27 November 2014
The Kansai 3 day Thru Pass (bought it at the airport) gave me unlimited travel around the Kansai region. After Kyoto, I had to visit the ancient city of Nara. Often overshadowed by its more well-known neighbour, the city is equal in history, culture, importance and richness. Both cities are well-preserved and saved by a Chinese who unfortunately no one talks about (more about him in the next entry).
Buddhism greatly influenced Nara which led to the creation of a large number of cultural assets, buildings and books. Nara is home to the largest number of landmarks that are considered to be Japan’s National Treasuries.
There are temples, shrines, gardens and of course- lots of deers. Deers are well respected since they are considered to be messengers to the gods. I much prefer the more timid and quiet ones near the Kasuga Taisha Shrine rather than the ones chasing visitors for crackers at Nara Park. History and nature blend in harmony and I can’t think of anything else that could replace the 1200 wild deers that call Nara home.
Kohfukuji Temple, originally found in the 7th century is a symbol of Nara.
A five-storey pagoda right by the temple was reconstructed in 1426. A short walk South-East of the temple is Sarusawa Pond and close to this area are rows of stone statues. The locals come to pay they respects against a backdrop of soothing trickling water and total tranquility. I especially love how the statues and stone tablets are covered by a neat red cloth- how adorable.
After heading East for a while, I found myself at the heart of the old Nara. One of the main attraction is theTodai-ji Temple.
This is where you can find the Great Buddha statue. Founded in the 8th century, the Daibutsu-den(hall) which houses the statue was burned down twice due to war. What you see now was rebuilt in 1709 and is only two-thirds of the original size. Nevertheless, it is still the largest wooden structure in the world.
The path that cuts through deer park took me straight to Kasuga Taisha Temple. It is lined with over 3000 stone lanterns. The moss on these lanterns with the occasional deer (sacred shrine messenger) in the background is a sight to die for.
The Kasuga shrine was established in 768 AD and it is well-known for its bright vermillion colours and the bronze lanterns.
Since it is a Shinto shrine, there are many Mikos (priestess) around who help out with shrine related tasks. They perform ceremonial dances, offer fortune telling and sell souvenirs.
It’s best to stay overnight and take your time. However, since I had no idea that it was peak season and time was tight, I couldn’t allocate an extra day in Nara. Well-connected and a nice mix of nature and history, I can fully comprehend why Mr Liang, the Father of Modern Chinese Architecture, fought to have Nara preserved.