The city of Nara is nothing without history. It was the capital city of Japan from 710-784. The capital was moved to Kyoto in 784 out of fear of the increasingly powerful Nara clergy.
Nara is typically experienced as a side trip for one or two days from either Osaka or Kyoto, both of which are both nearby. On arriving in Nara we found a little place to eat that served common Japanese food - tomato rice covered in an omelet and ketchup, as well as little deep-fried croquettes filled with cheese and shrimp. Turns out the japanese love to deep fry meat. After our lunch we ventured out to see the sites, here are a few highlights.
Nara is kind of like a giant park, and similar to our own Eagle Creek it's completely filled with deer. However, the deer in Nara are very special. According to legend, one of the Shinto gods arrived on a white deer to guard a the new capital and the deer have been revered ever since. Snack vendors all over the park sell shika sembei (deer biscuits), for feeding them. Some of the deer have even learned to bow, imitating tourists to beg for a tasty treat.
The deer also have a dark side, sometimes getting a little too aggressive when going after the crack-like biscuits. Thank goodness the Japanese government provides signs warning us of the deer dangers (first picture).
Tōdai-ji is the Eastern Great temple which houses Nigatsu-dō, the giant Buddha. A few factoids: The great hall of Tōdai-ji is the largest wooden building in the world. It has been built and rebuilt several times due to damage by fire and earthquake. The current building was completed in the 18th century and while massive is 30% smaller than it's predecessor. The giant Buddha is a massive bronze statue, first completed in the 8th century sitting 5 stories tall and weighing in at 500 tons.
Before entering the temple, Taka instructed us on one of their traditions - lighting incense. W e purchased incense sticks for a small coin and lit them in the flame in front of the temple. After placing the incense in the ashes, we wafted the incense smoke over our heads to make us smarter. Lisa says she'll see how 3L goes and get back to them.
The grounds, great hall and the giant Buddha were amazing. We didn't know just how lucky we were at Nara because many of the other temples that we visited in Kyoto didn't allow photography inside the buildings. In the great hall, we had a new cultural experience, the interview. There were tons of school children visiting the sites, much like us. Many of the children were given an assignment to talk to a foreigner. The first time it seemed pretty cute and funny, but as we found out in the wake of the earthquake foreigners are pretty rare. We were quickly overwhelmed with questions, not only at Nara but also in Kyoto. What is your name? Where did you come from? Can we exchange coins from our country and yours? Can we take picture with you? There were at least 4 different question scripts. Some of the lazy kids in Kyoto would just hand you the questionnaire and expect you to fill it out without saying another word. After the 5th time this got pretty annoying.
After visiting the giant Buddha we walked to another temple, and a beautiful shrine with hundreds of lanterns. There were stone lanterns surrounding the shrine and many more small bronze and gilded lanterns inside. We got to see a few of the lady monks that were running around the shrine working.
This post doesn't really explain just how tired we were from our walk, which took the entire afternoon. Each of the temples were spread out and we were exhausted, falling asleep on the rain ride back to Osaka.
I (Marc) sometimes make exceptions in my diet for special foods that are uncommonly available, times when it would be socially awkward to refuse, etc. So, Kobe beef was one of the things that I wanted to try while in Japan. So we were left with the question - where does one go to get good Kobe in Japan? Of course, as will all else food you go to a department store! We wound up in a French-ish restaurant called BOBO on the top floor of the Daimaru department store. The Daimaru department store itself is worth a quick aside. The chain was started in 1700's with the first store in the Osaka location built by 1726. The current building looked like it was built in the height of the 20s with glorious art-deco accents and wonderful lighting throughout the first floor. The filet was incredibly expensive, but was melt-in-your-mouth, super tasty, and well worth the $$.
Check out more pictures on Flickr