Sacred deer of Nara

About 45 minutes from Osaka is a town called Nara, famous for their temples and deer.

It was Japan’s first permanent capital (710 to 794 AD), and houses beautiful temples and some of the world’s oldest wooden buildings.

We didn’t get to see the wooden buildings, but we did hang out with the deer!

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In the 8th century, when the people of Nara were interested in building a temple, myth says that the god Takemikazuchi arrived, riding a white deer. Since then, deer have been protected in the city of Nara. Sometimes they stroll through the center of town, though usually they just stick to Nara Park.

 

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Above is a bell tower from one of the UNESCO temples in Nara Park. The park is really lovely, and a mile or two away, on the far side of a lookout mound, is the Kasagayama Primeval Forest. I really wanted to visit that, but it was too far to walk in the heat.

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This wooden statue is in the gateway of Todai-ji Temple. I’m not sure which shinto god he’s supposed to be, but he looks fearsome! I was very impressed with how much has been preserved and taken care of. This park housed some of the oldest things we saw in Japan. Between fires, earthquakes, and WWII, few ancient things have survived into the 21st century.

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This is the gate into the temple which houses the wooden carvings. It was so much fun to mill about with the deer. They’re pesky little things, too! We watched and laughed as deer nosed into women’s purses and men’s camera bags, ready to but their way to some food. They’re called Japanese Deer or Spotted Deer, and their antlers are cut every October so they don’t overgrow and accidentally stab tourists.

Beyond this gate is Todai-ji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world. It hosues a 15-meter tall Buddha.

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History is a big draw  to Nara and it’s park. Above you can see a rebuilt fishing vessel that Nara people used in the 16th century.

We were staying in Osaka, which is an easy distance from Nara. This daytrip was kind of a last minute addition, based on a friend’s recommendation that the deer are cool. We’re pretty glad we went! Scratching deer and admiring old Japanese trees and temples was a lot of fun.

And that (besides a visit to Osaka Castle) pretty much finished our trip in Japan. We were so sad to leave–Japan is a fascinating country that deserves at least a month to travel and enjoy the sights.

If you’ve visited Japan, what was your favorite part of your trip?

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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