Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Deer: Not so Cute and Cuddly

Nara is a popular day trip from Kyoto because it is relatively close (45 minutes by train) and has many things to see.  Oh, and it has deer all around.  The deer of Nara are considered to be "messengers of the gods" and are therefore given protected status all around Nara.  You can also pay 150 yen for some special deer "crackers" to feed the deer, but I promise you that you will only do this once.  Long before we got to Nara I had read that the deer can get aggressive when searching for food, but that most of the time they would leave you alone (unless you had crackers) and that their antlers were routinely removed so that no one would get speared.  We arrived in Nara and there were deer (who appeared docile) and many of the males had antlers - not a good start.  Since we were in Nara and the thing to do (besides seeing temples and pagodas) is to experience and feed the deer, we bought some crackers.  The deer must know what the sound of 150 yen sound like because as soon as I received the crackers from the old woman they began to swarm around me. I quickly handed the crackers over a set of antlers to M so that I could capture the moments with the (fully charged) camera.  not only was she surrounded by deer but a few were also biting her clothing.  After she had distributed about half of them we traded the camera and the crackers and it was my turn.  The deer did essentially the same thing to me, except there is one doe that kept going for my crotch, not somewhere that I want to be bitten by a deer!  I eventually moved the tripod in front of that area and quickly distributed the rest of the crackers, dropping some of them.  That will probably be the last time we attempt to feed deer.  We didn't feel too bad though, on the way to Todai-ji temple we heard a Japanese man yelp - the deer were going after him too.  One was also chasing a Japanese girl that had run out of crackers.  Another grabbed a sheet of paper out of a guy's backpack and wouldn't let it go.  They may be sacred, but they are also a nuisance.

After passing through a very large gate (above) we went towards Todai-ji temple.  The building is huge!  As a matter of fact, it is the largest wooden building the in the world.  In addition, it has been rebuilt a few times throughout history and the current version (built a little while back) is only 2/3 the size of the original!  I'm not sure how they made a building so massive out of wood so long ago, but it is very very impressive.  Equally impressive are the Buddha statues contained within.  It is hard to truly grasp the size, but the building and the Buddha's made both of us feel very tiny.

Next up was Kasuga Taisha, which is to stone (and metal) lanterns what Fushimi Inarii is to torii.  We walked around the temple and briefly entered the grounds, but didn't pay the entrance fee because we felt like we saw enough of the temple from the outside.  The stone and regular lanterns were very impressive, maybe one day we will come back and see them all lit up at night!

Next we decided to visit the Naramachi area, which is a district that has been preserved so it looks like what Nara used to be like.  The area looks a lot like much of Kyoto, especially the Gion area.  A defining feature of the town of is the presence of red figures hanging from a string in front of houses.  As we later discovered,  these figures were said to be monkeys.  By handing them in front of your home the monkey will take away your illnese by getting sick in your place.  Unfortunately these souvenirs start at 1000 yen for a very little one, so we passed.  After Naramachi we headed back to Kyoto via the train. 
Once we got back we went to the hotel and got reservations for a tempura place.  More on that another night.

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