After a morning in Horyu-ji, we headed to Nara, an ancient town – the first capital of Japan – and home to many very old and revered temples and shrines. I had been eager to visit since 2011, so was very much looking forward to this.
We only spent the afternoon and evening there, so we didn’t see much – we had some delicious okonomiyaki, then walked past the famed 5-story pagoda (as well as a huge 3-story pagoda) into the big park and on to Todaiji. I would definitely like to go back and spend more time in Nara exploring other temples and shrines. But I feel like I say that about everywhere we visit – plus there are so many other places I want to visit! You would think that spending more than five months total in Japan would give me the chance to see everywhere I want to visit, but no. We’ll just have to come back for some more study abroad seasons here…
Anyway, in addition to being famous as Japan’s first capital and home to some of its most important temples, Nara is also known for its deer.
Way more deer than even on Itsukushima. So. Many. Deer.
(I should add that deer were regarded as messengers of the deities in Shinto, so their flourishing in Nara is considered a good sign. During WWII the population dwindled significantly – and deer lost their status as being divine messengers, but continue to be considered national treasures. The deer population has recovered – obviously, as spending about 5 minutes in the middle of Nara will confirm – and there are apparently about 1,200 deer in Nara Park today.)
My guidebook warned to keep a tight grip on one’s map, because the deer will snatch it away hoping it’s food. It strongly advised against picnics in the park – the deer will eat your food. It especially cautioned against “hanging out by the places where they sell crackers to feed the deer” and “bringing small children into the park.”
So of course, Don’s students made a bee line for the deer crackers and we had no choice but to bring our toddler into the park.
And the deer really were a tourist destination unto themselves.
They posed obligingly for photos.
They listened attentively while Don lectured on the architectural significance of Todai-ji, the largest wooden structure in the world (and home to the largest Buddha in Japan).
They hung out with the students.
They chilled with Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
They terrified Aardvark, for the most part.
(To be fair, they were everywhere, and they were really NOT shy at all. Not aggressive, per se, but almost. They also tried to eat her pinwheel, which a woman at the train station by Horyu-ji had just given her.)
Aardvark was VERY skeptical when I asked her to pose for a deer-selfie.
But then she asked to take a selfie with deer poop, and she was delighted with that photo.