Monday, February 4, 2013

Look at all the Deer! Day-Tripping to Nara

Located between 30 and 45 minutes (depending on the speed of your train) from both Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is the perfect day trip location when it comes to providing a break from the pace of either city life in latter or the back-to-back, never-ceasing cultural sites that fill the former.

Standing outside of the Daibutsu-den Hall of Todai-ji.

Although filled with cultural sites of it's own - it was, after all, once the capital of Japan (prior to its movement to Kyoto later in the 8th century) - Nara's relatively small size and the fact that most of its sites are arrayed around Nara-koen, Nara's deer-filled park, make it seem much more manageable and much less overwhelming than Kyoto. 

To say that the deer are absolutely everywhere in Nara is simply the truth. To say that they go wherever they want is an understatement. To say that they are completely unafraid of humans is an even bigger one. I saw more than a few coats, bags and even backsides being lipped in the search for food. Here the deer are winding there way through some of the many hundreds of lanterns than line the way up to the Shinto shrine of Kasuga Taisha.
My favourite of the sites (and the only one pictured here) was, hands down, the Buddhist Temple of Todai-ji (500yen, 8am-4:30). Home to the famous Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, the temple was somehow simultaneously light, airy and awe-inspiring - bringing together all of the things that I imagine one should feel in the presence of those who have attained nirvana. It is, quite possibly, my favourite Buddhist temple - of a certainty, it's my favourite in Japan.

The Todai-ji Daibutsu, or Great Buddha. While this photo might not show it, the Daibutsu is one of the largest bronze statues in the world. Although this one was recast at some point during the Edo Period (17th- near 20th centuries), the original casting was done in 746.
 Guarded on either side by absolutely fierce-looking guardians, the hall housing the Daibutsu is nothing short of massive. Labelled as the largest wooden building in the world, it is actually a 1709 replica of the original - an original that was a third larger than the one in place now!

The Daibutsu-den Hall, aka, the largest wooden structure in the world.

To give some idea of its size, the statue above is 16 meters tall, and weighs in at around 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold. For a more personal demonstration of exactly what this means size-wise, please scroll down.

Forcing my way through a hole equivalent in size to the Daibutsu's nostril. Surprisingly, it wasn't that tight a fit! 

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