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Published: February 19th 2020
If you’re visiting Kyoto you’re probably going to make a side trip to Nara, where you can view the one of the world’s largest bronze Buddha statues and interact with the adorable and sometimes pushy deer. The deer of Nara Park roam the area surrounding the Todai-ji and the National Museum and are hoping to be fed special deer crackers (made of wheat flour and rice bran), for which they are supposed to bow three times. Clement had much better luck at this than I did, and made many deer friends. We both tried to only feed well-behaved deer, and the young little deer that were at risk of having their crackers stolen. Occasionally deer would get aggressive and either nip at you or try to rush you in an attempt to get you to drop your crackers. Naughty deer!
Nara's star attraction is its Daibutsu (Great Buddha), one of the largest bronze statues in the world, located in the Buddhist temple complex of Tōdai-ji. It was unveiled in 752, upon the completion of the Daibutsu-den (Great Buddha Hall) built to house it. Both have been damaged over the years and the present statue was recast during the Edo period.
The Daibutsu-den is the largest wooden building in the world; amazingly, the present structure, rebuilt in 1709, is a mere two-thirds of the size of the original. Historians believe that Emperor Shōmu ordered the building of the Buddha as a charm against smallpox, which ravaged Japan in preceding years.
After viewing the amazing Buddha and fending off deer we stopped for a lovely light udon lunch at Mizuya Chaya, a thatched-roof teahouse a short stroll away from the main sights. Recommended.
The next stop, Isui-en Garden, was a highlight of the day. Isui-en is an elegant garden in two parts, the front one created in the 17th century in the style of an Edo-period strolling garden, and the rear one added by a wealthy merchant in 1899. Both make fantastic use of the technique of shakkei
(borrowed scenery), incorporating the mountains in the distance into the design. The adjoining Neiraku Art Museum, displaying Chinese and Korean ceramics, bronzes, seals and mirrors from the collection of the family that owns Isuien, is included in your visit but underwhelming. We also had a lovely tea at one of the teahouses at Isui-en and got to further enjoy the gorgeous view.
Deer of Nara Park
Clement making some new friends!
Completely worth a visit.
Finally, we visited the Nara National Museum, one of the most important national art museums in Japan, noted for its collection of Buddhist art, which includes Buddhist statues, paintings, scrolls and ceremonial objects mainly from Japan. We were particularly fortunate to be able to view the annual autumn exhibit of treasures from the Todaiji Temple, including priceless items from the cultures along the Silk Road, although the crowds were oppressive.
In the late afternoon we went sake tasting at Nara Izumi Yusai, which has an excellent selection of over 100 different local sakes to try and very knowledgeable servers who will help you find a type of sake for your palate (they’re not all the same!) They attract a diverse group of international visitors as well – thanks, Lonely Planet! – so you’re likely to meet some interesting people while you try the interesting sakes.
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