Happy Travel Tuesday! First, some housekeeping: so I didn’t realize that today is the last Tuesday of the week and failed to give out a themed prompt. So next Tuesday will be themed if you wish to join. More details at bottom of post!
And now, onto today’s post! This week, I will be bringing you to the ancient capital of Nara, Japan.
Most of the time, my travels are fueled by the promise of good food. But occasionally, and no less strongly, I am fueled by the promise of up-close animal encounters (see here and here). And it is for this reason that Nara was at the top of my list for Japan.
Nara was the capital of Japan some 1000+ years ago and has several important temples and shrines (including one of the world’s largest Buddha!). But despite the historical importance and the emperors who once ruled here, today it is perhaps most well known for a resident of a different kind.
Yep, that’s right… I am talking about the deer!
According to legend, a mythological god arrived on a white deer to guard the newly built capital. Since then, deer has been regarded as heavenly creatures to protect the city.
I wasn’t loving Osaka too much (where we were based), but I definitely bucked up at the prospect of playing with deer for a day. Luckily, Nara was just a short train ride away. As soon as exited the Kintetsunara Station, I made a beeline for Nara Park, where the deer mostly hang out.
The first thing I did was to purchase a packet of deer crackers from one of the many vendor stands around the park. I couldn’t wait to feed some deer! And don’t worry, they are tame. The same, however, cannot be said for politeness.
These deer know the deal! They can sniff out these crackers from 50 feet away. As soon as I had them in hand, they started coming around begging for food. And let me tell you, they are quite agressive about it!
They came at me, trying to get at my handful of crackers. And then when I refused to indulge them, they went for my shirt! How deer they!
If you don’t walk away fast enough from these persistent beggars, you might just find yourself in a bit of a situation:
These deer are relentless bottomless pits. But here’s a little unknown secret: they will ask politely if you’re polite to them. If you bow to them, they’ll bow back. Or if you hold a biscuit up and say arigatou (thank you in Japanese), they will make a bow.
Don’t believe me?
I guess the deer in Nara understand broken Japanese ;). They bow for food when you say “thank you”.
Posted by Slightly Astray on Saturday, October 10, 2015
As endeering as these deer were, I really wanted to see a baby! And then… we spotted him. This little real life Bambi was literally the cutest.
This little thing was still shy of humans, shrinking back when I reached out too far. But eventually, he took some nibbles of my cracker offering and came closer to investigate. At this point, I wanted to steal him away to my imaginary cottage in the woods.
After my biscuits were all gone, we headed over to the Todaiji Temple (an UNESCO site if you keep score of such things). This temple complex can be dated back to the triple digit years. It was once one of the Seven Great Temples of ancient Nara, when Nara was the center of power for Japanese Buddhism.
I’ve mentioned before that I found most historical sites in Japan to be quite underwhelming. The Todaiji Temple would be an exception. It was incredible how absolutely humongous the wooden structure is. In fact, this is the largest wooden building in the world! It really makes you wonder in awe of how people back then managed to construct such magnificent buildings without modern machinery.
The answer is a lot of manpower, apparently. In fact, according to records, over 2.6 million people worked on building the giant Buddha and the hall. The temple has been rebuilt twice over the centuries due to earthquakes and fire, and the current structure is even 30% smaller than the original!
And speaking of the Buddha, the one housed here is the world’s largest bronze Buddha, at 52 feet (or 16 meters)! Sadly, I didn’t get a good picture of it, so here’s a picture taken on the temple steps looking back towards the gate.
At this point, we were ready to go back and call it a successful day trip. After exiting the temple complex to go back to the train station, we walked along a pedestrian street with shops + eateries on one side and more deer milling about on the path.
There was one last thing I wanted to do.
Of course, in typical Anna Fantasyland fashion, I had images of me sitting on the grass while all the deer cuddled up against me, like some kind of modern day Snow White. But that obviously wasn’t going to happen since I’m merely a source of cracker procurement to them. But at the very least, I was determined to get a selfie.
Take #1: semi-fail
Take #2: a little better
Take #3: Success!
And with that, we called it a day.
Nara was the perfect day trip from Osaka and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quirky, fun outing. This was hands down my favorite day in Japan!
From Osaka: Take the Kintetsu line to Nara from the Namba Station
From Kyoto: Take the Kintetsu line to Nara from the Kyoto Main Station
The Kintetsu line is great for those without a JR Pass. It’s the fastest line to Nara. But if you have a JR pass, then you’ll probably want to make use of that and take the JR line.
Have you been to Nara? What are you favorite animal encounter moments?
P.S. I apologize for the bad puns I snuck in there.
So I said that next Tuesday will be a themed prompt. The theme is a memorable food experience. This could be anything from favorite foods on a trip to a great restaurant. As most of you already know, food is my favorite topic, so I’ll be looking forward to the delicious posts!
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