Though we only spent an afternoon there, Nara was a huge highlight of our Kansai trip. We visited Tōdai-ji (東大寺), the most monumental temple we’ve ever seen. The current version, built in 1692, is one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, and it’s still only two-thirds the size of the 752 original. It was first constructed as the head Buddhist temple when Nara was the capital and Buddhism was at its peak.
Inside is the Daibutsu, a bronze Buddha so epic that it’s unphotographable. Seriously. My photographs of him are terrible.
To give you an idea of scale, there’s a tunnel through a pillar that’s the size of one of the Daibutsu’s nostrils. According to legend, if you can crawl all the way through it, you can reach enlightenment. I highly suggest watching parents shove reluctant toddlers into the dark, scary enlightenment hole. I made it through myself!
To get to and from Tōdai-ji, we passed through Nara Kōen, a lovely park known for its abundance of tame deer. So tame, in fact, that once you grab deer cookies from one of the souvenir stands, they will actually bow to you!
I’d heard rumors about the bowing deer of Nara, but I thought they would be half-assed, cookie-guided bows at best. No. They are legit, defined, graceful bows—no cookie movement necessary. (Cookie presence, however, is required. Deer are not interested in bowing to cookie-less plebs).
Deer were brought to the site hundreds of years ago, because they were believed to be messengers of the gods.
And that message seems to be:
I also bought this cool keychain of Nara’s cutest mascot, Shikamaru-kun.
Look, he has a little deer butt! ❤
There’s definitely more than an afternoon’s worth of things to see in Nara. Next time, I want to check out some of the other temples and the even more ancient Asuka area, where you can rent bikes and tour kofun burian mounds.
We headed to Osaka for our final afternoon in Kansai, but I’ll save that for the next post!