Although a less renowned Japanese city, Nara was once the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These facts alone should attract tourists, yet we decided to visit it for three main reasons.
One, it’s got more than a thousand deer that walk freely in the city park and we couldn’t miss these messengers of the Gods. Two, it’s got a 15-meter tall Buddha (one of the biggest in the country). Three, it’s less than an hour away from Kyoto and since we had the Japan Rail Pass, it was worth the ride.
Half a day is enough time to visit this small beautiful city, if like us, you don’t go to its museums. From the train station, a 10-minute walk is all it takes to get to the first shrines and pagodas in sight, and to meet the deer.
The legend says that the god Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto went to Nara riding on a white deer. So these deer have been in Nara for a long time, and today are considered natural treasures. Still, they’re wild and can be dangerous. I remember being a little scared because they are not shy at all. They follow people and expect to be fed.
Anywhere in the park you can buy them crackers which are made of rice bran and flour. Of course they have no sugar or salt, otherwise they’d get sick. But we didn’t buy them any because we came across a group that preferred lettuce and healthy is happy.
After walking a bit more we saw Todai-ji temple where the great Buddha resides. At first, what caught my eye were the little golden ‘horns’ on the rooftop. They give the temple an edgy look but of course this is not their purpose. Does anyone know what horns represent in Japanese culture?
As we approached the entrance, incense entered our nostrils and I felt a little homesick.
Incense always reminds me of mass during Easter Week back home in Guatemala. For a moment, I saw myself an eight-year old hand in hand with my grandma crossing the street to church. Incense and colors and people everywhere. Like this moment. Yet there I was, across the world in Japan with my husband and I wasn’t going to see Jesus on the cross but one of the most magnificent Buddha’s in the world.
Religions maybe aren’t that different and shouldn’t be barriers among us. But this is a whole different story.
The magnificent Buddha. The warm wood everywhere in the temple. The bittersweet smell of incense. The intense looking statues. Even the little horns. This temple, this city will stay in my heart forever.
If you’re in Kyoto and have a spare day visit Nara, and salute the Great Buddha.