If you would like to see a small and charming city, where the deers are freely walking around the city, without nay doubt you should visit Nara!
Historically speaking, the emperor Gemmei built in 710 a city called Heijokyo – Nara of today – , with the scope of becoming the permanent capital of Japan. He used the Chinease Dinasty Tang as reference, thus being the reason for so many similarities. Even so, until 784, when the capital was moved to Kyoto, Nara used to be an important centre. Unfortunatelly, it never achieved the big impact it initially aimed for.
You may already noticed, but in Japan, many cultural places and important pieces of heritage were destroyed in time because of natural calamities or fires. So it happen to this former capital in the past. Even so, Nara of today is still preserving some of its beauties and welcome us to explore its stories.
You can visit Nara in a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka by train, as it’s close enough. If you want to see the city in depth and the surroundings, you will need two days.
Probably my favourite park in the world (fighting with New York Central Park), visit Nara Park, with its 500 hectars is the home for more than 1.200 friendly deers, temples, shrines, museums and even more.
If you are wondering, there is a legend regarding this wonderful creatures and why are they today here in such a big number. Previously, when Kasuga Tisha Shrine was fonded as a family shrine for the Fujiwaras, they invited a god. It is said the god came by riding a white deer. Therefor, since then, the deers are respected and protected as divine messengers.
This temple is an ezotheric buddhist temple of the Hosso sect. It is one of the main temples in Nara. At its glory, the temple used to have 175 buildings. Today, you can see only a few that survived or were restaurated in time like the five-story pagoda, a museum – Kokuha-kan, hosting lots of exhibits and national treasures – , the Central and the East hall.
Three Story Pagoda
This pagoda is a symbol of the Nara town. It was constructed about 600 years ago and it had a tragic past, as it burned down five times. However, it’s still the most photographed place in the city.
If you are keen to see two mondial records of the world in one single place, this is your chance. This hall is the largest wooden hall in the world and hosts the biggest copper statue in the world too, the massive Vairocana, known as Daibutsu (the Big Buddha). The initial hall used to be even larger than this one, but it burned twice since then and the current reconstruction has the proportion of 2/3 of the original size.
If you would like to have a beautiful view over the city, you can visit this hall, as it’s located above a hill. Walk around as are many paths for trekking, taking you deep into the nature.
This is the big South gate, hosting two deities caved in wood. Are both impressive, with eight meters high each. As you can see in the picture it attracts all the curious, even the deer! With this in mind, the work is attributed to the sculptor Unkei from the Kakamura period.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
This shrine is absolutely gorgeous. Actually it’s competing for the first place for my favourite shrine in Japan, together with the Inari shrine from Kyoto. It doesn’t even matter which path you will choce to walk towards the main altar, as you’ll have a beautiful suprise. Both paths are splendid, lined with approximately 2000 stone lanterns. Even more, 1000 hanging bronze lanterns are waiting for you inside.
Three times a year there is a lantern festival. In order to mini-experience it, inside the shrine there is a dark room with lighted lanterns. The view is splendid, I wish I could go at least once to see the festival with my eyes.
Inside the courtyard you will be able to see a cedar tree, 1000 years old, which is beieved the deities reside in it. As the entire shrine’s garden is a sacred place for Shrinto ritual dance and music, I guess I was lucky, but when I went there was a band singing and playing instruments.
If you would like to have a free 360 view over the city and the temples around, go inside the Nara prefecture and take the elevator to the top floor.
Totally by chance and not planned at all, I was in Nara exactly during the lights festival in August. I am very happy I could experience this wonderful view, where people and children do know how to enjoy peacefully and in harmony the nature and traditions.
Thanks for making a virtual visit to Nara with me. I wish you’ll be able to go and experience this charming city by yourself one day. Until then, you can deep dive into Japan’s culture and virtually visit more places, clicking here.