Trip in Japan Day 6 – Nara. Nara Park, Toudaiji, Fushimi Inari Temple

We were off to Nara today, Japan’s very first capital city established back in 710 before it moved to Kyoto and then today’s Tokyo.

At Nara Park

I was at the back of the hotel now after the room change. Don’t know what the building opposite was but it had a well kept garden.

Never actually seen or heard of Nara before until my friend mentioned it while I was planning and researching for the trip. It was famous for the Toudaji Temple and the park with deers.

To get to Nara, it was a 30 mins Shinkansen ride from Nagoya to Kyoto then a 30 mins local train down south.

At the station.

But the first thing I had to do before we took the train was find a station that could fix my Suica card that got stuck yesterday. It was on a private company subway line so I had to take a train to one. There just happened to be one 5 minutes away from Kyoto station and it was actually a very quick process to get it fixed. After that, I could use it for the local buses again!

Kyoto Station

This was the second time I’ve been to Kyoto Station. Haven’t really spent any time exploring the place but it’s definitely big – a multi-level train station!

The escalators had interesting decorations on them…

One way to catch your attention.

Don’t think you can lose your way once you get to Nara Station. The buses are even right outside once you follow the signs to the exit.

Nara Station

Nara Park

Don’t think you can miss the stop at the park either since the deers are everywhere! We just got off when we saw lots of deers sitting around but plenty of other passengers were getting off too anyway.

Can't miss Nara Park

Nara Park is basically known for deers that bow their heads to ask for Senbei crackers. They only go after visitors but never the stalls – at least when I was there.

Deer resting next to senbei stall.

My friend had fun feeding them, trying to gain new followers while I stayed the camera man, lol. He did get bitten once while feeding them but that didn’t put him off.

Feeding the deers.

Old ladies seem to be their favourite targets. They might look cute but they’re still wild animals I guess.

Deers attack old ladies?

The deers are everywhere so you don’t have to worry about queuing up to feed any. Quite hard not to step on any deer poop too ^^;

Funny thing was you can find signs on the sliding toilet doors asking you to keep them shut to prevent deers going in them, lol.

Deers everywhere.

Fire hydrant cover not quite so creative.

 

Onto Nara Temple

We probably spent less than an hour with the deers before moving on.

Toudai Temple (Todaiji)

Toudai Temple happened to be right inside the park. From the maps I thought it’d be further away but you’ll probably reach it before you know it while looking at the deer.

One of the gates to Todaiji

The temple was built in 752 and because its influence grew so great, it had to be moved to where it is now to dampen its influence on governmental affairs at the time. Present temple was rebuilt in 1692.

Old wood works.

The gate was huge and the wooden sculptures were amazing to look at. So much detail in the carvings! Too bad they were behind these fences so I couldn’t get a better shot of them.

Gate guards.

My first stop was to aim for the highest observation area first which seemed to be at Nigatsudou [Second Lunar Halls].

Onwards to Nigatsudou.

Manholes of Nara.

Nara manholes.

Some of the buildings looked like they were no longer in use and the water way was almost dried up.

Old warehouse?

I think you could say the sakura blossoms were pretty much in full bloom at this point.

Plenty of cherry blossoms around the temple.

There were a lot of other shrines in the Todaiji area.

Smaller shrines.

I think this was one of the many shrines where they performed worship rituals and meditated.

Tamukeyama Shrine

This was one of the residential areas and even here there are deers around, lol.

Residential building

This building The Hokkedou [Hokke Halls] AKA, Sangatsudou [Third Lunar Hall], was supposed to be the oldest building in Nara. I’m guessing it was completed before the Great Buddha Halls.

Sangatsudou

No shortage of purification water here.

Free water.

Now these stairs up towards Nigatsu Halls were really something! So much craftsmanship in everything… Wood, stone, metal.

Each of those stone pillars lined up along the stairs represents people or organisations that made donations to the temple. Better than having your name framed or written on the temple’s building materials maybe?

Stairs to Nigatsudou looked amazing!

The amount donated ranged quite widely and were written in banker’s numeral Kanjis.

At the bottom of the stairs were organisations that donated up to 200,000JPY (1300GBP). Then once you started heading up they were mostly around 100 Yen each like these ones – perhaps 100 Yen was worth a lot more back when this temple was built.

 

Pillars with donor's names on them.

The view at the top was simply breath-taking…! I think everyone reacted the same way. A big cry of awe or just “Wow!” when they got to the top of the stairs.

Photos really can’t do it justice.

