Nara and the Great Buddha

Nara and the Great Buddha

IMG_7121We’re continuing travelling around Western Japan using our Japan Rail Passes. An initiative to encourage more visitors to Japan, these passes – offering unlimited miles – can only be bought prior to arriving here.

A 45 mins local train, through unappealing urban sprawl, brought us to Nara, the capital city prior to Kyoto. It’s where you come to see the Todai-ji complex and the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), one of the largest bronze Bhudda figures in the world.

We had planned a rest evening in the hostel, catching up on diaries and emails, but that was scuppered by the prospect of seeing the temples, shrines and lakes in Nara Park lit by 20,000 glowing lanterns. This magical atmosphere, now in its 19th year, is the Nara To-kae festival, attracting to Nara nearly 1m visitors. We were particularly lucky seeing the Buddhist wooden statues lit up in the Todai-ji complex.

In the morning, bright sunshine replaced the lanterns, and children were feeding the deer in the park. We headed straight to the 16m high Daibutsu, originally cast in 746 BC. It’s housed in the 1709 built Daibutsu-den Hall, one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, yet amazingly a mere two thirds of the size of the 789 BC original.

We were glad to be here, especially as we have now seen all three of Japan’s most iconic sights (the others are Kinkaku-ji and Mount Fuji). But, we are now completely “templed-out”. The next stop on our train journey will be to visit Japan’s best castle.

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The other World Heritage Site we visited in Nara was Kasuga Taisha, a sprawling Shinto shrine founded in the 8th century, and completely rebuilt every 20 years according to Shinto practice
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