Nara, Japan and the Park


Trip Taken: 2007

Collectively, the historic monuments of Nara are considered a UNESCO world heritage site. It is easy to see why once you step into Nara Park. The beautiful details of the dozen or a so different temples serve as a testament to Japanese spirituality and zen like calm. The deer here are revered like god and have free roaming privileges.

Tōdai-ji

The roaming deer that are in almost every direction near this temple could be a more frightening if they actually roamed in bigger packs. Thankfully, they just graze peacefully and lay on the ground in small packs. The Todai-ji temple is the biggest draw for the town of Nara because of it contains Japan’s largest wooden Buddha and is definitely a contender for largest wooden statues in the world. The Daibutsu statue is definitely a sight to behold and the pictures I have doesn’t appropriately convey the scale of this statue. It’s huge. I’m probably as tall as one of its fingers. I ran into one group of Japanese school children but I avoided most of the crowds since I came at the opening time of 8am.

The group of school children were crawling through a hole through this pillar in the back of the hall. In my guidebook, it says that it is exactly the size of the nostril of the Buddha. If you are able to crawl through the hole, then it said that you will be ensure of enlightenment. Even with my body deteriorated from a desk job, I was able to crawl through. Hurray! Enlightenment for me!

Another interesting activity you can do here is to touch the statue of the Buddha of medicine and healing. It was written somewhere that if you touch the Buddha and then a corresponding body part, it will heal it. I did it for my back since my desk job has given some lower back pains.

Although I didn’t do it when I was at Todai-ji, you can purchase deer biscuits to feed the deer roaming the grounds. The deer are especially plentiful around this temple because it sees a lot of tourists.

Before leaving the temple grounds make sure to look to the left and right as you pass by the statues of Raijin and Fujin. It looks like these two imposing wooden statues guard the temple grounds.

Kasuga Grand Shrine

The Kasuga Grand Shrine is founded by the Fujiwara family and the first thing I thought of was my friend from Berkeley named Fujiwara. I thought about if her family was from the same line. Of course, it could just be a common name like in Chinese or Korean. The shrine is known for two things: their priestesses in their traditional white and red garb and the thousands of hanging lanterns. It was a pretty site with all the lanterns. It is said that all of the lanterns are unique. I think that’s right since I didn’t found two similar lanterns there.

Shinto Shrines

There are Shinto shrines big and small scattered all throughout the park. Next to the shrines are purified water springs with water ladles. To get close to Shinto gods that within the shrines pilgrim have to cleanse themselves as the Gods will run in disgust from dirt. Whether you want to wash your hands or not, these springs provide welcome relief in the summer heat. Don’t throw water on yourself but maybe pour some water in your hands to cool yourself off.

Parting Words

Nara Park is a vast place and will take up a full day to experience everything. I didn’t even get to the primeval forest at the end of the park or the hill to see the view of the entire park. It’s a fairly good representation of the different religions in Japan that consists mainly of Buddhism and Shintoism. Even if you aren’t interested in learning about religion, it is definitely more than an ordinary walk in the park.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.