The Buddha of Todaiji Temple in Nara is one the most famous bronze statues of Buddha in Japan. It is a monumental piece that no photo can truly capture- a must see for anyone living in Japan.
Today I was supposed to go on a six hour hike with Hiking in Kansai, but because of my traffic accident yesterday, Nicky and I decided we would forgo it. Instead, Nicky’s student Taisuke offered to drive us to Nara and take us to all of the famous sites. It was a really fun day, and only possible because Taisuke is such a nice person.
Our first stop in Nara was Nara Palace. Also known as Heijou Palace, Nara Palace was built during Empress Gemmei’s reign around 710AD. Empress Gemmei was the fourth of only eight women to hold the title of Empress Regnant in Japan, and the only one of those eight that did not hold the throne purely as a placeholder for male heirs that were too young at the time. In fact, though she only reigned for eight years, Empress Gemmei abdicated in favor of her eldest daughter, rather than a son or nephew.
The most notable event that happened during Gemmei’s reign was the publication of the Kojiki, the first imperial sanctioned, extant chronicle of Japan’s creation myths. If you are not familiar with Kojiki, I suggest reading it. One of the most famous stories within the tale is that of how the islands of Japan were formed, as well as the story of Amaterasu, Japan’s sun goddess.
The site of Heijou Palace was quite large, large even by American standards, and Nicky and I were quite shocked by how much space there was on the grounds with absolutely nothing in between the main gate and the palace itself. It seems that in the past, the large courtyards of gravel that are there now were where the Emperor would receive his courtiers.
Inside the palace was beautiful; very simply structured with lots of red. I giggled a bit to find a painting of a Shiba on the roof. That means that Shiba Inu dogs have been around in Japan since at least the 700s. The throne was also quite pretty.
After Nara Palace, Taisuke suggested we take lunch, so we found a small restaurant near Nara’s famous Deer Park to eat. The lunch was quite good and inexpensive, and it was also the first time that I was given a mortar stone to grind up my own sesame seeds for a meal. It was really tasty!
Nara’s Deer Park is one the of the most famous parts of Nara, especially for tourists. Basically, these deer are a national treasure, and will eat out of your hand. It is commonly believed that when they bow their head before and after receiving a cracker, they are actually “bowing” to give their thanks for the meal. Despite several warnings from friends and also numerous signs around the park though, we were never attacked by the deer. Nicky was slightly nibbled though. It might have been do to the fact that mating season has already passed for the deer, and they no longer have the same territorial urges that they would have carried in the spring and fall.
Near to the deer park is Nara’s Toudaiji Temple, the temple that houses the famous Daibutsu Iron Buddha weighing in at 550 tons. I was truly stunned at the magnitude of this buddha. It was so very large, and not a single picture I took could truly capture its splendor. As well, though they are not often mentioned, the Daibutsu Buddha is flanked on either side by two golden buddhas of equal splendor. I could have spent several hours simply standing in there looking at the buddhas.
Since Nicky had to be back in Kyoto for a lesson in the evening, we had to start heading home. While Nicky napped in the back seat, Taisuke and I talked and enjoyed the scenery of Kansai. It really is a beautiful place. Sometimes I feel like I never want to leave.