Day Three – Nara. Wild deer and a giant Buddha.
June 26, 2016
Day three saw us depart Kyoto for the countryside. Our first stop was the picturesque Fushimi Inari Shrine. This important Shinto shrine is famous for the thousands of torii gates that trail paths through the sacred mountain. The site is dedicated to the god of rice, whose messenger is the fox whose emblem could be found in stuffed toys and statues throughout the town. Whilst the attraction was packed with tourists and pilgrims, we had a few hours of fun walking up and down the tunnels of torii. A small street at the bottom provided us with snacks for lunch, ranging from crab sticks to octopus takoyaki to chicken yakitori. A delicious and popular contribution to our culinary explorations!
Next we continued our train ride to Nara, with a short stop involving a pet shop and a French bakery (that’s another story). This historic town we dubbed the ‘Ballarat of Japan’ due to it’s metropolitan but relaxed feel, not far from the city and complete with animals holding up traffic. Atop the mountain at Nara (inside the city) there is a large park filled with wild deer. Filled. To the brim. It was incredible. These deer, far from shy, were happy to have us approach and accept a pat on the head or the back. We soon discovered that this was not mere friendliness but the scent of fresh tourists. We purchased some deer biscuits to feed them with, at which point they became quite pushy! They had some great tricks – being trained to bow their heads before accepting a biscuit, nudging you in the back for more food, chewing your shirt to stop you running away… This was not going to get old quickly. After a flurry of selfies, we continued on towards the giant buddha, only to find more deer. They really were everywhere!
Nara holds historic importance as the nation’s first established capital, then known as Heijo, in 710 CE. The Buddhist temple here, the Todaiji (“Great Eastern”) temple features the world’s largest wooden building which houses a 15m high Buddha. This important site actually resulted in the capital being moved in 784 CE in an attempt to moderate the power of the temple over the political climate. An interesting feature was a large column to the rear of the “Big Buddha Hall” that contains a hole commensurate to the Buddha’s nostril. Those who are able to squeeze through it are said to find enlightenment in their next life. Sadly we were not successful in this endeavour!
We wandered the shrine complex for hours, enchanted with the architecture, deer and wide array of deer-related products. We followed this up with dinner in town (a few of us even found an “owl cafe”!) and a train back to Kyoto, where we hit the department stores (with wide eyes) before an early night.