 

At the Nigatsudo view point.

This view could probably rival Kiyomizu Temple and it’s free! No entry fee! So, if you don’t have time in Japan and had to choose between Toudaiji or Kiyomizu Temple, this place feels much richer in terms of craftsmanship.

You’d be visiting a temple built when Nara was the first capital of Japan too.

 

Breathtaking view.

 

Now back to Nigatsu Halls… Even little kids were mesmerised.

Nigatsudo

Your usual Emas of wishes.

Emas

And also more names of patrons underneath the roof.

Patron names under the roof.

And if you needed a translation, a QR code for you to scan.

Japan, old and new living in harmony ^^

QR code and Nara mascot

The building had these big white lanterns hanging around it and nearby were more stone pillars with the name of patrons. There was one 1,000,000JPY donation (6500GBP).

Lots of white lanterns.

There were a lot of paintings hung outside too. Some parts of the hall where worshipping took place had no photo signs up.

Paintings.

After a little trip round the hall…

Front of Nigatsudo

It was time to head towards the Great Buddha hall.

Back down we go.

It was quite a trip backtracking towards the entrance.

Old looking lane.

But, little interesting things to see along the way like these small offerings to lesser deities.

Small offerings.

It didn’t feel as busy as Kiyomizu.

Great Buddha Hall

Great Buddha Hall was soon in sight and man, was it huge! It was a paid entry unlike the rest of the temple area. Some people were just taking photos outside the gates wondering if it was worth the fare.

Outside the ticket gates

The scale of this place was really impressive!

Path up to the Great Buddha Hall

I think you can see why the government wanted them moved at the time.

Place was majestic

They must really have had a lot of influence for the funding or resources to build something so majestic and such scale.

Lantern?

Just the doors alone were probably more than 4 times the height of a full grown adult.

Giant doors

Very rare they actually let you take photos inside a temple itself. Everything was explained in Japanese.

There were some Asians such as Indians praying.

Great buddha statues.

And on the pedestal there were a lot of these engravings. I think they might be all the monks that meditated together with the Great Buddha.

A lot of the buddist temples pretty much worship the same gods. It’s more a difference of scale.

Pedestal engravings.

At one side of the room there was a 50:1 scale model of Toudaiji that was rebuilt 800 years ago. It was really detailed! So detailed it was like those expensive doll houses where you could look through the window and see all the tiny props inside.

Scaled down model of Toudaiji

I’m sure a lot of people wanted to climb there stairs… They didn’t seem to lead anywhere. Probably for people to get on the roof bars to do maintenance.

Steep stairs.

This wooden sculpture wasn’t quite the same size as the one at the gates but the carving was still impressive to look at.

Fierce-looking statues.

If you ever watched Journey to the West, I think this deity was in it when they imprisoned Goku into a pagoda.

Pagoda prison in his hand?

And the infamous hole I’ve been reading about… No one knows what the hole in the pillar is for but everyone was having fun getting pulled or squirming through it. Guess that’s what counts ^^;

Famous hole in a pillar

There were these little puzzles to solve if you were so inclined. Maybe it’s popped up in Professor Layton before.

Puzzles

The purses were made from beautiful fabric which would probably make great gifts for ladies ^^

Lovely purses.

Obligatory charms. See these little pocketed ones in Japanese media a lot.

Charms

Nothing quite caught my eye so I didn’t get anything.

Was tempted to see more of Toudaiji but it was getting dark and I wanted to visit the Fushimi Inari Temple back in Kyoto.

Big ship.

They were carving this impressive looking ship outside. Probably for some sort of festival.

For a festival?

No time for the museum either… Didn’t realise the security guard was looking out through the grills until I came round to processing this photo, lol.

Nara Museum

We had to return to Kyoto Station before changing trains to get to Fushimi Inari. So it was off to the nearest station, Kintetsu Nara which was run by a private company so no JR Pass here.

Off to Kintetsu Nara Station

The station wasn’t that far away, just 15 minutes walk so here was another station you could use if you wanted to get off closer to Nara Park than the JR Nara Station.

Manholes of Nara

There was still some time before the next train back to Kyoto so we walked around the shopping arcade nearby to find some food.

Nara arcade

Had some interesting things for sale too… Like these novelty umbrellas with Katana handles.

Katana umbrellas.

Or One Piece collaboration with Kyoto, “Sincerity”.

One Piece x Kyoto

Little cafe place called, “Drink Drank”…

Did you drink drank?

