Nara Part 2: Deer have Attitude

From the Kofuku-ji, we descended the steps nearest the 5-storied-pagoda, turned left, and continued along the walking route.

At this point we were walking on a sidewalk along the city street. Ahead of us though, lay a sparsely populated forest with a wide trail exclusively for pedestrians.  As we crossed the road from the city streets to the smooth gravel, we saw them.

 In fact, we almost walked straight past it! A young male deer lay resting at the foot of a thin tree. It was the same color as its surroundings so we barely noticed. We felt like it was our first real encounter with a Nara deer. "So this is what they're like" we thought, "plainly beside the walking trail as tame as anything!" The deer was seemingly not bothered by the crowds that constantly crossed before it on their way to some temple or other and sleepily lay 1 meter from the walkway.

"Let's take a picture! It's ok, it won't do anything!" James crouched with his expensive camera, and poised to take the shot. So Audrey and Kailey walked close to the deer. Nothing. Audrey and Kailey inched closer to the deer. Nothing. "It might just be alright" I wondered to myself. In our Nara-inexperience, Audrey would go on the right  and Kailey would stay on the left; just like a predator surrounding it's prey =).

Well, the deer got spooked and headbutted Audrey. 


We just stared unbelieving at the unfolding scene. Except for me. I managed to get these 3 pictures of the event.

 We all had a laugh and continued on our way. And then we were approached by kids. These guys were practicing their english on the tourists.

 They asked us things like "Welcome to Nara, is it okay if we ask some questions?", "Do you like Nara?", "Do you like Japan?", "Can you sign my book?" and gave us some cool paper origami. Then we all took pictures.

 After we made friends with the deer again another group approached us. A few steps farther it opened up and we found many deer everywhere.

There was a vendor selling a type of palm-sized but very thin cookie-like cracker for the deer. A bunch of deer hung around this area. These guys just bought the pack of 8 crackers and were swarmed. 

"Oi, treats for the family there"
The next bit is pretty simple but has some nice pictures. The path led up a small mountain. At the top was a shrine, the Kasuga-taisha shrine. On the way were stone lanterns with a big red Tori (gate) marking the beginning of the lanterns. There are over 1000 stone lanterns lining the way!

Red Tori (Gate)

There's so many deer because a legendary history of the shinto Kasuga shrine at the top of the hill. The history recounts that a god rode into the newly built capital, Heijō-kyō (Nara's old name), on a white deer to protect it. After that deer were regarded as heavenly animals protecting the new capital and country! (source)

Photo Credit: James and Audrey
Stone lanterns lining the pathway up the 'mountain'

Photo Credit: James and Audrey

We made it!

~Kasuga-taisha Shrine~
At the top the path is the Kasuga-taisha shrine. The significance of the deer in Nara come from this shrine's legendary historical account of the white deer. This shrine is famous for its many bronze lanterns. It seemed there wasn't much to see so we didn't pay to get in further to see the interior of the buildings. But! It turns out that something terribly rare was occurring! A wedding! 

I wished I knew more about this, but speaking to some Japanese strangers I was able to understand that this was really rare. It was rare because it was happening in this shrine. This shrine is very famous for its close proximity in serving royalty during most of the Nara and Heian Era's of 710-1185.(source) The woman here is wearing an insane amount of layers of clothing and the high-quality cloth weighs a lot. I can't remember but I think the Japanese fellow I was talking to said it was a least 8 layers? After watching for a while we set out to see the world's largest bronze Buddha statue. Let me tell you that it was huge! See you in part 3!

To the Daibutsu! (Buddha statue)


Completely Different Post: Day 7 (Cultural Observations)

Ben and Kailey lived in Japan not too long ago and also visit Kyoto every year.

Ben is developing a Japanese Practice site. It's current main functions are:
1. a Flash Card system that features a leveling system where you must answer correctly and "level up"to gain new cards, receive money and buy new decks - anime decks included!
2. Fill in the Blank system where you can choose to focus on particle practice or verb practice etc.
Japanese Practice Blog is here. Check out the Japanese Practice site here

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