Nara: temples, shrines and friendly deer

Nara is home to some of the oldest and largest temples and shrines in Japan. It is thought to be the birthplace of Japanese culture.  It’s also home to around 1200 roaming deer, which have become symbolic to the city as a national treasure.

Nara is less an hours travel from both Osaka and Kyoto. We visited Nara on day 7 of our trip. We roamed the city centre, walk from Kōfuku-ji temple through Nara Park to Tōdai-Jian temple, and explore Kasuga-Taisha shrine inside the Manyo Botanical Gardens. We ended out day back in Osaka at a 100 yen sushi train.



Nara city centre is quite compact but is nice for shopping and dining. We walked along the main strip, Sanjo Dori up to Sarusawa Pond and down the shopping strip Mochiido-no-center-gai. We found a store selling Jika-tabi shoes, which I’d never seen before. My friend bought some and I was really tempted, but where would I wear them? We also saw ladies doing a painting the beautiful autumn landscape. We also came across free samples of grilled scallops. It tasted like a mouthful of the ocean, delicious!



For lunch, we found this little restaurant along Sanjo Dori. We ordered a few different things to try, including Tempura Prawn Udon, Mori soba (chilled soba noodles), Nishin soba (noodle soup with dried Pacific herring) and Karē udon (pork noodle curry). Everything was really delicious. The curry was more watery than we are used to, but I think this is the traditional way to prepare it.



We made our way over to Kōfuku-ji temple, which is a family temple of the powerful Fujiwara family. The five-story pagoda is the second tallest in Japan and a symbol of Nara. It was here that we came across the friendly roaming deer. We also so the most adorable little Japanese girl and met a friendly group of Japanese school girls.



Nara Park continues from Kōfuku-ji temple and so do the deer. There are people selling special deer crackers called shikasenbei for a small fee.  There are also many tourist shops and snack stands. I tried some amasake, a sweet fermented rice drink, which was warming and delicious.



Nara Park continues beyond Nandaimon (Great South Gate), to Tōdai-ji temple. The gate is guarded by two statues that represent  Nino Guardian Kings. It was at this point we meet primary school students, who wanted to ask us questions in English and give us fortunes.



Tōdai-ji, the Eastern Great Temple is a huge structure, which is one of the most famous temples in Japan. It still remains the largest wooden building in the world, even though it is smaller than when it was originally constructed in 752. It was created to be the head provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. At this centre is a 15-metre gold Buddha, representing Vairocana and is sided by two Bodhisattvas. There are more carved wooden and bronze statues  and objects throughout the temple.

There is also a small square hole in one of the wooden pillars, called Buddha’s Nostril. It is a magic hole, which is said to grant enlightenment in the next life to any worshipper who can squeeze through it. We saw Japanese students gathered around it, while a boy tried to get his body through it.



We then made the long walk back through Nara Park to Manyo Botanical Gardens, to see Nara’s most celebrated Shinto shrine, Kasuga-Taisha. It’s quite a pleasant walk through up through the gardens. The stone lanterns lined along the roads and the beautiful gold lanterns adorn some of the temples. There are also a lot of deer roaming around and a couple of special trees. Honsha-osugi is a 1000-year-old cedar tree and Nanairo-no-yadorigi is a tree made with 7 kinds of seeds.



We took the train back to Osaka for our first Japanese experience of sushi train. The cost of each plate was only 100 yen. Most of the dishes were seafood based, however, Marco found one hamburger sushi. I enjoyed Kanimi, Salmon, Maguro, Ebi; Inarizushi, Iwashi and Negi-toro. Something that I was really excited to try was Nattō, which is fermented soybean. It tasted so horrible, which was confirmed by one of my friends who tried it too.  I guess it’s an acquired taste. For dessert, I tried the Warabimochi, which is a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and covered or dipped in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour). This was the best!

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