The ancient city of Nara, capital of Japan from 710 to 784, is a short train ride from Kyoto. Many people make the trip, and what most of them want to see is the great temple called the Todai-ji.
The long path leading to the temple runs between a park on one side and a line of vendor’s stalls on the other.
These are the famous (or notorious) Nara deer. They have been considered sacred ever since the god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara riding on the back of one of them, and they are unafraid of humans.
This vendor is selling bundles of rice crackers to feed the deer. They taste like cardboard but the deer don’t mind. In fact you don’t need to worry about disposing of the paper they come wrapped with; the deer will happily eat that too.
The deer are very pushy. I tried to give my crackers to the little ones, who otherwise wouldn’t get any.
Approaching the outer gate of the Todai-Ji, closely followed by deer. Whatever you do, don’t put the crackers in your hip pocket!
“I’ve been diving for years; I’ve filmed hundreds of sharks and I’ve never been bitten once. Now I’ve been bitten by a deer. Take it from me: deer are more dangerous!”–A Scuba Diver
A gateway guardian figure.
The path to the second gate is even more crowded.
More gateway guardians.
The great hall known as the Kondo or Daibutsuden is the world’s largest wooden building.
When it was originally built in the middle of the 8th century it was even larger. It was burned down during civil wars in 1180 and 1567, and rebuilt each time slightly smaller, due partly to the scarcity of the giant cypress trees needed for its construction.
The gilded fish tail shapes on the roof are intended to protect the building from fire (because, you know, fish like water.)
This octagonal lantern is one of the few items left from the original 8th century building.
This carved figure of a Healing Buddha is very popular.
He used to be kept inside the building, but he was so talkative that he disturbed the other Buddhas and had to be moved outside.
Inside the building is the Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze Buddha, 15 meters tall.
A figure of Kannon.
A model depicting the original, larger 8th century building.
Outside of a nearby shopping arcade, a mendicant monk stands by a fountain.
A used kimono store in the arcade sells silk kimonos for a small fraction of their original price.