Thursday, March 8, 2012

nara in a day - kōfuku-ji

Riley had to work today so I went to Nara by myself. I suggest taking the Kintetsu from Osaka because the Kintetsu-Nara Station is a five minute walk to Nara Park which is where most of the attractions are located. Nara was an ancient capital of Japan and I believe the most popular thing to see here is the wild deer that free to roam around. Deer and Nara have become so symbolically linked that  the tourist stamps and mascot of Nara is a cute little deer. According to Shinto, deer are messengers of the gods, and the god Takemikazuchi, worshiped at the local Kasuga Shrine, was said to arrived on a white deer to protect the city. The deer are highly protected and were roaming everywhere in Nara Park. I didn't see any on the streets of Nara but I did see them crossing streets within the park. Very cool and I'll talk more about them later.

Nara's main attractions can be pretty much seen all in one day, even with the stupid time constraint of everything closing at 4:30. Nara was amazing because everything was labelled! There were signs everywhere in the park showing you where all the attractions were and big map boards showing the whole layout of the park. The markers even showed the distance you had to walk in order to reach the attraction which was nice since you could see how long it would take you to get there or how far things were in relation to each other. Thumbs up for being tourist friendly!

First stop was Kōfuku-ji, a Buddhist family temple of the powerful Fujiwara Clan. Whenever I hear the word temple I imagine just one building but in Japan it is most often used to encompass an area comprising of several structures, like temple grounds. So here I was at Kōfuku-ji wandering around trying to establish which of the actual structures was Kōfuku-ji when I see a map and its like Doh! all these buildings make up Kōfuku-ji. The grounds are open 24 hours and only one or two buildings require an entrance fee and have a closing time. The most popular structure here would be the Goju-no-to, the Five-storied Pagoda, the second tallest in Japan.

The building next to the pagoda is the Tokondo or the Eastern Golden Hall and requires an admission fee of 300 yen. However I ended up following a women in and didn't realize I was suppose to pay until I already came back out. The security here isn't really strict and sometimes the ticket booth was left empty and people just wandered in and out... I would not recommend paying the 300 yen fee to see whats inside this hall because it is not worth it. Inside is just a large altar where you will find a large wooden statue of the Yakushi Buddha. No pictures allowed but I'm a bad ass so here it is a view worth 300 yen...

There is also a Chukondo,a Central Golden Hall, of a much larger scale than the Eastern Golden Hall that is being reconstructed and has a predicted opening date of 2018. The building is hidden by all this construction tarp that ruins the pretty temple landscape. There are also two octagonal halls but I only saw the Southern one because I was on a time crunch. These halls houses some of the temples treasures but are only open to the public a couple days of the year.
southern octagonal hall
The most tourist neglected building here I would have to say would be the Sanju-no-to, the Three-storied Pagoda. While everyone was taking pictures of its five-storied counterpart no one even headed to the little area where the Three-storied Pagada was. I gave this building some love but honestly after seeing the Five-storied Pagoda I can understand why everyone just passes this one by, it's just not as impressive.

Nearby there was a vendor selling shika-sembei or deer biscuits for 150 yen. There were a group of deer hovering nearby just waiting for someone to buy some biscuits so they could rush them. I stood nearby assessing the situation because I had heard stories about how aggressive these deer could get in trying to get fed and I wanted to make sure if I fed these animals that I would be getting some pictures out of it. Sure enough these guys bought some biscuits and the deer rushed them so fast and so aggressively that none of them could even pose for a picture much less make those biscuits last long enough to have a satisfying experience with feeding the deer.

The guy is surrendering because the deer wouldn't leave him alone even after passing out all the biscuits. This doesn't look that scary but imagine a hoard of big ass deer head butting you and biting you to give them crackers and you'll surrender too. I was smart about this and didn't buy from this vendor because she was in too open of a spot where all the deer would notice if you approached the vendor for some biscuits and then mad rush you for them. I wasn't going to repeat the mistake of these guys.

The deer are really cute. They have learned that if they bow their head they usually get fed...

However if that doesn't work... they aren't opposed to head butting you either! Good thing all of the deer's horns are filed down.

crotch shot!

The Details & Helpful Links
Directions to Nara Park from Kintetsu Nara Station: exit 3 (there is an information booth here) and walk straight up the hill past the fountain in front of the station exit.

Nara Sightseeing Guide - can be picked up at Tourist Information Desks
Nara Walks PDF - includes information on transportation, attractions and a map
Nara Wiki Travel
Japan Travel Guide Nara Travel Guide

Eastern Golden Hall
hours: 9am-5pm (last entrance is probably at 4:30pm)
admission fee: 300 yen (you can purchase a 800 yen combo ticket for the hall and the Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall - admission fee 600 yen)

I didn't check out the National Treasure Hall so I can't tell you if its worth it. I just know the Eastern Golden Hall ain't. 

Kōfuku-ji Website

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