Nara

Day 14 – Nara

Luckily the weather is much nicer today, still a little cold but bright and sunny. We get up early and catch the train (using our JR passes) out to Nara, about 45 minutes south of Kyoto. It’s Japan’s first capital city but now feels like a smallish town that centres around tourism. The main street is lined with souvenir shops, mostly to do with deer, as one of Nara’s big attractions is the huge park where 1,200 deer roam around. At the top of the main street is a pretty lake with turtles in and the start of the park.

As soon as we walk in we start to see deer everywhere – they are so sweet, not shy at all because of all the visitors they get. You can buy crackers to feed them and they certainly aren’t shy when it comes to trotting up for food. Once one gets wind, you’re surrounded by five or six of them all jostling for food. They seem to bow and nod their hands as a thank you after you give them one.

Another quirky attraction in Nara is the Okamura earthquake centre, a small rest area/mini-museum set up by a company that builds technology to help buildings stay up during an earthquake. Josh has a go in the earthquake-simulation chair and we enjoy free tea and a sit-down. Quite an odd but nice little building. Around the back of the centre is a small complex of shops and cafes. We have lunch in a fast-food type okonomikayi joint – it’s hot and smoky with all the hotplates going and the food big and greasy, but tasty anyway.

Nara’s other big attraction – literally – is the Todaji Shrine, which contains the biggest Buddha sculpture in Japan, at 250 tons of bronze. It’s quite a startling sight and not done justice by photos. He’s flanked by two slightly smaller statues and also in the same temple are two huge matching warrior statues. The temple was apparently built to try to unify all strands of Buddhism under one roof so it had to be pretty epic. Further up the hill is the Kasuga Shrine which has gorgeous views just as the sun is setting, and a lovely serene feeling. It’s really fun to wander around with the cute deer everywhere, and occasionally give them a cracker and a stroke.

We stay in Nara until sunset, then wander back down the main street, finding a nice ceramics shop on the way back to buy some gifts. We have dinner in the Kyoto Station Isetan mall again, at an Italian place by Salvatore Cuomo. It’s pretty fancy with lovely views over night-time Kyoto (including the eyesore Kyoto Tower though, which looks like a cross between an air control tower and a traffic cone) and really good food. It’s a bit weird to eat Western flavours like blue cheese and foccacia bread after all the Japanese food, and the two glasses of white wine give me a headache. Japanese food feels a lot healthier and more wholesome.