrived riding a deer. That sounds like a sign. Since then, the deer have been revered in Nara. The deer wander all over the city looking for handouts. You can buy little deer cookies to feed them. The deer look quite well fed. They can be slightly aggressive; they come at you pretty fast if you have a cookie. I was warned of this by my former student, Julie, but I guess I wasn't quite prepared for how aggressive they are when they see you with one of the cookies. We saw two separate packs of deer take down two different women during the day. Advice to you: if they're coming for you, throw the cookies!

We saw a 5 story pagoda which was built in the 700s and restored most recently (after burning down five times) in 1426. Its amazing how old it is.
I included N for scale.

After that, we went to Todaiji Temple, which is the largest wooden structure in the world. And, amazingly, before it was rebuilt in 1709, it was 30% larger! The cherry blossoms are starting to come out, so pretty!
blossoms along the road

a very large wooden gate on the way to Todai-ji. WATCH OUT FOR THE DEER!

the exterior terrace (?) or wall (?) around Todaiji

the kids in front of the structure

Todaiji. The original building had either 5 or 7 doors in front instead of 3, it was a lot bigger. They have scale models of the original complex which had matching SEVEN story pagodas flanking the main temple. Amazing.

It contains the Great Buddha (Daibutsu), one of the largest bronze statues in the world.  There is a hole carved in one of the support beams which is the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril, and if you crawl through it you are on the path to enlightenment. The line was very long or I would have struggled my way through, but it was a tight squeeze for N, so maybe I won't fit...  

N has reached enlightenment!

M on her way towards enlightenment.

A look up at the beautiful decorative roof.

This lantern is a "National treasure" but I am not sure why or what it is. But it is 4.62 meters tall.

The whole courtyard is open with cherry blossom trees along the perimeter; just a few of them are blooming but in about 2 weeks it will be absolutely gorgeous here.

Finally, we walked through a few quiet streets and paths along the eastern edge of the city to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This shrine was founded as a family shrine for the Fujiwara clan and was the one where the god arrived riding on a deer, establishing their dominance in the park.
This tall gold tower is just to the east outside the gates of Todaiji. This type of tower is usually on the top of shrines or temples (you can see one on top of the pagoda) so I think it has religious significance but I don't know.

Very interesting roots along our route ...

The shrine is surrounded by thousands of stone lanterns, moss covered trees and paths, and is amazingly beautiful.

The main gate of the shrine. We didn't go in on this trip, the kids were getting tired.

Little tiny tori and shrines are everywhere, so beautiful.

After the shrine, the kids wanted to bring home new pet deer, so we found two small tame ones to bring home. Their names are "Smoothie" and "Jewel."

There is a lot more to see here in Nara, so we will be back!

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