After reading several travel books and blog sites, we knew that Nara was on our must see list. Because Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan from 710 to 794 it holds many UNESCO World Heritage sites including Tōdai-ji, which holds the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. Using our trusty Hyperdia app, we planned our journey from Shin-Osaka to Nara on the JR Yamatoji Rapid Service. Although the Yamatoji Rapid Service had many stops between Osaka and Nara it still only took 30 minutes travel time. The Nara JR Rail Station is located west of many of temples and shrines, but its an easy 20-25 minute walk east to the sites. One thing Jason and I noticed on our walk through Nara and Himeji, the main streets between the rail stations and the major tourist sites are impeccably clean!
We headed off east from the rail station and made our first stop at the Buddhist temple Kōfuku-ji, which has a beautiful East Golden Hall (Tō-kondō) and a towering 5-story Pagoda as a part of its complex.
There was also the South Octagonal Hall (Nan'endō ) that people would pray, ring the gong and take in the incense. It is supposedly good luck to waft the incense smoke over you, in particular over your head and hair.
We then continued our journey east through the park and had our first interactions with the Nara deer. At first we just watched as all of the other tourists tried to feed and pet the deer. It was quite a laugh, especially since it wasn't us, because the deer are pretty aggressive and persistent once they realize someone has deer crackers (Shika Senbei) to feed them!
Jason then bought us a stack of our own deer crackers and we gave it a go!
At first Jason thought the deer were cute.... then he started having problems getting the crackers to the deer in a fashion quick enough for the deer. At that point he realized he wasn't such a fan of the deer ;) Not that you can blame him... they did try to eat his shirt, backpack and my purse!
It was only after we left that part of the park that we saw the WARNING signs!
We decided enough with the deer and headed toward the Shinto shrine Kasuga-taisha. Along the way we walked through a beautiful tree-filled park that had lanterns lining both sides of the path.
Of course we didn't really get away from all of the deer... Jason thought this baby deer was sweet so he thought he would give it go at feeding them again.
Kasuga-taisha is a stunning vermilion and white shrine with hanging lanterns and standing lanterns all around.
There was even a completely dark room filled with lit lanterns that was absolutely magical. Unfortunately none of my pictures turned out well enough to share.
We then headed north and stopped at a cafe that served tea and noodles. Jason tried the green tea soba noodles and I tried the udon noodles. Both came with a flavorful broth and a thin slice of fried tofu on top. We were so surprised at how sweet the fried tofu was, but it was a great compliment to the broth and noodles.
After the much needed lunch, we continued north to Nigatsu-dō Hall, which is part of the Tōdai-ji Temple complex. It is built up onto a hill so if the weather and seeing is good, you can see out over the entire city of Nara. Unfortunately with the humidity so high, the sky was a bit milky so the views weren't as spectacular.
Next on our list was the main Nara tourist attraction, the Great Buddha Hall Daibutsuden, which houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha known in Japanese simply as Daibutsu. The Daibutsuden is also said to be the largest wooden structure in the world!
While we had seen a fair number of tourists so far that day, we were in total shock at the sheer number of people at the Daibutsuden. We didn't realize until we were leaving, but there was a huge parking lot filled with tour buses. We didn't stick around long at the Daibutsuden because of the number of tourists and we were so glad that we had had such a peaceful day walking through the forest on our earlier adventures.
On the way back to the JR rail station we decided to take a break from the heat and enjoy a cool beverage while we hung out with a few owls. Pet animal cafes are a big thing in Japan. You basically pay to go in for an hour at a time, enjoy a beverage and hang out with cats, owls, hedgehogs, etc. We thought the Nara Owl Cafe might be a bit less hectic than one in Osaka or Tokyo so we stopped in. We were promptly welcomed in by a young American woman who was a visiting student from Kentucky. She gave us the rules: (1) take as many pictures as you want, (2) only touch the owls that are on their perches, and (3) only pet the owls on their heads. We also got to pick one owl to hold. Jason and I both pretty quickly gravitated towards Mei and decided to hold him.
While Mei was our favorite of the owls there were so many beautiful birds and they did really seem to like human interaction, at least the ones on their perches. The workers in the cafe also really seemed to love the owls and take really good care of them. We were a bit worried when we got there that the birds would be in horrible conditions, but we were so happy to see the owls so well taken care of and happy.
What a great way to spend an hour! When we get to Tokyo we have a booking at a hedgehog cafe so that will be interesting to see how different it is from the owl cafe. Tomorrow we pack up and head to Kyoto.