Nara Travel Blog› entry 17 of 251 › view all entries
April 6th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
Nara is another of Japan's historic gems (almost 1300 years old!), east of Osaka and south of Kyoto. It is about 40 minutes away from Osaka's Namba station on the slow train. We decided it was a good sign that the train was fairly empty -- let the tourists converge in Kyoto! We hoped Nara would not be as busy.
We were greeted at the Nara station by a concert band, playing outside in the sunlight. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. We stayed to listen to a few songs -- the best description I can give of the music is "Japanese-influenced-Sousa. " Good or bad, live music always entertains.
Our plan was to spend the day in the park, Nara-Koen, visiting its temples, ponds, and the tame deer found everywhere. But first we had to find lunch, so we perused the cafes just outside the park. The famous meal here is called kaiseki, a multicourse meal that involves many little plates and bowls. I really wanted to have this. We found a place that looked good, but when I said I was vegetarian, we were waved away -- nothing here for you! Damn. Finally we found a tiny place with some vegetarian-looking fake food outside. We asked the lady, and yes, there was one thing for me to eat: noodles in broth with "mountain vegetables," which ended up being moss or something very much like moss. Steve's non-vegetarian dish was served with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables.
Next we went to the park, where children were proferring rice crackers to bored deer. The jaded deer near the entrance were disinterested in the crackers, but further on in the park the deer were more hungry, and more shy. The more patient, quiet children would be rewarded when a timid deer would oh-so-slowly approach and take the cracker.
The deer were pretty large and reminded me more of reindeer than the more delicate white tail deer where I grew up in Minnesota. They were pretty ragged looking beasts -- I think they were losing their winter coats. The park has about 1200 of these deer, according to Fodor's.
There is some really good stuff to see in Nara-Koen. The Todai-ji temple in the north section dates from 752, although the buildings were burned, reconstructed, and burned again. I think only one building, San-gatsu-do (Third Month Temple), actually dates from that time (and we missed it).
You enter the Todai-ji area through the Great Southern Gate, or nandai-mon, which we thought was the main attraction when we saw it -- it's enormous! But the main draw is the Hall of the Great Buddha, Daibutsu-den. This building was reconstructed in 1709 at two-thirds its original scale, yet still claims fame as one of the largest wooden structures in the world.
From there we visited a beautiful bronze bell cast in 752 (!), then we walked up to Kasuga Taisha, a monument surrounded by 3,000 stone lanterns. There were lanterns lining the long path to the monument, and grouped everywhere around the area. It would have been fantastic to see them lit, but that only happens on 3 days of the year, and April 6 is not one of them.
There were lots of visitors in Nara park, but the crowds were nowhere near as formidible as they had been in Kyoto. It really helped that there were spacious, wide open area everywhere to accommodate all the people. It was a much more peaceful place than Kyoto.
Tomorrow the forecase is rain. We are considering a trip to Koya-san, or Kobe. Or maybe back to Nara. Oh, well we'll figure it out tomorrow!
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