December 29, 2013

Nara's Deer

As mentioned in the previous post, deer were once seen as sacred, messengers of the gods. Today they are considered a National Treasure, and in Nara, they actually roam freely around the Todaiji complex and Nara Park. 

While this can lead to situations like above, they are generally beloved by visitors.

For 400 yen, you can buy a stack of deer crackers and feed the deer.

You learn about deer pretty quick once you have food in your hand. The aggressive, people-friendly ones trail after people, even taking the crackers out of their hands. If you aren't careful, you will quickly find yourself surrounded by deer that are snapping at you from all sides. Not fun.

And then there are the ones that go out of their way to elude human interaction. This one here even has antlers, a clear sign that no human has gotten close enough to cut them.

This one was just plain weird.

This one was most likely suckling.

Like a pig.

I sought out the human-shy deer to give crackers to, like this adorable fawn.

Kasuga Taisha

As someone who loves visiting local shrines, I was not prepared for the sheer size of Kasuga Taisha, the famous Shinto shrine in Nara.

Built in 768, momiji maple trees envelop the grounds, making for a hushed, perpetually cloudy-seeming atmosphere.

Deer, once considered sacred animals (after WWII there were "demoted" to National Treasure status), freely roam around, making you feel that you have dropped in on their environment.

A disused tea house on the grounds.

A peek into the main building, which for some reason we did not enter but is famed for its lanterns.

These stone lanterns are also a feature of Kasuga Taisha.

Donated sake and Asahi beer.

A deer sanctuary is located on the grounds.

They house deer that have been hurt, diseased, or "have shown to be unfit to survive human society" -- which is a bit rich, considering that we are causing them harm rather than the other way round.

Bales of hay.

Todaiji's Nigatsudo

Nigatsudo, "February Building", another famous construction in the Todaiji complex. It is famed for its yearly rite (called "Omizutori"), held in February of the lunisolar calendar (March in our current calendar). Strategic sections of the temple are lit on fire with torches carried by monks. The sparks that fall down to the visitors sitting on the grassy knoll below are seen as good luck.

The current iteration of Nigatsudo was built in 1669, after an Omizutori went awry in 1667 and burned the temple down.

One of the pathways leading up to Nigatsudo, which is located to the east of the Daibutusden.

It reads, Nigatsudo.

At the top of the stairs in the first photo.

A quite fierce-looking dragon wraps around the water pavilion.


View from the top. The mountaintop and lattice-like structure are the remnants of Nara Dreamland, Japan's answer to Disneyland which closed after 50 years of operation in 2006. In 2011, a photographer snuck in and took eerie photos that briefly went viral.

The tea room, where you could serve yourself hot tea, provided you wash the cup afterward.

There was a row a small buildings designed for silent contemplation.

A small pomegranate tree.

Some seeds scattered on the ground.

Todaiji Daibutsuden

Todaiji, a sprawling temple complex located in Nara, around three hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. Its history is seen as one of the cornerstones of Japanese history. Built in the 8th century, a time of extreme disasters and epidemics, the then-Emperor Shomu ordered the construction of provincial temples throughout japan, and made Todaiji the head of all of them. 

 This is merely the gate leading to the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall). Quite incredibly, the Daibutsuden is the world's largest wooden construction.
Passing through the gates, looked over by a Nio Guardian King. Yes, that is a deer, and they will be featured in their own post.

The main hall has been rebuilt twice, but is still hundreds of years old.

The exterior of the Great Buddha Hall. The hallways extend from either direction of the main building, and wrap all around in a giant square. The hallways are closed to visitors.

A view of the hallway.

This bronze Daibutusu (Buddha) is one of Japan's largest and is 15 meters tall.

These etchings have been reproduced at the base of the Buddha.

This massive block was laid against one of the corners of the temple.

There was a line of schoolkids on a school outing waiting to crawl through the pillar.  It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.

This was outside the main building.

Even the gumball machines here are Buddhism-related.