Julia had a little incident in Nara that reminded me about one of Japan's most admirable qualities: the honor and honesty of its wonderful people. And all it took was the small act of a forthright deer snack vendor to bring credit to an entire nation.
...The excitable Julia was on her first-ever souvenir budget of Y1000 a day, a sum subject to taxation for the behavioral issues that are typical of an 8-year-old traveling. By day six, her total accumulation, minus purchases and taxes, amounted to just over Y2000, most of which was stored securely in two tightly folded Y1000 yen notes tucked deeply in the change purse dangling from her neck. The Kanji printed on the blue polysetser said "secret stash", and she guarded its contents as if they were highly classified.
...Then came Nara's deer. The deer! The deer! Julia had to buy crackers to feed the deer! She raced towards a lonely cornerside vendor and made the quick Y150 transaction, then it was off to feed the deer! Pumping adrenaline into the mix were herds of equally excitable bucks, one of whom nipped Julia and startled her into sprinting away.
...After examining the wound and calming down, we visited the serene Todaiji Temple, where Julia -- much to her horror -- discovered a terrible truth. She had forgotten to unfold her taut bundle of yen, handing over two bills but getting change for only one. All seemed lost! The crestfallen Julia burned an incense candle in hopes of getting her day's wages back, but the jaded adults held out minimal hope. In fact, this would be a good life lesson about being careful with money, we thought. "You only have a prayer because you're in Japan. This is the only place where a vendor might be so honest," Kevin added as an aside, having been here before.
....Armed with the thinnest of hopes, Julia found the vendor and walked up to her. Julia could only ssay "Sumimasen" in Japanese. The vendor could say nothing in English. Julia jabbered on desperately, her innocent faith in humanity leaking out of her head slowly, dribbling to the ground, mixing with deer urine, crushed mercilessly under the feet of the tourist hoard.
....Then, somehing clicked. The vendor, a stooped old woman who has seen thousands of western faces come and go, recognized Julia and remembered the transaction. You could see the recollection light up her eyes. With a burst of surprised Japanese, she produced Y1000, unfolded it and gave it to Julia! We exited with rapid, profusive. stunned bows of arigatos. "Julia, don't expect this in New York!" is all we could say.
Fondest memory: The above story is not unique. Almost every visitor to Japan can recount a similar tale, and I'm sure Japanese are amazed that we find such behavior remarkable. This type of honesty is one of Japan's gifts to the world.
If you buy the deer crackers to feed the deer around Kasuga Taisha Shrine Jin'en Park then be aware that they will be with you forever. The deer are extremely tame and once you feed one you'll have a herd within seconds.
That being said, it makes for a fun photo opportunity!
Fondest memory: So many wonderful sights to see, feeding the deer can be a bit of light relief... guys, just be careful if they start to nudge you... we saw quite a few guys doubled over after a deer decided to get their feeders attention with a quick nudge to the mid-section.
Oh no, another VT Nara page with deer puns! Yet all tourists leave Nara with a warm recollection of the friendly deer that roam freely through Nara Park and on the grounds of Kasuga Shrine.
The temptation to combine "dear" and "deer' into one sentence is almost as strong as the temptation to feed the deer that sour plum rice ball that you've been carrying around in your pocket since Osaka.
Special deer sembei (Japanese crackers) are sold by attendants to ensure that proper nutrition is given by the herds of tourists who visit Nara Park and Kasuga Shrine.
Fondest memory: I put a deer sembei in my mouth, not so much to taste it for myself but rather to pose for a photo offering it to the most docile deer I could find. The resulting exhibition was the talk of the town as Japanese schoolgirls covered their mouths in a collective giggle and pointed to the strange foreigner ("hen na gaijin").
Favorite thing: One of the many Shinto gates in Nara. The mixing of Buddhism and Shinto is an interesting characteristic of Japanese religion. Buddhism tells you to rely on yourself, while Shinto gives you a god to pray to when things get bad.
One of the landmarks in the old Nara is the five-storey pagoda, part of the Kofuku-Ji temple complex.
Kofuku-Ji was founded in 669 AD by a member of the Fujiwara clan, and was moved to its present location in 710 when Nara became the new capital city
Even after the capital moved to Edo (Tokyo) later that century, Nara flourished for nearly 400 years, until the Fujiwara name waned, and the temple's powerful patrons left.
Today, only a handful of buildings are left from the period, but there is a good collection of statues inbside the Tokon-do and Kokuhokan buildings.
Fondest memory: See my travelogues for more on Nara.
We arrived at JR Nara station and obtained a map at the small tourist information booth at the station. Cross the road to start your walk. Have a leisure and interesting walk along Sanjo-dori, passing by many shops and hotels.
To be continued...
Go to the 'Todaiji'-temple to see the great 'Daibatsu'. The statue, as well as the wooden! building are of amazing proportions. You can enjoy the hall from the park in front of it.
Fondest memory: The complete surprise my friend got when entering the hall. Slowly her eyes were rising upwards, following the contours of the 'Daitbatsu'. It was a very funny sight to see the amazement in her eyes.
Favorite thing: Visit TODAI-JI TEMPLE: Star attraction of Nara. Todai-ji is the largest wooden temple in the world (!) & houses the GREAT BUDDHA, one of the largest bronze images in the world as well.
Definitely visit NARA-KOEN PARK: This park is home to about 1200 deer which the Japanese considered national treasures! In the olden times, the deers were considered messenger of gods!!!
Fondest memory: Feeding shikasembei (biscuits costing 100 Yen) can be real fun. The deers are very cute but are also spoilt rotten! Make sure you don't eat the biscuit yourself, LOL!
Favorite thing: In TodaiJi, the golden buddha (50 feet tall) is Japan's largest bronze statue. Having suffered numerous mishaps since its unveiling 1250 years ago, only parts of the original remain, but it is impressive nonetheless.
Great change in Japanese history began here, and the enormous temple of TodaiJi was founded in 745 by the Emperor Shomu. It is now synonymous with the city, and hundreds of thousands of Japanese visit annually to pay tribute here. It took over 15 years to build, and the main hall is still the world's largest wooden building.
Since wood was a major part of Japanese architecture, fires were common, and in an earthquake-ridden land, many of the ancient temples and other buildings no longer exist in their original form, but in re-creations, most of which are historically accurate. TodaiJi was last rebuilt in 1709, at only 2/3 of its original size.
Fondest memory: These pagodas were so lovely to look at and as you can see I was quite snap happy! Here is another one.
When I was in Nara it was Ume (Plum Blossom) time.
This picture was taken in front of Todaiji Temple.
Favorite thing: On our way down to the JR Nara Station, an old man was taking pictures of a tree filled with beautiful flowers that grew alongside of a pathway.
Favorite thing: Can't remembered where is this place. We stopped for a rest halfway and found this temple with its big lanterns hanging outside. Thought it is quite cool.