Nara's main ingredients are deer, history, and temples. After thousands of years of close contact, because deer are regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, the deer have developed a familiarity with humans that I have never seen before. The deer in Nara are famous because if you bow at them they will return the gesture in exchange for crackers. I thought it was such a lovely idea. A city full of deer. And for the first couple hours it was.
Nara was Japan's first permanent capitol and the Nara period lasted from 710-794. While debates rage in the linguistic community as to the origin and meaning of the name Nara, one thing that is certain is that if you go to Kyoto, Nara makes for a perfect day trip.
The market stalls around the station were the smallest I've seen yet. The prices have steadily fallen since Tokyo, skin masks that were previously 1000 yen were now 700 yen. Out first stop was Toda-ji Temple, Eastern Great Temple, one of the 7 great temples located in Nara. Deer roam the grounds of this ancient site and as we entered the first gate to head to the Great Buddha Hall seen in the photos above my take on the abundance of deer in the city changed. A pair of school children were feeding a deer when it abruptly started peeing right in front of them. I turned around to get away from the sight only to see a deer pooping a couple feet away. The Buddha in Toda-ji Temple is the largest bronze buddha in the world. It is the representation of Vairocana, the celestial buddha, an embodiment of the concept of emptiness.
My favorite statue in the temple was not the grand Buddha, but this wooden statue I came across after exiting the temple. The statue is of Binzuru, also known as Pindola Bharadvaja, one of Buddha's disciples. According to custom if you rub a part of Binzuru and then that same spot on your own body your ailment will disappear. We exited the temple grounds and were about to cross the street when some deer ambled across ignorant of the red lights and the drivers hoping to continue on their daily commute. I looked around the city, a large park to my right, the temple behind me and suddenly I started to realize that the entire city smelled like shit and pee. I wasn't sure how I never noticed it before but the scent was pervasive.
Our next stop on our Nara tour was the Harushika Sake Brewery. The origins of sake are hard to trace but most sources place the first recordings of it during the Nara period. At this brewery you can taste 5 different sakes for 500 yen which is less then $5, as well you get a cute little souvenir sake glass that I brought back as a gift for my father. While I gained a lot of knowledge during my time at the Craft Sake Fair, I got to try a couple sakes that I've never tried before like the Daiginjo Shiromiki, which is sake that's only partially filtered so there's still rice sediment and it was a little fizzy. Sejan and I left the brewery with a take away bottle that we drunk as we made our way to another one of Nara's hidden gems.
Maguro Koya, is the perfect way to soak up the alcohol from the sake tasting at Hiroshika. Its a tiny restaurant that was filled with locals and the only thing it serves is tuna. I got tuna three different ways. I had a delicious raw tuna steaks, then shredded tuna over a bowl of rice, and then fried tuna cakes. Before I came to Japan I definitely would have stated that my favorite fish was salmon. Tuna to me always used to invoke a squat can filled with a mysterious liquid and an even stranger meat. But I have been blown away with the subtlety of flavor that tuna provides. Now I've seen the light.
The end to Sejan and I's day started where it began. Full on food as simple as it was delicious we made out way towards the Kofuku-ji Temple to buy some of the crackers so we could feed the deer. Trying to feed the deer at the same time as we tried to get photos of us proved more difficult than anticipated. While some of the deer were super sweet as soon as some of the older deer spotted the crackers they would charge at you and sniff all around you trying to figure out where they were. Sejan and I had watched earlier as this couple had their starbucks knocked out of their hand as the deer ripped open the bag in search of crackers.
With the deer as full as we were Sejan and I headed back to Kyoto for one final day of exploration. Subscribe below so you never miss an addition to the Archive!