Stories

The deer heaven of Japan

by Thomas Buechler - 4 years, 6 months ago

Nara is probably the most underrated historical place anywhere in Japan. Within easy reach of Kansai International Airport by a reliable limousine bus service in just under 90 minutes. But careful: the last trip is at 20.40h. After that just via Osaka. I stayed with Takeshi Hamano at Guesthouse Nara Backpackers (confy beds dorm beds for 23 dollars, wifi and of course tea included) in Yurugi-cho, a very cozy 90 year old wooden building that served in its previous life as a Japanese tea ceremony house. Its quietly and conveniently located inbetween Kintetsu station and Nara-koen, the huge park to the east of the city where you can find most of the temples.Also the park is home to 1,200 deers, freely roaming around in search of shika-sembei, the delicious deer biscuits.At the time of my visit it was the pregnancy season, and I was told that most of the pregnant mama deers are kept indoor (in a place called Rokuen), as they could attack visitors when approached in their string maternal instinct. Rokuen is open for public viewing of the newly born deers during the whole month of June. The highlight of any visit to Nara is of course the world heritage site of Todajij Daibutsu-den which is the largest wooden building in the world. A truly impressive structure, and to imagine that the original building was even wider by about one third of the present size, rebuild in 1709. Inside is yet another world record, the famous Great Buddha (Daibutsu), with 437 tonnes of bronze one of the largest bronze figures worldwide, with a height of 16 meters. I did the walking tour recommended by Lonely Planet and visited the temples of Nigatsu-do and Kasuga Taisha that is now charging a 500 yen entrance fee. Another gem in Nara's Unesco crown are the Kofuku-ji pagodas which served as tutelary temples of the Fujiwara family starting 710 when they were transferred here from Kyoto. Japan's first World Cultural heritage site (since 1993) is located in Horyuji, just a short trip out of Nara City by JR Kansai Line. In front of the train station in Horyuji, the connecting bus 72 is already waiting for the short hop to the temple complex.Here you will find the oldest surviving wooden structures (6th century, Asuka period) in the whole world, so its possible to see the biggest and oldest in just one day! Horyuji contains over 2,300 important cultural artefacts.The Gallery of Temple Treasures (Daihozoin) houses the most precious pieces like the Tamamushi Tabernacle which was the private property of the Imperial Family before or the nine headed Kannons, carved from sandalwod, and brought here from China.Also the famous Yumechigai Kannon statue has found a resting place in this newly constructed (1998) museum and attracts thousands of visitors every day. I found myself with many school classes, but avoided the long queues by politely asking permission to the friendly lady teachers!


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