asia · japan · nara · Travel

Nippon over to Japan (Part 11: Nara)

Since we left Tokyo our accommodation was nothing to write home about, that was true until we arrived in Nara.  For the most part we had been booking our accommodation based on price to keep the costs of travelling down but for Nara we decided to splash out and book a room in the famous Nara hotel.

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 When you stay in the Nara hotel you are joining perhaps one of the most honourable guest lists in the world.  The Nara hotel was first opened in 1909 and has been host to some of the worlds most famous figures, from Albert Einstein to various heads of state such as JFK, Hu Jintao and the 14th Dalai Lama.  The long sprawling corridors in the hotel reminded me of a scene out of the shining.  When you’re staying in a place like this it becomes almost impossible to leave, but Nara has a lot to offer, the peaceful pathways where you will walk side-by-side with wild yet tame deer will provide the traveller’s mind with some much needed peace and tranquility, and when you have walked the legs off yourself you can return to the hotel and enjoy a cocktail next to the very piano that Albert Einstein played during his visit.

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This is Todai-ji, although initial construction of this buddhist temple began in the year 728, the large bronze buddha within was not completed until 751.  In 752 a huge ceremony took place where the Indian priest Bodhisena performed the eye-opening for the emperor.  The amount of imported gold and available bronze that was used for the buddha nearly bankrupted the country’s economy.  The structure you see today was completed in 1709 and although it is gargantuan in size, it is around 30% smaller than its predecessor which suffered severe damage from an earthquake.

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What is housed within Todai-ji is just as impressive as the building itself, Daibutsu is the world’s largest bronze buddha, and at over 1200 years old is unbelievably impressive.  The buddha itself has been recast by experts a number of times due earthquake damage.  The current hands were constructed during to Momoyama period (1568-1615).  You’ll notice that whenever you see damage to monuments, be it buddhas all over Asia or the ancient Roman sculptures in Italy, the first parts to succumb to damage are usually the hands, noses and penises, basically the things that stick out – although a lot of penises of statues around Europe were removed by prudes from various religions

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The main attraction at Todai-ji is of course Daibutsu, there are however many other impressive sculptures within the temple.

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Nara has a thriving wild deer population, Shintoists believe deer to be messengers of the gods and it’s easy to see why they might of thought this, these animals are so majestic, they roam around Nara freely and without any fear of humans; but beware, these gentle looking creatures are still wild and if you have food they will chase you for it and they have been known to head-butt people who get a little too close for comfort and I really wouldn’t like to get butted by some of the stags!

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This young girl found out that the deer really like food and are quite relentless when it comes to obtaining it.

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Nara has been so well preserved, there have been no modern eye-sores erected around Nara, it is just like stepping back in time.  I think the Japanese have a real respect for their past and hold their culture and traditions very close to heart which I find very honourable. Japan as a country has not just stepped into the future it has taken a giant leap into it.  We have to remember that 200 years ago Japan was a completely closed off country, nobody was allowed in and nobody was allowed out, now the Japanese government are doing all they can to attract foreign tourism, and with all they have to offer it’s very easy to see why so many people visit each year.

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If you’re fed up of the bright lights of the cities and fancy stepping back in time and walking through the streets of a more traditional Japan then come and visit Nara, it’s only a couple of hours away on the Shinkansen from Tokyo and less than an hour away from Kyoto and Osaka.  Nara is a place to wind down, a place where the sound of traffic and the dazzling neon lights are but a distant memory.

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After a long day of walking around and photographing the beautiful city of Nara, it was time for that cocktail next to the piano once played by the worlds most famous scientist, Albert Einstein.

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This is the first post I’ve managed to do in the morning as I have a week off from work.  We hiked to the top of mount Snowdon yesterday so I will be posting some photos from that trip soon.

Matt

 

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