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1400 years ago Nara was the capital city of Japan and we have attended the Nara festival in Australia, so it was with anticipation and excitement that we set off this morning from Kyoto on the JR express train to Nara (along with hundreds of other tourists it seemed).
It was there that we first discovered the wild deer of Nara. We bought two packets of specially formulated deer food and took delight in feeding and stroking deer. Unfortunately some of the deer were raucous and knocked my son to the ground (and he hit his head as he fell) and another head butted my daughter. That put an end to the rapture and led to some more sensible caution considering that these are wild animals!
As an aside we saw some terrible behaviour mostly by young men with the deer, taunting them with food, chasing them, jumping at them, yelling at them etc etc. I noticed at Disney Tokyo that most of the patrons were young adults without children. Why on earth would adults chose to do such a thing and treat gentle, lovely creatures like deer with such disregard unless if they are not truly adults? I suspect that the culture has infantilised the youth preventing maturation, with the ubiquitous use of cartoons, ridiculous toys and ‘cute’ creatures, women deliberately dressing like pre teens and destruction of social fabric due to the shift towards individualism associated with commercialization and the commodification of youth.
We had a nice picnic with a doe and her fawn very nearby but not actually stealing food from us, stopped to watch the many artists creating beautiful paintings, watched a wedding party, and strolled aimlessly through the Nara – Koen, happily away from most tourists. We were burdened all day by rubbish because we could not find a single bin in all of Nara! We saw other tourist standing perplexed with rubbish and testing different structures to see if they were bins.
We walked up to Kasuga Taisha shrine through busload after busload of tourists, mostly school groups, and many deer. It’s very interesting that the pathway is lined with stone lanterns and presumably these are used in the Nara candle festival.
We stopped by a most gorgeous garden and pond and while our children ran and played with abandon we sipped sake and enjoyed the relative serenity (although many tourists and buses passed by and from time to time deer nuzzled our bags). I was cross to see a group of irresponsible kidults allow a deer to rummage through their leftovers and eat a map of Nara. We tried to intervene but too late and the deer was determined.
One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Nara was to see the gigantic Daibatsu Buddha which is 16 m tall and was cast in 746 CE, from 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg of gold! I can’t even conceive of how one would cast such a stupendously large statue in the 8th century but Japanese Buddhists managed it! Also amazing is the giant wooden hall that houses the Buddha (largest wooden structure in the world). While in the hall, with hundreds of other tourists, our children and I took turns wriggling through a hole in a wooden column apparently the same size as the Buddha’s nostril. Supposedly those who manage this are set on the path to enlightenment so that’s pretty exciting!
We timed our departure perfectly to return to Kyoto in time for our dinner reservation at Ganko Nijo-en Restaurant which not only serves delicious and amazingly presented food but also has a most gorgeous stroll garden. We enjoyed strolling through the garden before dinner (although we were jostled and annoyed by a tour group of Chinese tourists there), and gazing out on the garden during dinner, then strolling again after dinner, thankfully alone then. I ordered a multi course meal that was really great, with many different dishes served on different size, colored and shaped serving wear. It was thrilling to see a Geisha arrive in a cab and glide into the restaurant, presumably for a private room.