Posted by: soniahs | August 21, 2012

Day trip to Nara

As my readers may have noted, I’ve been out of touch for a while- largely due to travel, a cold, some travel, and then an allergy attack upon my return. Bleah. I’ve been concentrating on work, and been managing to get some writing done- but the blog has obviously suffered. But I’ll jump right back into talking about out Japan trip.

On one of our days in Kyoto, we decided to take the train into Nara- the even-more-ancient-than-Kyoto-capital. It’s a smaller city about a 45-minute train ride from the former. It has a large number of Buddhist, Shinto, and other sights. The train station is west of the largest concentration of sights, so we grabbed a tourist map and started walking east.

Pligrims at Nan’en-dō.

Our first stop was the Kōfuku-ji temple complex. This is a Buddhist site, and we encountered a group of pilgrims praying at one of the shrines, Nan’en-dō. The “five-story pagoda” was also part of the temple complex. This was where we encountered our first Nara deer.

Five-story pagoda. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

Ah, the deer. They are ostensibly wild, but everywhere around the center of Nara and are quite used to people. Lurking inside their cute exterior lies the vicious and aggro heart of a park-dwelling herbivore. Honestly, the deer reminded us of Noe- but with antlers and about 10x the mass.

Looks deceptively innocent, doesn’t it? (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The big thing here is buying deer senbei (rice crackers) from street vendors, and then feeding them to the deer. The deer basically lie in wait at the vendor carts, and then mob you as they see you taking the crackers. And they’re pushy!

The senbei ladies apparently don’t take any crap from the deer- notice how they’re giving her a wide berth… (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

There are warning signs every so often about the cute little buggers. I didn’t get head-butted or reared at, but I did get nipped in the butt.

Pushy, pushy deer. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

After taking turns being mobbed by pushy deer, we walked toward the next sight we planned to see- Tōdai-ji. Again, a Buddhist temple complex. This one is famous for containing the largest freestanding wooden structure in the world, with (I believe) the second-largest bronze Buddha statue inside.

The Daibutsu-den (giant buddha hall). (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

It’s hard to think about what to say about this, other than it was quite big…and quite impressive. The Buddha is almost 50 feet high, and behind him is a huge wooden backing covered in golden paint. To the side are two wooden statues that are “only” probably like 20-25 feet high. Everything’s hugely massive in there.

The Daibutsu, flanked by smaller statues. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)


After lingering in the Daibutsuden for a bit, we stopped outside to buy some souvenirs, and some human senbei for a snack, then headed onward.

The theme character for Nara was “Sento-kun,” a monk with…deer antlers. Very appropriate.

We stopped at Nigatsu-dō (part of the Tōdai-ji complex), before walking to a major Shinto shrine, Kasuga Taisha.

View from porch of Nigatsu-dō. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns- both bronze ones inside the shrine and stone ones lining the paths without. The shrine complex is surrounded by a park area of cedar trees, and is very pretty.

Interior of Kasuga Taisha.

While we were at the shrine we got to see the formal photos for a wedding that had apparently just taken place. The bride and groom were in traditional outfits. The bride’s clothes in particular were pretty neat — she had a huge white egg-shaped headdress.

Stone lanterns and cedar trees. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

After hanging out in the park for a bit, we were a bit footsore, hungry, and chilly. I’ll tell the tale about a memorable snack we had before heading back to Kyoto tomorrow…



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