Friday, November 12, 2010


Our recent trip to Kyoto was combined with a visit to Nara. Nara is about 45 kms from Kyoto . It is connected by road as well as railways. We drove down from Kyoto to Nara after having visited Fushimi Inari shrine enroute.

Nara was the ancient capital of Japan, before Kyoto. The year 2010 marks the 1300th year of Nara’s being designated the capital of the empire. To mark the 1300th anniversary of transfer of capital to Nara, the city has a mascot called Sento-kun. Sento-kun is a little boy with antlers. He is a resemblance of a little Buddha. Sento kun souvenirs, posters, idols all make sure that his presence does not go unnoticed.

Nara has many tourist attractions but the most popular attraction is the Deer park also called as Nara Koen. In fact it is a huge public park spreading over 600 hectares in the centre of Nara city where deer roam as freely as humans. They are on the grass, the roads and just about everywhere. Infact they are so used to having humans around them that they even oblige by posing for pictures.

 Most of the deer are looking for some food stuff from tourists. There are many shops selling deer biscuits called “Shika Sembei”. The deer let you pat them, touch them and most of them are harmless.

There are about 1200 deer in Nara city. It is believed that these deer are heavenly animals protecting Nara city and the country. This belief is connected with the Shinto shrine of Kasuga Taisha in Nara.

Eight places of erstwhile Nara capital area have been jointly designated as Unesco World Heritage site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” in 1998. These eight sites are Todaiji temple, Kofukuji Temple, Kasuga Taisha shrine, Gangoji temple, Yakushiji temple, Toshodaiji temple, Nara palace site and Kasugayama forest.

We began our Nara city sightseeing with the Nara Koen. Most of Nara’s visitor attractions are located in or around the Park. It is advisable to travel by bus within Nara city especially the deer park area as car parking is difficult to find and also expensive. The buses have a flat fare of 200 yen per adult. We took the bus for the Todaiji temple from outside the Kintetsu Nara station. Alighting at the Todaiji stop  we first walked around in the park amongst the deer. We then proceeded to the Todaiji temple.

The entrance to the Todaiji temple is through Nandaimon which means Great Southern Gate . On either side are 8 meter high statues of the guardian Nio kings,  Ungyo and Agyo which were crafted  in the 12th century. 
Walking in we reached the middle gate.

Todaiji temple is a Buddhist temple. It houses a 52 ft high bronze statue of Buddha. This huge statue of Buddha is called Daibutsu , meaning great Buddha. This statue is the world’s largest Bronze statue of Virochana Buddha.

 The statue weighs 500 tonnes and as per the temple information, the dimensions of the Buddha statue are :  Height: 14.98 m (49.1 ft) , Face: 5.33 m (17.5 ft) , Eyes: 1.02 m (3.3 ft), Nose: 0.5 m (1.6 ft) , Ears: 2.54 m (8.3 ft).

The statue is flanked on the left side by Kokuzo-bosatsu and on the right by Nyoirin-Kannon .

The wooden hall Daibutsu-den which houses the Daibutsu is a wooden structure measuring 57 metres long and 50 metres wide. It is the world’s largest wooden structure.

 The original structure was built in the 8th century but it has been destructed twice due to fire. The current structure was built in 1709 and it is said that it is only 2/3 the size of the original structure. The Buddha statue has also been recast several times due to damages caused by earthquake. The hall also houses the statues of Komukoten and Tamonten , two of the celestial guardians .

 The hall also houses a wooden pillar with a rectangular hole at the base. It is supposedly the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril and it is believed that anyone who can squeeze through the opening is assured of enlightenment in their next birth. We saw lots of people, especially school boys creeping through it.

Outside is a statue of Binzuru. It is believed that people can be cured of any ailment if they touch the statue with one hand while touching the ailing part of their body with the other.  There are several other buildings in the Todaiji complex . There is also a small pond outside. Deer can be found roaming outside on the temple grounds.

We then proceeded to the Kasuga Taisha shrine. It is a short bus ride from the Todaiji temple. Kasuga Taisha shrine is a Shinto shrine . It is a a vermillion coloured shrine with a lovely mountain and forest background. Stone lanterns line the trail upto the shrine. There are thousands of stone lanterns and these lanterns are lit up twice a year during the Obon festival in August and Setsubun festival in February.

Once inside the shrine, there are bronze lanterns lined up around the various structures in the shrine complex.

There is a big tree in the complex. We saw a few people lying down at its base and hugging it. Nara’s deer can be found roaming around here too at the shrine to which they owe their sacred status.

Nara has many other temples and tourist attractions the Kofukuji temple and pagoda and Yakushiji temples being the most popular among tourists. However we didn’t visit any other spots because we stayed in Nara only for a night before our onward trip to Hakone. More about Hakone in my next post.  

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