Shrines and sacred deer, Nara, Japan
Nara has it all: woodland, sacred deer and enough tourists to fill Tokyo station at rush hour. I had been ambivalent about going back to Kansai to see Nara, having spent a considerable portion of our trip in Osaka and Kyoto already, but Mr. K was keen. In the end it was the deer that sold me on the idea.
The deer did not disappoint. Almost as abundant as the tourists, the deer variously rest in the shady glens and crowd around the shika senbei (deer rice cake) vendors and schmooze the tourists hoping they have 150 yen to spare for said rice cakes. But it was the shrines we visited that stole my heart.
Todai-ji Daibutsu-den with its Great Buddha, was an image I had seen before but I was unprepared for how moving the experience of standing in front of it was. The Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines of Japan are unendingly hospitable to tourists and I have been very grateful for their tolerance for our curiosity but it was finally, in this temple that I felt included in the bemused compassion of the Buddha for us mere mortals bumbling our way ineptly through this life, so frequently so far from wisdom and enlightenment.
Only a kilometre away, the woodland lanes lined with moss covered lanterns of the Kasuga Taisha shrine weave a magical, other-worldly atmosphere and, as luck would have it we were in town for one of the two times per year that the hundreds of lanterns are lit. Unfortunately, a tropical storm blew up, soaking us completely through and thoroughly ruining our plans (and everyone else’s!) for what promised to be an incredibly beautiful evening. For those staying in Nara perhaps the following day worked out better, but for us it was time to move on.