If you are visiting Kyoto, Japan, or close by, do not skip the town of Nara. It is full of history, old buildings and interesting things to see. We spent a day in Nara and fell in love with this unique and compact town. We originally planned to drop it off from our travel list if we get too busy, but luckily we didn't. It ended up being one of the best days on our trip to Japan.
Nara was established at the same time as buddhism started to take root in Japan. Because of that, a huge amount of cultural history was born in Nara, like temples and statues. Nara has seven temples listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, most of them are close to Nara Park. Nara was Japan's first permanent capital from 710 to 784.
We arrived in Nara by train, and walked to Nara Park to visit the temples over there. There is a bus going from the railway station to the sights, but we like to walk and see some local life. Right when we got to the park area, we saw some of Nara's famous tame deer. They are sacred to the Kasuga Shrine. There are over 1000 deer roaming freely in Nara, and they are very friendly. You can pet them and feed them and take pictures with them. I was surprised at how calm they were. Only a couple of them followed us around and tried to poke my husband in hopes of getting some food. Other than that, even our 4 year old was able to pet the deer. If visiting here, bring some small change since they sell deer crackers in the park so you can feed them.
The area of temples in Nara Park is impressive. At first, we arrived at Kohfuku-ji Temple and the five storey pagoda next to it. They are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Kohfuku-ji was originally built in 669 but it was transferred to it's current location in 710. Inside the temple is a museum of national treasures.
TODAI-JI AND THE GREAT BUDDHA
One of the most memorable places we visited on our trip to Japan was the Todai-ji Temple, and the Great Buddha inside it. The current temple is from the year 1709 and is only two thirds of it's original size. But it still is the biggest wooden building in the world. Two temples before this one were destroyed in fires. Over 2 million people helped with the re-construction of the giant buddha and the temple, 350, 000 were actually building the temple. All the bronze in Japan was used in the Great Buddha, and the government of Japan nearly bankrupted the country due to this project. The buddha itself (Daibutsu) was ready in the year 751, and after that it has been repaired after some earthquakes and other damage.
It is hard to describe my feelings when I first saw the temple and the Great Buddha. For some reason I wasn't expecting anything this beautiful. The temple looked magnificent against the blue, sunny sky, and the Buddha was really huge. Pictures don't really do justice to this place. Next to the Great Buddha, there were two Boddhisatva statues, and a small souvenir shop.
What a lovely day, and a great city! I truly recommend everyone travelling in Japan to visit Nara!