The helpful woman at the Nara Tourist Information Center (Kansai Main Line Railway Station) placed a copy of the city map on the counter and quickly sketched out a route for us to see “the best sights in Nara” as requested by Rosemary. That was the start of a wonderful day of walking and viewing the amazing temples and shrines just east of the station.
Nara was the imperial capital for most of the 8th century, before the emperor moved to Kyoto. But Nara remained an important cultural center due to the Nanjo Shichi Daiji, the “Seven Great Temples of Nanto”, which are Bhuddist temples of great significance.
Some no longer exist, but many do. Over the centuries some have been expanded and remodeled, and now all of them have been designated as World Heritage Sites.
The first temple you will come to, about a mile east of the train station, is Kofuku-ji. The Five Story Pagoda is the second tallest in Japan and it is difficult for me to grasp that the all wood structure is nearly six centuries old.
It was the first time I had seen this sign at a temple.
Sika deer, which are native to East Asia, are found throughout Nara Park and around the temples. People buy food to feed them, and they are fearless. You have to watch your step, as there is no shortage of deer poop…
We continued east through the garden of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine along a broad walkway lined with ancient stone lanterns.
The lanterns seemed to be everywhere, but I was struck by this corridor of gold painted metal lanterns below a vermillion roof.
Nearby, next to a new building housing a small museum was a stunning modern water sculpture (not sure how else to describe it) and a very contemporary public bathroom featuring black sinks, complementing the black water sculpture outside.
At the Tamukeyama Hachiman Shrine in one of the buildings there was a place where people could write down their prayers and requests. Reading the paper tags I noted a wide range of requests, from personal to planetary.
The main building offered a broad view of the city below and a beautiful ancient stone path leading down the hill.
The most remarkable sight of the day was the impressive Todai-ji which contains the Daibutsuden (Great Bhudda Hall) housing the world’s largest bronze statue of the Bhudda at 49 ft high (not cast in one piece, obviously). Until 1998 the building was the world’s largest wooden structure. Amazing for a structure that was finished in 1709 (earlier buildings on the same site were twice destroyed by fire: the predecessor to the current structure was 30% larger!).
We closed the day at the Nandaimon (Great South Gate) which was constructed at the end of the 12th century after the original gate was destroyed by a typhoon. It is difficult to grasp the scale of the structure from a photo.
Obviously I highly recommend a visit to Nara! It’s an easy trip from Kyoto Station on either the JR line or the Kintetsu Nara line.
Next post about our Kyoto trip >>> The Bamboo Forest