A British Girl in…Nara! (Temples, Giant Buddhas, Deer and Great Tofu!)

When I told people I was travelling to Japan, everyone’s advice was to make a day trip from Kyoto to visit Nara. Nara was the first Capital City of Japan, from 710 to 784 and its 8 temples and primeval Forest make up the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is around 40 minutes from Kyoto on a JR local line so I was able to get more use out of my brilliant rail pass too which was great. As with most of the main railway stations in Japan there is a tourist office just outside the station and so I stopped in to pick up a map and made the short walk through the town to the park in which the temples are located. The previous day in Kyoto had shown me just how busy I could expect the temples to be and so I decided to head straight to Tōdai-ji, the Eastern Great Temple which is home to the world’s largest (15 metres high) bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana flanked by two Bodhisvattas. There is also a pillar inside with a hole at the bottom which is the same size as the Buddhas nostrils and it is said that anyone who manages to squeeze through it will achieve enlightenment in their next life. I watched several people manage this successfully but decided that there was a high probability I would not be able to manage it and the embarrassment would be too much to handle and so didn’t attempt it, I will have to reach enlightenment another way! Japan had suffered many hardships between 729 and 749 (known as the Tenpyo era) and the Emperor Shomu ordered the construction of provincial Temples and instructed the people to donate money towards their construction, believing that Buddha would then protect the country from further hardships. All in all Over 2,600,000 people donated money towards the construction of Tōdai-ji. The Temple at Nara has suffered over the years, from fires to earthquakes although it has stood in its present form since 1709 and was the Worlds largest wooden building until very recently. From here I walked though the park where there must be thousands of Deer (seen as messengers of the Gods in the Shinto religion) roaming freely, to the Kasuga Shrine. Kasuga is a Shinto shrine dating from 768 and is famous for the 3000 stone lanterns surrounding it as well as the beautiful bronze lanterns inside. My timing was perfect as there was a Japanese wedding just finishing (what an amazing location to get married in!) and I was able to watch while they removed the Brides traditional white headpiece and pose for photos. They were very sweet, allowing me to take a few photos (I motioned clicking a camera to see if it was ok with them) and when I thanked them in my very best Japanese they all smiled and bowed to me as I was leaving (which i did quickly as I didn’t want to intrude anymore than I had done) I walked though to the Botanic Gardens which contain over 250 different types of plants described in Japans oldest collection of poems, the Manyoshu and some of these poems are displayed (in Japanese) next to the corresponding plant. By now it was mid afternoon and I had been on the go since around 7 am with no breakfast and so decided I would find somewhere to eat lunch fairly sharpish. I came across a little restaurant which was advertising soba noodles which looked really beautiful and settled in (bare footed) on the Tatami mats to enjoy a well-earned beer and Hot Soba with delicious, home made Tofu (almost honeyed in flavour) Although there were still many temples to see, I was pretty “Templed out” and so made the walk back through the town and then back onto Kyoto.


The imposing Todaiji Temple
The imposing Todaiji Temple






close up of the lotus leaves the Buddha is sitting on
close up of the lotus leaves the Buddha is sitting on




someone trying to achieve enlightenment in their next life!
someone trying to achieve enlightenment in their next life!









The Bride!
The Bride!








Delicious Tofu & Soba
Delicious Tofu & Soba














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