Japan / Travels

Nara Deer Park and a Bit More of Kyoto

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There were at least two reasons for me to go to Nara. Firstly, during one of the Japanese lessons which I took in the university, we were reading and translating a short text about the Todai-ji temple located in Nara. There I’ve learned that it is known as one of the greatest Buddhist temples in Japan, being the largest wooden construction in the world. Furthermore, the largest bronze statue of the Buddha, or Daibutsu, is located there. Of course, I was curious to see that place. Secondly, I knew that there are deer freely roaming around in the huge park of Nara and an encounter with them sounded like much fun.

Conveniently, the city of Nara is located just an hour away by train from Kyoto, where we were staying. So, instead of booking a hotel in Nara, we decided to make it a day trip from Kyoto.

The deer

Having arrived at the Nara station, we headed directly to the five-storied Kofuku-ji Pagoda which is located next to one of the park entrances. And there we saw the deer. There were so many of them! They were absolutely not afraid of tourists. Some of them would allow you to pet them, while some shamelessly attacked people stealing stuff from them. I saw a deer snatching a plastic combiny bag from an Asian tourist and running away with it.

We had so much fun observing them! When we left that spot and walked further, we were surprised by the fact that the deer were everywhere! In Shinto religion, deer are considered messengers to the gods, and, therefore, they are carefully protected in Nara and even considered as national treasures. There are over 1000 deer in Nara nowadays.

There is a fun way to interact with the deer! Tourists in Nara are allowed to feed the animals with the special deer crackers, known as shika senbei. Those can be purchased for the price of 150 yen from merchants all around the park.

If you decide to buy the crackers, try the trick: when you see a deer approaching you, hold the cracker above your head — the deer will bow its head, hide the cracker behind your back — the deer will bow again, raise the cracker over your head to let the deer bow for the third time and finally reward it with the treat. When we tried that, we soon have discovered, that it works better with older deer. Why do they do that? Well, it’s an example of a learnt behaviour derived through the responses on their part when hand-fed by humans.

Todai-ji temple

We were really impressed by the Todai-ji temple. It was constructed in 752 and grew so powerful, so that they had to move the capital from Nara to Nagaoka some years later in order to lower the temple’s influence on the government. Inside we saw the big Buddha statue and several smaller statues and models of the former and current buildings. We also saw some visitors engaging in a fun attraction inside the Daibutsuden Hall: they were queueing in order to squeeze through a hole in a pillar. This opening has the same size as the Daibutsu‘s nostril. It’s believed that those who manage to get through it will get enlightenment in their next life. It was fun observing some people getting stuck.

In my previous post, I mentioned that we’ve discovered an interesting custom of signing a goshuincho. In Todai-ji, Sergio has decided to get one of his own, so we purchased a nice purple-covered notebook and got our first stamp.

There are many more sights in Nara for those who would like to spend more time in that nice ancient city, however, the weather that day got really nasty. Despite on wearing all my warmest clothes, it still felt very cold. The rain was also very annoying. So, after a very late lunch in a nice tempura place, we went back to Kyoto. 

Evening in Kyoto

It was already dark when we arrived to the downtown. During that trip, that was our last chance to see more of the famous Gion, a famous historic district, and to visit the Nishiki market.

That time we didn’t see geisha however, we still enjoyed the atmosphere of the traditional streets. We even walked to the Gion Corner, a classical theater, where one can watch a geisha performance, but there was a long line and we decided to use our time for walking around the neighbourhood instead of attending a show. We also saw the giant pumpkin sculpture there, a work of Yayoi Kusama, a famous contemporary artist.

The Nishiki market turned out to be huge. There was even a little shrine inside. There were many interesting craft stores, where one could buy local goods. I left the place with some local matcha powder. It was already late and the place was closing, so, we decided to call it a day and take a bus back to our hotel.

Photos taken in March 2018

About Author

Hi, I'm Katja! I'm a computer scientist, who loves photography and traveling. Welcome to the visual diary of my adventures!