Nara is on the map for two things: temples and deer. The Japanese are big fans of both of these, so the place is packed with day trippers.
The deer were very friendly, possibly because there are stalls all over the place selling ‘deer crackers’ for the tourists to feed to them.
Nara’s home to the largest bronze Buddha in the world, which was pretty impressive, but perhaps not worth the rather steep entrance fee. It’s 15 metres high, and was cast in the 8th century, about the time Britain was being invaded by the Vikings, which makes the artistry and technical skill involved pretty awe inspiring.
Apparently it nearly bankrupted the Japanese economy at the time, because it used almost all of the bronze there was.
The hall which houses it remained the largest wooden structure in the world until the 1980s, despite being rebuilt on a smaller scale after a fire in the 16th century. The original complex also included two pagodas that might have been the highest structures in the world at the time, rivaled only by the Egyptians pyramids.
So, you know, it’s pretty big.
Some of the other statues in the complex were pretty cool, especially the chap in the photo at the start of this post, and the massive gate guardians you pass when you enter. These huge figures were in a style that seemed Indian to us. Perhaps imagery was still being borrowed from the source of the religion when Buddhism first came to Japan. Modern Japanese Buddhism has definitely developed its own aesthetic.
We had a nice wander through some of the shrines and gardens that are dotted around Nara park too, navigating our way through the flocks of tourists snapping autumn leaves selfies.
Group portraits with the deer were also going on.
The guy with the stick was herding the deer in front of the school kids for the photo. Not sure how this fits in with deer being revered as sacred messengers…
In the evening we stopped by a local sake brewery, and tried four of their brews. You could definitely taste the difference between the types, and I thought one of them was really nice. Perhaps I need to give sake more time, but I still find most of it a little harsh for my tastes.
I guess the deer on the wall wasn’t one of the sacred ones.
My favourite thing about Nara was the guesthouse we stayed in, run by a couple with a toddler. It’s called guesthouse makura, which means ‘pillow’. Coming through the curtain and sliding door out front, we were met by the owner sticking his head through a little window from the back room. Their front room was the bar, and upstairs were two tiny dorms and one double room. It was a proper old Japanese house on a little street full of sake bars, tiny restaurants, and secret Karaoke clubs. The inside was all lovely Japanese textiles and tatami mats, and the traditional bed rolls were squashy and cosy.
As well as the cute toddler, the owner was very nice, and we enjoyed chatting with him over a sweet plum wine in the front room bar. The only other guests were a Taiwanese couple who’d left their four week old baby at home to come on a two week holiday. I think holiday time is hard to come by in Taiwan.
Hearing this made me eminently glad that we’ve taken the course we have with our time on this Earth. Having a couple of years rather than a couple of weeks on our hands means we’re travelling slower than most, but if anything I’d like to slow down even more. (Spoiler: we’ve recently given in to this urge and started travelling by bicycle. Coming soon!)
Leaving everything behind may not be for everyone, but I haven’t regretted it for a moment so far. We miss people of course, and after four months I’m beginning to miss having a kitchen. I WANT A COFFEE POT! (ref. Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert*) But it’s nothing compared to all the new people and places we’ve been able to meet, and more than anything, having the time to absorb these experiences and let them change us a little bit.
Of course there are lots of ways to do this whole ‘life’ thing, and there are shades of grey between selling everything** and a life with two weeks holiday a year. But for us, I’m sure we picked the right way, or a right way.
It’s scary leaving everything behind: family, friends, jobs, a home, your accumulated life, having savings…
All I can say is that I’m so very glad we did it anyway.
*Thanks for the bibliographic assistance Kate!
**Thanks for the storage space Mums and Dads!