One of the guys I met at the Tokyo Leicester City supporters meet-up the other day was from Nara; the former ancient capital city of Japan which lies 20 miles south of Kyoto. It was nice to talk about the place and I said it would be lovely to return there one day. I later realised that I had never actually written about Nara on Tokyo Fox so let’s rectify that straight away!
Back in the Christmas holidays of 2005, I set off around Japan on a mini tour of the country starting in Fukuoka which was previously covered in this TF Flashback post. From there I went on to Hiroshima followed by Osaka where Keisuke – a travel friend from my time in Australia in 2001-2002 – kindly allowed me to stay at his and use his apartment as a base for my five nights in the Kansai region. Naturally I did a few side trips from there to Kyoto and another to Nara on Thursday 29th December where I met up with my friend Asif at Kōfuku-ji’s five story pagoda and took the path through Nara Park to Kasuga Shrine.
These days it is quite easy to mix with certain animals in Japan such as foxes at Zao Kitsune Mura, rabbits on Okunokushima or squirrels at Machida Risu-en but a decade ago the only places one could get up close with non-pet animals was at the likes of Miyajima and Nara-Koen where deer roam freely and can be fed shika-sembei (deer crackers) by tourists. Deer are believed to be sacred messengers of the Shinto gods that inhabit the park, temple and surrounding mountainous terrain.
In terms of the temples and shrines of Nara, the undoubted star attraction has to be Todaiji; a Buddhist temple complex housing the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha. It is just under 15 metres tall, weighs 500 tonnes and is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just before entering the place we met up with fellow colleague (of the time) and his girlfriend and we enjoyed a few hours in each others company wandering the place.
The size of the ancient Buddha is pretty impressive as is the wooden structure which houses it. It is apparently the largest wooden structure in the world and was actually much larger before it burned down. This place has something of a history when it comes to being damaged or destroyed by the likes of earthquakes and fires!
Afterwards we all went for a beer and then parted ways with Asif and I later having some udon noodles for lunch before we headed back to Osaka together for a look round the Namba district.
How to get there: Todaiji is in the northern part of Nara Park and is a 30 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or 45 minutes walk from JR Nara Station. It is open every day from 7:30 – 8am (depending on the season) and entrance is 500 yen.