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.
I’ve actually never seen or heard of this place 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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Old ladies seem to be their favourite targets. They might look cute but they’re still wild animals I guess.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My first stop was to aim for the highest observation area first which seemed to be at Nigatsudou [Second Lunar Halls].
Manholes of Nara.
Some of the buildings looked like they were no longer in use and the water way was almost dried up.
I think you could say the sakura blossoms were pretty much in full bloom at this point.
There were a lot of other shrines in the Todaiji area.
I think this was one of the many shrines where they performed worship rituals and meditated.
This was one of the residential areas and even here there are deers around, lol.
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.
No shortage of purification water here.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Now back to Nigatsu Halls… Even little kids were mesmerised.
Your usual Emas of wishes.
And also more names of patrons underneath the roof.
And if you needed a translation, a QR code for you to scan.
Japan, old and new living in harmony ^^
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).
There were a lot of paintings hung outside too. Some parts of the hall where worshipping took place had no photo signs up.
After a little trip round the hall…
It was time to head towards the Great Buddha hall.
It was quite a trip backtracking towards the entrance.
But, little interesting things to see along the way like these small offerings to lesser deities.
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.
The scale of this place was really impressive!
I think you can see why the government wanted them moved at the time.
They must really have had a lot of influence for the funding or resources to build something so majestic and such scale.
Just the doors alone were probably more than 4 times the height of a full grown adult.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This wooden sculpture wasn’t quite the same size as the one at the gates but the carving was still impressive to look at.
If you ever watched Journey to the West, I think this deity was in it when they imprisoned Goku into a pagoda.
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 ^^;
There were these little puzzles to solve if you were so inclined. Maybe it’s popped up in Professor Layton before.
The purses were made from beautiful fabric which would probably make great gifts for ladies ^^
Obligatory charms. See these little pocketed ones in Japanese media a lot.
Was tempted to see more of Toudaiji but it was getting dark and I wanted to visit the Fushimi Inari Temple back in Kyoto.
They were carving this impressive looking ship outside. Probably for some sort of 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.
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.
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.
There was still some time before the next train back to Kyoto so we walked around the shopping arcade nearby to find some food.
Had some interesting things for sale too… Like these novelty umbrellas with Katana handles.
Or One Piece collaboration with Kyoto.
Little cafe place called, “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.
Was a nice little place apart from restricting photos to your table =P
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 =/
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.
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.
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 =/
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.
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.
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 ^^;
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 ^^;
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.
Here were smaller gates for people who couldn’t give as big a a donation for the bigger gates. Something for everyone.
It wasn’t all red gates along the way. You do pass by a few smaller shrines.
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.
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. 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.
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.
End of the day, got some dorayaki – the red bean bun snacks Doraemon is so fond of.
A few bookmarks made from bamboo.
And also a sword shaped letter opener. Looked like something out of a JRPG!