The city now known as Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital was established in the year 710 at Heijo. As the influence and political ambitions of the city’s powerful Buddhist monasteries grew to become a serious threat to the government, the ancient capital was moved to Nagaoka in the year 784.
Nara is located less than one hour from Kyoto and Osaka.
It makes a perfect day trip if you’re an early riser!
(As they always say, the early bird catches the worm….?)
“The early Deer catches the Biscuit!”
Due to its past as the first permanent capital, Nara remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest, largest temples & monuments.
Great South Gate
The existing Nandaimon is a reconstruction of a 12th century gate based on the Song Dynasty style.
The dancing figures of the Nio. The Nio are two 28-foot-tall guardians at the Nandaimon.
They were built at around the same time by Unkei & Kaikei.
The Nio are an pair of fierce guardians.
Ungyo, which by tradition has a facial expression with a closed mouth.
Agyo, which has an open mouthed expression.
Pictures of them can be seen in my previous visits to Nara.
(Check out my previous posts, above.)
The two figures were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team of art conservators.
Until then, these sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed.
This complex preservation project, costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts from the National Treasure Repairing Institute in Kyoto.
Jinrikisha services can be found near the entrances to popular sites as Todai-ji or Kofuku-ji.
See those Rickshaws in the background??
Yakushi Temple is one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Japan, located in Nara, just to the left of Todai-ji. This temple is the headquarters of the Hosso school of Japanese Buddhism.
Yakushi Temple is one of the sites that are collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”
Eastern Great Temple
Todai-ji translates literally to – Eastern Great Temple.
Todai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex located in the city of Nara, Japan.
This is the first gate you’d have to pass through before entering Todai-ji’s Temple grounds.
Todai-ji’s grounds are spacious and cover most of northern Nara Park, including a number of smaller buildings in the hills to the east of the main hall.
These include the Hokkedo and Nigatsudo. The Nigatsudo Hall offers nice views of the city from its balcony. These areas are the site of the spectacular Omizutori ceremonies, which are held annually March 1 to 14.
Until 1998, it was the world’s largest wooden building.
It has now been surpassed by modern structures.
Great Buddha Hall
Todai-ji’s Great Buddha Hall, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese simply as Daibutsu. The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism.
The Temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”, together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara.
Sika deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
The Great Buddha Hall has been rebuilt twice after fire. The current building was finished in 1709, and although immense at 57 m long and 50 m wide, it is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor.
Another popular attraction in the Great Buddha Hall is a pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.
Great Buddha Statue
The Great Buddha Statue has been recast several times for various reasons, including damage caused by previous earthquakes.
The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama Period (1568–1615), and the head was made in the Edo period (1615–1867).
The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue:
The statue weighs 500 tonnes.
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)
Nara Park is a public park located in the city of Nara, Japan, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Administratively, the park is under the control of Nara Prefecture.
The park is one of the “Places of Scenic Beauty” designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
The over 1,200 wild Sika deer (シカ or 鹿) Shika freely roaming around in the park are classified as a “Natural Monument.”
While the official size of the park is really huge, the area including the grounds of Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga Shrine, are either on the edge or surrounded by Nara Park.
While Nara Park is usually associated with the broad areas of the temples and the park proper, there are now previously private gardens open to public.
These gardens make use of the temple buildings as adjunct features of their landscapes.
Sika / Shika
シカ / 鹿
The Holy Deer
The Sika deer, species Cervus nippon is also known as the spotted deer or the Japanese deer. It’s a species of deer native to much of East Asia, and was introduced to various other parts of the world.
Previously found from northern Vietnam in the south to the east Russia, it is now uncommon in these areas, except Japan, where the species is overabundant.
Its name comes from Shika 鹿, the Japanese word for “Deer”.
According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine, Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto.
He was said to have been invited from Kashima, Ibaraki, and appeared on Mt. Mikasa-yama riding a white deer.
From that point, the deer were considered divine and sacred by both Kasuga Shrine and Kofuku-ji.
Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of a breach of that law. (OUCH)
Not too long after World War II, the deer were officially stripped of their sacred/divine status.
The Deer were instead designated as National Treasures and still are well protected as such.
Today, visitors can purchase “Deer-Biscuits” to feed the deer in the park.
The Deer here absolutely love these Biscuits and will go crazy for them.
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