"Nara: Culture and History with Deer!" Nara by AKtravelers

Nara Travel Guide: 273 reviews and 1,056 photos

Nara is one of the world's special places. The capital of Japan even before Kyoto (from 710-794), Nara has some of Japan's most important cultural treasures, most of which are protected from the encroachment of modernity by peaceful parklands (unlike Kyoto). Yet, as if the Nara planners worried that this might be all too boring in hyperactive Japan, there is the constant adrenaline of over 1200 stalking sika deer to keep your senses alert. Nara can't just have park land -- it has parkland bustling with herds of sacred deer! All this only an hour by train from Kyoto.
The Nara period is one of the most important eras in Japanese history, as it mark's the arrival of Buddhism into Japan, along with the cultural influences of China and the Korean Baekje Kingdom. This is when literacy came to Japan and the Kana script was developed to retrofit Chinese-style characters for Japanese grammer. This is when central government with expanding authority first took root. And the Chinese influence is all around Nara -- in fact, the city is modeled after Chang An, the capital of Tang Dynasty China. So you can visit Nara to improve your understanding of Japanese culture and its links to China and Korea -- or you can come to play with the deer!

Nara is a Snapshot of Japan's Past

Nara was abandoned by the Japanese emperors late in 794 century due to fears that Buddhism's influence on the court was becoming excessive. You can see the power of Buddhism in many of the the town's shrines, including the massive Todaiji temple (the world's largest wooden building) which houses a huge seated buddha (the largest bronze statue int he world). Nara also is home to the world's oldest wooden building as well as the fantastic Nara National Museum. Clearly, anyone interested in a sampling of old Japan has to put Nara on his/her list of top destinations. It's often overshadowed by nearby Kyoto, but it shouldn't be. In fact, because Nara became a relative backwater once the government left, it has a much older feel than bustling, million-people Kyoto.

Nara is Full of Sacred Deer

For those that are less interested in history or culture, Nara offers wildlife! Well, not very-wild wildlife, but animals nonetheless in the form of sacred deer. These deer are quite tame and used to being fed (you can buy little deer wafers for Y150 a half-dozen -- watch out as the deer have learned to spot those making purchases!). The deer can get very aggressive at times, but are for the most part, very tame. You can pet them, feed them and use them as props in your photgraphs. But, as you can see from the travelogue on Julia's deer experience, things can go awry!
Anyway, these deer became sacred when one of Kasuga Shrine, Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto appeared on Mt. Mikase-yama riding white deer. From that point on, the Kasuga Shrine considered deer to be sacred, to the point where killing one was considered to be a capital offense -- last enforced in 1637. As part of the dedification of the Japanese Emperor after the surrender in 1945, the deer lost their divine status though they arer still national treasures and afforded a high measure of protection.

  • Last visit to Nara: Aug 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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  • jadedmuse's Profile Photo
    Aug 11, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Your last sentence about Japan's honesty being one of their gifts to the world, is fantastic. What a great story.


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