Nara (奈良) was once the ancient capital of Japan and it is today a famous tourist destination, well known for its temples, shrines and gardens. The city can be easily reached via the efficient transportation network from either Osaka or Kyoto under an hour. Hence there is no reason to skip Nara when you are visiting Kansai region. Our Nara day trip started from the woody Nara train station. From here, it is about a 15mins walk through the gorgeous street to Nara Park.
Nakatanidou in Nara
We spotted this local mochi stall which I read about at one corner of the street, famous for its high-speed pounding of the dough before it is made into mochi. Nakatanidou (中谷堂) freshly made mochi is filled with red bean paste and it’s absolutely delicious, also equally good is the crunchy biscuit.
The charming small pond, Sarusawa-Ike (猿沢池) which we came across while en route towards Kofukuji is where devotees of Kofukuji will set free (放生) animals like the tortoises.
Kofukuji (興福寺) was the ancestral temple of the influential Fujiwara clan during Nara and Heian Periods. The prominent symbols of Kofukuji are its three-storey pagoda and five-storey pagoda situated in the vast area, at the very same ground which used to have more than 150 buildings!! That’s super impressive by any standard.
My Deer Nara
Upon entering the Kofukuji ground, we were immediately greeted by the star of Nara – a Sika deer. But it didn’t hang around us for long after spotting one tourist feeding its deer friends nearby. Considered to be messengers of the Shinto gods, more than a thousand of these doe-eyed deer roams freely around the expansive park area. So many wandering Sika deer only mean one thing – poo!! Lots of them!! We were literally looking at the ground all the time while walking.
If you want to be Deer Popular, buy some deer biscuits from the vendors and start feeding one, you will be surrounded by herds in no time. Hmm…why don’t the deer nip the vendors for biscuits then? Perhaps these deer are really smart because I realized that if I show both my empty hands to any approaching deer, they will just leave me alone! How cool is that??
The Magnificent Todaiji of Nara
Todaiji Temple (東大寺), situated at a short walking distance from Kofukuji, is probably the most famous Buddhist temple in Nara. The imposing temple and its massive Daibutsuden (The Great Buddha Hall) house one of the largest bronze statues in Japan to honour Buddha Vairocana. Todaiji Temple is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For some reason, the Sika deer will not venture passed Nandaimon gate.
After passing Nandaimon gate, it’s a straight path which leads all the way to Daibutsuden.
Everything around this temple is on a bigger scale – huge gates, large buildings and mega ground area. The Daibutsuden looks equally impressive from all angles.
The Healing Buddha
Right outside Daibutsuden is a wooden statue of Binzuru, a disciple of Buddha. The Japanese believe that if you want to cure an illness, rub the statue where the illness is, followed by rubbing the same part on your own body – and you will be cured!
Daibutsuden of Todaiji
We were totally in awe by the sheer scale of the interior of Daibutsuden, and this is only two-thirds the size of the original after being reconstructed in 1709! The bronze statue of the Great Buddha is one amazing sight.
Statues of Bosatsu and the heavenly guardians around Daibutsuden.