When I travelled to the Kansai region in Japan with my family and a university friend, we spent a day in Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital in history. Because of the increased influence of Buddhist monasteries that created dramatic threats to the government, the capital later moved to Kyoto. The city is about 1 hour away by train from Osaka and Kyoto. As the first permanent capital of Japan, the city is full of historical relics.
The Historic Monument of Ancient Nara, listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, consists of 8 major Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. We visited Kasuga Taisha, Nara’s most distinguished Shinto shrine, which was established about 1300 years ago for the protection of capital.
As soon as we passed the entrance, I felt like getting into a completely different space. The ancient green woods surrounded magnificent buildings created a more serene and mystical atmosphere. There is a museum situated closer to the main shrine complex. We saw groups of children with painting kits sitting on the side of the road drawing beautiful pictures and groups of students on their educational tour. Bright vermillion is the primary tone of the building, forming a striking contrast with nature. You may notice that the buildings look relatively new, although they are already more than a thousand years old. This is because they are refurbished in the ‘Shikinen Zotai’ ceremony, which happens once every twenty years.
There are 3000 bronze and stone lanterns at the shrine. These are the oldest extant lanterns in Japan, donated by the believers for worshipping the gods. The stone lanterns are laid along the paths for illuminating purposes. They are covered by moss and perfectly integrated into nature. Just like other shrines and temples, you will find places to get おみくじ (Omikuji, a fortune-telling paper), or 御守 (Omamori, Japanese amulets to bring you luck or protection). Some people also write their wishes on 絵馬 (Ema, a wooden plaque) and hang it at a designated place at shrine. When the wooden plaques are burnt ritually, the gods will receive them. Once, I wrote my wish in Tokyo Daijingu (a renowned shrine for brining people luck in their love life). However, I guess the gods might be on holiday at that time :’)
Here comes to the funniest part of the trip, feeding the deers!!! The crackers look so tasty, but they are for the cute ‘Bambi’:). Nara is not only famous for the grand ancient architectures but also for a large population of deers. They are like the guardians of the shrines roaming around. Some deers are shy and hiding behind the stone lanterns and staring at you. Others are not afraid of humans at all and would follow you and wait for you to feed them. If you don’t hide the crackers properly, the deers may become aggressive to get their snacks. Before I visited Nara, I watched some videos of Nara’s deers. They are really polite and will even bow to you when asking for food. However, another version of the story that we heard after we arrived here was that this is actually their final warning if we don’t hand over the snacks. Haha, whichever is true, I find it hilarious.
We went to Wakakusayama, a small mountain behind Nara park to feed deers as we were advised that the deers in this place are calmer than in other sites. They are so adorable and can be very photogenic sometimes!! Climbing up the mountain, you will see a panoramic view of the city.
We got a lot of great photos with the deers, and some photos made us laugh so much!!!
Here is a video of my friend and I being chased around by a group of adorable creatures.
After feeding the deers, we decided to check out some shops in Nara’s city. One of the best things in Japan is that you can always find some small shops selling a variety of local delicacies. Nakatanidou is a specialised mochi shop with fastest rice cake pounders in the country. If you are a fan of Japanese food like me, I bet you must have come across a video of two men pounding green rice cake. They are actually from this shop. The award-winning green rice cakes are made with Japanese mugwort with azuki bean paste, dusted with roasted soybean powder. Other local snacks you may find including 柿の葉寿司 (Kakinoha Sushi), rice crackers with all sorts of flavours, takoyaki etc.
Our final stop of this trip was Edogawa, an Unagi Don (grilled eel with steamed rice) restaurant. The restaurant is housed in a 150-year old merchant house with a traditional Edo-style interior provided a real sense of Japanese dining experience. Due to its popularity, we had to wait for around half an hour to be served, but it was really worth waiting for. As part of Japanese dining etiquette, diners need to take the shoes off before entering the dining area. Instead of sitting on the chairs, you will be sitting on a tatami mat. Although the chefs are specialists in unagi, you may also find other delectable dishes such as sukiyaki, sashimi and tempura etc.
I had a set meal which contained both Unagi Don and Sukiyaki as these are two of my favourite Japanese dishes. It may seem like a lot but think about all the activities we did on this day and walked almost 2 km to the restaurant, we deserved a treat like this haha:)
Till next time!