On My way - over Siberia somewhere.
This was my first trip to Japan, or to Asia for that matter. As an introduction to oriental culture and history, Nara City is a treasure. The modern city is small and easy to get around, the people polite and friendly and the atmosphere is traditional Japanese. The Ancient city is in the hills above the modern section and is the oldest surviving city in Japan. The historical profile from the tourist office says:
"Nara was the oldest capital of Japan (710-784), and was the cradle of Japanese culture, arts and crafts. Buddhism first flourished here under the strong patronage of successive Emperors. Walking through the city's quiet streets is like strolling through the pages of history. Here you can find peace of mind and spiritual contentment"- The tourist brochure certainly speaks the truth! In 2010, Nara celebrated the 1,300th anniversary of its ascension as Japan's imperial capital.
My purpose for visiting Nara was to attend a conference on solid-state photonics, which went well, but I had some free time before the conference to tour around and we had a half day excursion to the temples of Nara. Some of the highlights include Todai-ji Temple and Horu-ji Temple. Todai-ji is the worlds largest surviving wooden structure and contains Daibutsu Hall. Inside is the 'Great Buddha'. This is one Big Buddha and a most impressive statue. It's 15 meters tall and weighs 70 tons. Horu-ji Temple is the worlds oldest surviving wooden structure and contains the famous 5- storied Pagoda, Goju-no-To, the oldest in Japan. The UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" encompasses eight places in the Nara Prefecture. While I am no expert on Japan, I would recommend visiting this place if you go.
Walk this way
I left there with the impression that I had some glimpse of ancient Japan and the importace of Buddhism in the culture. It is small enough to see some main attractions in a day or two, but it is a place of rich cultural heritage and would take many days to fully explore. I should mention something about the deer in Nara. They roam everywhere and are quite tame. This adds something spiritual to the whole mosaic of peace and tranquility there. The deer are regarded as heavenly spirits that guard and protect the city. Snack vendors sell 'shika sembei', small biscuits, to visitors so they can feed the deer. They have even learned to bow in response to human bows, but of course it helps to have some 'shika sembei' to offer. They will nudge you for some if not offered. It's quite charming!