The trip began with an early morning start in Kyoto. My bus arrived around 6:30 in front of Kyoto station. I hadn't planned to take a train into Nara for another hour, so I wandered around and took some pictures.
There was a storm coming in over the dark green hills and shafts of sunlight coming through here and there. with that picturesque start I boarded my train to Nara.
It took about an hour to get there, and I arrived well before my check-in time. Grabbed some breakfast, dropped my bags off at my ryokan, and headed towards Nara Park.
I found this small lake not five minutes walk from my inn. It seemed to be a popular spot for couples and turtles to hang out. The pagoda in the background is Kofuku-ji, more on that later.
This gate is the main entrance to Nara Park. It's a large, orange Torii gate that marks the entrances to Shinto shrines. The majority of religious structures in Nara Park are temples however this path leads directly up to Kasuga Shrine, thus it's crowned with an orange Torii.
Nara Park is famous for its wild deer population, so famous that they've become a symbol of the town as well. It's a bit of a stretch to say they're wild though; nowadays they've become completely accustomed to sharing the park with humans. They'll sit peacefully around in packs, walk through crowds, come up to beg for food, and oddly seem to stop and pose for pictures too (as the one in the first image was doing when I took out my camera).
My first stop in Nara Park was Todai-ji temple.
There's a long pathway leading up to the temple and a series of large gates. The first gate houses two massive guardian statues, 28 feet tall each, depicting deities which guard Buddha.
The pathway into Todai-ji incorporates this beautiful pond with an island in the middle, and several stone lanterns. The deer weren't afraid to hang out on this busy walkway and would have probably been hanging around inside the temple grounds if they weren't shooed away by monks.
Todai-ji stands around 150 feet tall by 190 feet wide, making it the world's largest wooden structure. Even so it's been rebuilt after having burned down in a fire twice and the original was about a third bigger. Walking up to the thing it just kept getting bigger and bigger.
The temple is known for its central Buddha statue. At 52 feet tall this is the largest Buddha statue in the world. It's made entirely from bronze, the collection of which nearly bankrupted the country when it was built in the eighth century. The statue depicts Dainichi Nyorai, the Cosmic Buddha who watches over all levels of the Buddhist universe.
Each pedal of the statue's lotus throne depict the Buddhist concept of the universe and the various realms the Buddha protects.
Two of the Buddhas and guardian statues accompanying the Daibutsu.
The back of the Buddha's throne, covered in golden clouds.
A roof tile replaced during the reconstruction. It was at least three feet tall.
Supposedly if you can squeeze through this hole at the bottom of one of the columns you are guaranteed a place in paradise. The couple of little kids I saw trying it didn't seem to have any problem, but it was really narrow and I doubt many adults can get through.
This seated Bodhisattva outside of the entrance to the Buddha Hall heals your ailments if you rub the corresponding part of its body.
Up the hill from Todai-ji was Nigatsu-do, a temple far up on the mountain side known for its spectacular view of Nara.
The steps leading up to Nigatsu-do seem to have each had a different pattern on them, though by this point all but the bottom couple of steps were worn clean.
I was a bit tired from trekking up the hill at this point, so I wandered around the temple grounds and took some random photos.
I headed down a backwoods path from Nigatsu-do to Kasuga Shrine, cooling off in the dark forest along the way.
Kasuga Shrine is the shrine of the Fujiwara family, which has been instrumental to the Imperial family for centuries. It's known for its massive collection of thousands of iron lanterns, which are the central attraction for the Mantoro festival I'll be getting to later.
Back downhill I ended up in the middle of Nara Park and tried feeding the deer with the local rice crackers you can buy from food stalls for this purpose. Unfortunately the deer have figured this out over the years and I was mobbed and nearly bitten to death once I started feeding one. No, I don't have a photo of that, I was too busy holding up my hands like a traveler at gunpoint to show I was all out of crackers.
On my way back to the inn to check-in I stopped by Kofuku-ji.
Another of Nara's famous temples, Kofuku-ji was established in the seventh century by the Emperor's wife. It's notable as the shrine of the Fujiwara family, having survived the centuries through their patronage.
Come back for my next update where I share part 2 of Nara, the otherworldly Mantoro festival, "Festival of Ten Thousand Lanterns"...