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Published: October 30th 2009
Deer in Nara.
Today we made a major discovery: a real French bakery about three blocks away from our ryokan. It's called Rauk and if you are ever in Kyoto, even for just a few hours, you must go find it.
At 8:48am, with pastries and coffee in hand, we boarded a train for Nara, a small but historically very significant town about 25 miles away. It's the perfect day trip from Kyoto.
(alas, the bullet train does not run from Kyoto to Nara and so we took the local train - the local, local train took over an hour to get us there but the "rapid" train took only 45 minutes on the way back).
The reason that Nara is so important is that it was the first real capital of Japan, back in 710, and remained the capital until Kyoto took that honor in 784 (and remained the capital for over 1,000 years). However, during those scant 74 years, Nara became a very important political and cultural center and many of the Japanese arts flourished then. Nara is also home to several very old and important temples, which make for a great little walking tour, especially when a super
Deer cookies stand.
nice lady at the train station info center, who speaks excellent English, gives you a map with everything outlined.
The highlights were:
1. Kofukuji Temple. Initially built in 710, the site once housed as many as 175 buildings. Now only a few remain (none are originals but all are still very old - from the 14th and 15th centuries). The five-story pagoda was most impressive structure.
2. Todaiji Temple. This is the most famous of the Nara temples because in it sits a famous (and enormous) Diabutsu (Great Buddha). He's a very big guy, over 50 ft tall, and heavy - all bronze and gold. But he has a problem - he keeps losing his head. First in an earthquake (it just rolled right off) and then in a fire (it melted). Fortunately he seem to have his head for the time being.
3. Kasuga Grand Shrine. This is Angelique's favorite shrine/temple so far. It's a Shinto (not Buddhist) shrine and is located in a lovely forest setting. The temple is surrounded by shady foot paths and 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns which are all lit up twice a year (mid August and early February). It
When deer attack!
would be worth coming back to Japan to see that. As we arrived there was a family exiting the shrine following the baptism of their newborn baby girl. Mom (Japanese), Dad (Caucasian), and mom's parents were snapping lots of photos and had access to the inside of the shrine - we did not. The women were dressed in gorgeous kimonos and they all looked very happy.
But the true highlight of the trip were the Nara deer. The temples described above sit in a very large park where large numbers of deer roam freely. Deer are THE symbol of Nara and can be found on all kinds of souvenirs (stuffed animal deer, deer key chains, deer magnets, deer cakes - you get the picture). The popular thing to do is to feed the deer a snack - deer cookies. Here's how it works:
- You approach the deer, cooing over how sweet and docile they are. You are astonished to realize that you can even pet them and they seem to enjoy it.
- You notice a nice old lady with a cart of sorts with a stuffed Rudolph the Reindeer doll on top. In kanjii and then
in English there is a sign "Deer Cookies".
- You buy the deer cookies (150 Yen, about $2) and your partner gets out the camera to capture this precious moment of you feeding the little darlings.
- Suddenly, these sweet, doe-eyed creatures go bezerk and begin to charge you, causing you (this always happens) to back away in a panic and throw the cookies in all directions to just get the damn deer away from you.
- And, if you're not moving fast enough for their liking, a deer may just nip you on the butt (it didn't hurt that much).
It makes for great photos.
After we learned our lesson, we enjoyed watching other people experience the deer.
Back in Kyoto, we grabbed lunch (bento boxes in a restaurant in a department store) and headed up to Nijo Castle. This is a must do in Kyoto. It's a very large castle, surrounded by a moat, high stone walls and extensive gardens. The castle was built by the first Tokugawa shogun in 1603. Being shogun back then must have been a dangerous occupation, inducing paranoia. The moat and walls weren't enough - the shogun also installed "nightengale"
Enourmous buddha inside the Todaiji Temple.
floors throughout the castle - wooden floor boards that creak when you walk on them. It sounds like a symphony of birds when the tourists walk through.
The building itself is beautiful in its simplicity. It's a traditional Japanese design - all wood (cypress) with sliding rice paper doors and large rooms (33 in total) with tatami mats (room size is measured in # of mats - our ryokan room was a 6-mat space; this castle holds over 800 mats) and breathtaking wall murals of birds, trees in bloom, cherry blossoms, etc. The rooms are, in the traditional style, unfurnished (the futons and personal items are stored in closets). Unfortunately, we couldn't take any photos of the interior but we did get some nice pix of the gardens. At 4:30pm, the loud speakers played "auld lang syne" and asked us to move toward the exit.
We decided to grab dinner at a small sushi restaurant near our ryokan which was filled with locals (Adrian did a great job of ordering tasty sushi and veggie tempura by pointing) and to turn in early since we were both tired after a long day of walking and wildlife interaction.
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