This morning (after my previous post), we left a drizzly Kyoto behind and made the 50km journey to Nara Park which is situated at the foot of Mount Wakakusa, south of Kyoto. One of the cool things about Nara Park is that it’s one of the oldest parks in the country and plays host to one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples – Todaiji. And since the park is free to enter, we decided to check it out as we’ve heard quite a lot about the furry, four-legged locals that run the show there.

Upon arrival at Nara Park, we immediately made our way to the beautiful Todaiji Temple, which means the “Great Eastern Temple”. To understand the significance of the temple, I quickly need to give you some background to the story. As you know, the capital city of Japan today is Tokyo, but did you know that Japan actually moved their capital city around over the centuries? The reason for this is because, historically, the city in which the reigning Emperor lived, by default became the capital city of Japan (you can see where I’m going with this right?) and since Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, the capital city of Japan also moved from Kyoto to Tokyo and has been the capital city ever since.

Okay, so back to Todaiji. The temple was built back in 752 to serve as the main temple of all Buddhist temples in Japan. The reason for building the Great Temple in Nara Park was because back in 752 Emperor Shōmu lived in Nara, which means (you’ve guessed it), Nara was the capital city of Japan. Until very recently, Todaiji temple held the record for being the largest wooden building in the world (still the largest wooden temple in the world) and features the famous Daibutsu, also known as the Great Buddha. Cast from over 400 tons of bronze and sitting 15 metres tall, the Great Buddha, the largest in the country, takes centre stage in the main hall and attract millions of visitors each year. If you stand in the temple today, you can easily spend hours admiring the architectural details of the wooden building that once served as the heart of a nation. In fact, in 784, the temple grew so powerful that the capital was moved away from Nara to Nagaoka in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.

Todaiji Temple
Todaiji Temple
The gate at Todaiji Temple

The Great Buddha, weighing over 400 tons and sitting 15 metres tall

After exploring the temple, we moved on to the park itself, a 500-hectare public space that features beautiful rivers and bridges that are seamlessly embedded into the landscape. Nara Park, however, has a competitive edge over the other public parks because of its large population of Sika Deer that roams freely, always begging for snacks or asking visitors for a gentle head scratch. Legend has it that the people of ancient times saw these animals as the ‘messengers from the gods’ and therefore never considered hunting them. Today, it’s so easy to fall in love with these animals because they’ve managed to adopt the Japanese culture of bowing. Here in Japan, people don’t shake hands as we do in the western world but instead bow their heads to signal a greeting, a salutation, show reverence, give an apology or simply show gratitude – these animals, somehow adopted this human behaviour. Elaine bought two packs of ‘shika senbei’, a special type of cookie you can feed the animals, and we made the video below to share the moment with you:

Not really sure what happened here. These kids approached us for a school project. They asked questions, we answered. We meant one thing, they understood it as something else and somehow we ended up in their curriculum.
Elaine at Nara’s Shinto Shrine, meaning ‘place of the gods’

Elaine on the bridge over Troubled Waters

Around 13:00, we were back on the road and arrived at Mount Fuji just before 18:00. Unfortunately, the weather did not hold up and it’s been pouring down for almost 3 hours straight. At this moment, we’re not confident that we’ll even see the mountain tomorrow morning but we did enjoy another amazing dinner at the restaurant next door. I must admit, so far the food has been amazing and the Japanese saké that was served with dinner tonight was the perfect ending to a great day.

Tomorrow we embark on the final stretch of our road trip as we head up to Tokyo. If all goes according to plan, then we should be in the capital for lunch, giving us enough time to soak up the city’s vibes before we join the build-up for the rugby semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday. Thanks for checking in, we’ll update you again tomorrow.

Good night from Mount Fuji,
Andre & Elaine