Eventually settled on a Toridon which was delicious even though the portion was small ^^

Didn’t have that blob of wasabi but I did give it a small taste… Quite creamy compared to the usual.

Toridon

Was a nice little place apart from restricting photos to your table =P

Tidy little place.

Fushimi Inari Temple

Eventually we did leave for the train back to Kyoto Station. Then after another 5 min train ride from there, we were at Inari Station.

And yes, it was dark already =/

Inari Station

The temple was built long before Kyoto became the capital between 794 and 1868. It’s dedicated to the god of rice, Kanon for good harvests.

Outside the gates of Fushimi Inari

The temple was just right outside Inari Station, literally. You see the gates as soon as you step out of the station.

Not only was it already night but there was some light rain too. Still, I was hoping to see the gates at least.

Well, lets have a walk around anyway.

On the bright side (pun intended), it was time to dig out my Gorilla Pod to do some HDR photography. Just long exposure shots weren’t going to capture much in the night without some proper lighting so instead of finding some source of light, HDR shots was the next best option.

A lot of smartphones do HDR shots already which is basically taking 3 or more photos capturing different amounts of light. Then it merges them together to try and reproduce what the human eye can see.

That said, smartphones still don’t have the lens and sensors to capture sharp, detailed shots. You can tell the difference once you zoom in at 100%.

Anyway, some rain drops were hitting my camera lens already despite my best efforts to shelter it =/

Still some staff around patrolling.

Some of the photos you’ll see like this one are actually extracted from the video clips I recorded since HDR can be time consuming to take and we were in a hurry ^^;

There were the odd temple staff patrolling with lanterns or visitors passing by. Sometimes it was large groups of people but most of the time it was quiet apart from the sound of trees being rustling in the wind.

There wasn’t much time until the last Shinkansen back to the hotel so my friend had rushed on ahead alone. He wanted to get to the view point while I took my time taking photos so I was left alone.

Heading towards the trail of gates.

All the buildings were very well illuminated with white light.

However, photos came out with a green tint. Some photos I could salvage by adjusting the RAWs but most of them I couldn’t. The green tint make things look quite creepy, eh?

Here was the entrance to the famous Senbon Torii trail of gates, “A Thousand Gates”. There were lots of spots where it was pitch black. Sometimes you can barely make out the silhouette of someone else approaching from the distance until you were quite close.

Outside the start of the gates.

 

Atmosphere felt completely different at night compared to visiting the other temples. Felt quite eerie… Didn’t walk in far before my nerves got the best of me ^^;

Dark and creepy at night...

Eventually my friend returned because he couldn’t find the way so we headed up together, joking about spooky things as we hiked up the stairs.

These red gates can actually be found at a lot of Japanese temples, all serving the same purpose of crediting their patrons. Patrons have their name or company marked on them and the bigger the donation, the bigger they are. I heard a tourist guide saying they were deliberately built in wood so that they don’t last long and new donations came in.

Well, even temples have to make money somehow ^^;

Pitch black all around mostly...

Statues of Kanon’s fox messengers were all over the place. Eventually the trail splits into two and a sign tells you which way to take to get to the viewing point.

Fox servants

Here were smaller gates for people who couldn’t give as big a a donation for the bigger gates. Something for everyone.

More little gates.

It wasn’t all red gates along the way. You do pass by a few smaller shrines.

Shrines and water pit stop

Eventually we decided to turn back because we didn’t know how far we were and didn’t want to risk missing the last trains.

Ah well, time to turn back.

That said, we still managed to see the trail of gates so that was good and I think we had just made it half way according to this sign.

Half way up?

Don’t know how long we walked for but we walked at quite a quick pace and it was supposed to be a 30 min leisurely hike up.

Well, if I ever return to Japan a second time I will have to explore Kyoto some more and return here to see it during the day again ^^

There’s a lot to see in Kyoto so don’t expect to cover much if you only set aside one day for the former capital city.

Kyoto Station

We ended up taking the slowest Kodama Shinkansen back but even then it didn’t take much longer than the 30 mins the Hikari took.

The unreserved seat carriages were empty and the non-Green Seats were definitely more narrow. You didn’t have your own power port and there was no reading light either.

That said, I didn’t mind because it was peaceful.

Kodama unreserved

End of the day, got some dorayaki – the red bean bun snacks Doraemon is so fond of.

Dorayaki

A few bookmarks made from bamboo.

Bamboo bookmarks

And also a sword shaped letter opener. Looked like something out of a JRPG!

Katana keyring

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