Nara, Japan – Land of the Bowing Deer

Japan is awesome!  A highly populated and modern country at the forefront of technology, the Japanese nonetheless celebrate their past and value honor.   They are so respectful in fact, that even the animals there bow.   Or at least the deer do in Nara.

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Nara was the capital of Japan in the 8th century and is still the capital of the Nara Prefecture.  It is a little over an hour away from both Kyoto and Osaka which makes it perfect for a day trip from either.   After a quick, comfortable and always prompt train ride you arrive at the main station.  From here it is a quiet and peaceful walk to all the main sites in town which include some of the oldest temples in Japan as well as wonderful gardens and ponds filled with turtles.

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The food in all of Japan is surprisingly good and Nara is no different.  It is always made fresh and the Japanese take pride in everything they create.  There is plain and simple food for the most nitpicky eater, but for the adventurous there are meals like this:

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After lunch we visited the Todaiji Temple, one of the most important in Japan’s history and home to the largest wooden building in the world.  It’s actually only two-thirds as big as the original which was built in the 700s.  Unfortunately large wooden buildings have a habit of burning down, which Todaiji did a number of times in the past.  The current incarnation was built in 1709.

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Todaiji Temple is home to the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.  It weighs in at over 500 tonnes and almost bankrupted the country when it was first built.  It, like the temple itself, has been repaired a number of times due to damage from natural disasters.

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Todaiji is also home to a number of other impressive statues from Japan’s history.

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Near the Buddha is a large wooden column with a small tunnel cut into it.  According to legend anyone that can crawl through this hole will reach enlightenment.  Seems completely unfair to adults, especially ones with a butt!

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The temple and town are wonderful, but the main attraction for us were the deer.  These animals are considered sacred and are allowed to wander as they please.  They walk all over the streets, even going into the stores to browse.  The most remarkable part is that they have learned to bow to people.  It may be a sign of respect, but some of the more cynical claim they have just learned a trick that rewards them with crackers that are sold throughout the city.  I’m not actually sure which is the truth.  I can tell you from experience that they swarm those holding the crackers, and are not afraid to bite you on the bum if they think you are hiding some there!

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