For the those observant readers, you may note that I’ve skipped a day (Day 9). Not that anything particularly bad happened on day 9 – I just wanted to group the Kyoto days together. One of the reasons that we chose to spend so many nights in Kyoto (six in total) is that it is an ideal hub for day trips.
So on to day 9 and a trip to Nara, a forty minute train journey to the north of Kyoto. Nara was Japan’s imperial capital from 710 to 794 before moving to Nagaoka. It is a very compact city, easily walkable and is a World Heritage Site.
We stopped for an early lunch at the lovely Mellow Cafe, before a slow walk to the main area of interest, Nara Park.
The park is home to a number of historic sites, the most notable of which is the Todaj-ji. This is a complex of a number of Buddhist temples and is effectively the centre of the Japanese Kegon Buddhist school. The most significant site is the Daibutsuden, containing the world’s largest sculpture of the Buddha Vairocana. 500 tonnes in weight and just shy of 50 feet tall, it is a stunning site. The whole room is incredibly welcoming with things to do (I know it sounds daft) such as crawling through a whole in a trunk to check if you can attain enlightenment and the ubiquitous calligraphy and stamp. It was a calm and restful place, yet still awe inspiring.
The other key family attraction was the deer that roam Nara Park. The deer are sika dear, originally from Vietnam and Russia but now in Japan in abundance. There are roughly 1200 of them in the park and they are completely comfortable in their local environment and the public that feed and photograph them. It is quite surreal to experience them in such close proximity.
The deer will comfortably eat crackers from your hand and whilst there are warning signs around the park, describing the mishaps and misdemeanours that the deer can cause, we only saw very well mannered bambis.
We stayed in the park until late afternoon and wandered back to the railway station, mingling with the local government workers winding their way home on a Wednesday evening.
All in all, Nara is a beautiful city and well worth a day trip from Kyoto, if not more.