A short train ride away from Kansai’s duel overflowing-metropolises of Kyoto and Osaka lies the small, but memorable city of Nara. Originally the first permanent capital of Japan in the seventh century (prior to this, the capital was moved every time an emperor passed on), Nara is now one of the countries most significant cultural and historical storehouses, boasting eight different Unesco World Heritage sites. The city is small enough to tour as a day trip, but much better enjoyed over the course of several more leisurely paced days, allowing one to take in the slow, deliberate pace of life that exists outside of the big cities.
The temples and major attractions of Nara are largely centered in Nara-Koen (or Nara Park), which comprises the Eastern half of town. Before any visitors ever reach the park itself, however, they’ll inevitable encounter one of the city’s most unique characteristics: the presence of thousands of friendly (and sometimes mildly aggressive) deer, who casually weave in and out of the visiting travelers, searching for that friendly soul who has a bit of food for them. I had heard about this phenomenon before arriving in Nara, but even the advanced warning didn’t fully prepare me for either the number of deer in the park or how inexplicably at ease they are in the presence of humans. Have a look:
The most famous image from Nara’s bounty of temples and historic sights is that of the Daibutsu, or “Great Buddha,” housed within the grounds of the Todai-ji Temple. This gigantic Bronze and Gold Buddha — originally cast in the year 746 as a ward against smallpox — weighs in at nearly 500 tons and stands over five stories tall. Not only is it the largest Bronze Buddha in the world, but the hall that houses it is the largest wooden building in the world, too. Here are a few images of both the Todai-ji Temple and a few others that dot the Nara-Koen park:
Although the temples and shrines are certainly worth the trip to Nara, after having spent the last week touring through the temple-and-shrine center of the world that is Kyoto, I began to see a few symptoms of “temple overload.” And as such, I felt the best remedy was to get away from the crowds and the cities and opted for the solitude and peacefulness of an afternoon of hiking. Rising from the Eastern edge of Nara-Koen and solemnly standing watch over the entire city is Mount Wakakusa, a wise old mountain and one that apparently knows well my inability to avoid a set of stairs or a roughly tended trail snaking its way up to the peak. It was on a passing whim that I decided to strap on my metaphorical hiking shoes (as I only carry one pair of shoes with me), but regardless, this turned out to be my favorite experience while staying in Nara. Enjoy:
After Nara, I’m (really, this time) off to Osaka to sample some of the famed culinary creations for which the city is known. Personally, I can’t wait to take that first mouth-searing bite of Takoyaki or dive into my own custom designed Okonomiyaki. Until then, Kampai from Nara!
POST-SCRIPT – After my last four or five posts stretched endlessly to become some of the most excessively long and exhausting posts that I’ve put together, I figured it was time to slip in a short and sweet post with this one. I hope you don’t mind!