• 25 . 08 . 05
  • I live next door to the third largest Buddha in Japan, but despite living here for coming up on 17 months now, I still haven’t found the time to cross the street and see it. Instead, today I went 2 better and actually saw the biggest one up close in the city of Nara, which […]

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The Ancient Capital

I live next door to the third largest Buddha in Japan, but despite living here for coming up on 17 months now, I still haven’t found the time to cross the street and see it. Instead, today I went 2 better and actually saw the biggest one up close in the city of Nara, which was once the capital of Japan. I’d planned this for some time and decided that I wouldn’t let my non-near-death experience yesterday stop me from going. It was also a good opportunity to use up the 青春18切符 I’d picked up when Mum was here. Nara is a perfect day trip from Gifu, as long as you don’t mind a bit of travelling. The journey involves a change at Maibara and Kyoto and takes about 3 hours in total. Luckily, all the things of interest there are pretty close together and you can do the majority of the city in an afternoon.

We started off at Koufukuji, a small temple close to the station. It’s huge 500 year old, 5 story pagoda is one of the symbols of Nara and was pretty awesome. The grounds of the temple are right next to Nara Park, which is a very pleasant expanse of grass and trees, populated by hundreds of deer. These deer are another famous sight of Nara and are mostly tame, nuzzling up to tourists for some . Mostly, because like most animals, if you go anywhere near the children, the mothers will go nuts. We saw a couple of scared kids and lots of people being mobbed by crowds of hungry deer. On the whole though, everybody was well-behaved!

Possibly the most famous sight in the city is that of 東大寺, the largest wooden structure in the world, which has been standing there for about 300 years, having been rebuilt due to fire and earthquake damage. The temple isn’t just big, it’s massive, dominating its grounds and dwarfing the visitors. The outside isn’t the most impressive aspect though. Inside, sitting in the traditional pose is a ridiculously big Buddha. Cast in bronze, the 30m tall statue caused everyone I saw, including me, to stop momentarily in surprise. Apparently, it only took 3 years to build and was made by pouring molten metal into 8 giant clay casts. I can’t imagine how much effort it all took, but the result is amazing. Figures can’t really do the size of the statue justice, but you might get some idea when you know that the nostrils are each 18 inches (45cm) wide. Towards the back of the temple a column stands with a hole in it the size of one of those nostrils. Legend says if you can squeeze through it, it’ll bring you good luck, so, having achieved it, I’m looking forward to some good fortune in the next few days. If only I’d come in a few days earlier!

The final stop was the Kasuga Shrine, another of Nara’s World Heritage Sites. We didn’t go inside the main complex as it was closed, but we wandered for a while in the grounds and around all the 石灯籠. The shrine is apparently responsible for the creation of an important Japanese architectural style and is a great building from the outside. To complete our day of culture, we finished off with a… KFC. There’s only so much walking and sightseeing you can do before you need some junk food!