Nara: Deer and Buddhas

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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.
Todai-ji Path

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.
Nara Deer

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.
Deer Cracker Vendor

The deer are very pushy. I tried to give my crackers to the little ones, who otherwise wouldn’t get any.
Begging Deer

Begging Deer

Approaching the outer gate of the Todai-Ji, closely followed by deer. Whatever you do, don’t put the crackers in your hip pocket!
Outer Gate

Girls with Deer

Fighting Deer

Running Deer

“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.
Guardian Figure

The path to the second gate is even more crowded.
Path to Inner Gate

More gateway guardians.
Guardian Figure

Guardian Figure

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.
Octagonal Lantern

This carved figure of a Healing Buddha is very popular.
Healing Buddha
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.
Great Buddha

Great Buddha

A figure of Kannon.

Another Figure

Another Figure

A model depicting the original, larger 8th century building.
Daibutsuden Model

Outside of a nearby shopping arcade, a mendicant monk stands by a fountain.
Fountain Monk

A used kimono store in the arcade sells silk kimonos for a small fraction of their original price.
Used Kimono Store

All Entries For This Trip.

3 thoughts on “Nara: Deer and Buddhas

  1. Ken Talton

    WOW! You got great pictures inside that temple! Great Job!
    (Mine absolutely sucked)
    My deer pictures came out OK.

    The funniest thing was watching the kids feed the deer.
    Mom gives kid cookie..
    Kid holds out cookie…
    Deer approaches kid..
    Kid backs up in fear…
    (various other manuvers by child until…)
    Deer GETS cookie…
    Child screams and jumps
    Deer chews…

    Oh, BTW, did you get an explanation for the “NO TRIPODS!” rule?

  2. Jonathan Tappan Post author

    I don’t know the reason for the “no tripods” rule. At least it isn’t “no photography.”

    Without a tripod (which I didn’t have with me anyway) the “secret” to taking pictures inside the temple seems to be:

    1. Don’t even try to use a flash.
    2. Take lots of pictures.
    3. Pick the least-bad ones.
    4. Adjust the lighting in Photoshop.

  3. J Greely

    It’s quite dark inside Todai-ji, so you really want a camera with at least one of: ISO 1600, image stabilization, fast fixed lens. I had all three, so I got a few decent shots inside, as well as a number of fixer-uppers. Flash is useless unless you brought one that’s bigger than your camera.

    Tripods are generally forbidden at places like this for two reasons: traffic control and “weeding out commercial photographers”. Careless tripod use is a safety hazard. You can generally use a monopod (“walking stick with threaded top”), but don’t just perch the camera on top of it; put a small ballhead on top and use it as your third leg, making you the tripod.

    Important tips for dealing with Nara deer: 1) don’t have anything loose in your jacket pockets, especially paper, because they’re expert pickpockets. 2) if you buy the crackers, quickly walk away from the stand that sells them before handing any out. We saw one schoolboy frantically throwing crackers over his shoulder as he tried to escape the horde, and I had three checking out my (zipped-shut!) pockets while I fed one.


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