Nara Say Nara

Posted by on Oct 31, 2011 in Nara, Travel Volunteer Journey | No Comments
Nara Say Nara

So far as capitial cities go, Nara’s shift as the top dog was pretty brief. For just 74 years from 710AD it was the ruling city of all Japan, including a five year holiday when power was transferred to what is now Osaka.

Actually, moving the capital was a standard practice at that time: each time an emperor died, the new one preferred set up new monuments to his own greatness than to move into the home of a dead man. So, in some ways, it’s lucky that Nara got two bites at the cherry.

Luckier still that Emperor Shomu was one of the country’s first mega-rich, passionate Buddhists. With money to burn (not necessarily all of it was his) his commissioned Daibutsu-den and Todai-ji – a vast house for a colossal Buddha – in the hope that a grand gesture to the gods would help ease the cyclical disaster that Japan was enduring at the time.

For a time it seemed to work.

The mega-structure that stands in front of us today, the world’s largest wooden building, is actually the third incarnation of Daibutsu-den. Like so many of the classic buildings around the country the original was destroyed by fire. So was its replacement.

The current version, at over 300 years old, isn’t exactly new, nor could it be regarded as small, but unlikely as it seems, the original building was 30% larger. Meanwhile the accompanying pagodas (also destroyed but never rebuilt) were over 100m tall, making them probably the world’s second tallest buildings at the time, after the Great Pyramid of Giza.

So Daibutsu-den is definitely the biggest jewel in Nara’s crown, but it’s only one of eight contributing buildings that ensured the city’s entry on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Hopefully in the not too distant future, Katy and I will find ourselves living in Edinburgh. There’s lots to like about Scotland’s capital, but, for us, the big draw is the huge amount of free entertainment that comes from the aged buildings. Without even bothering to look up the screeds of information on your surroundings, simply walking along the millennia-old streets  is a goddamn pleasure.

So it is in Nara with an almost overwhelming amount of temples and shrines and ornate roofs and so on and so forth. It’s a brilliant array, especially when the sun is shining – and it’s no wonder it’s a box office smash with swarms of tourists who arrive every day. Bus loads of raucous school kids and tipsy pensioners crowd the ancient streets, but take them out of it, and Nara Park would still be busy, but not with humans.

Traditionalists believe that the protected sika deer which infest the park are messengers of the gods. If that’s the case, the only message from the heavens is: “CRACKER! GIMME A CRACKER!” We can’t be certain, but that doesn’t seem like a cornerstone of the Buddhist faith.

Now, with gaggles of squealing children buying crackers and waving them under their noses, the excitable deer have become something of a nuisance, like giant furry pigeons not afraid to bite and barge their way to a meal. Who knows how many people were gorged before the park took up their annual trimming of the deer’s antlers.

With the beasts dehorned, we thought it’d be safe. We thought wrong. Just outside the preposterously huge Nandai-mon gate, with a strong current of kids flowing all around, we were just saying that we wish all wildlife photography could be like this, then something flashed at my side, Katy shouted my name, I turned and…


To be continued.



奈良は710年から74年という短い期間ではあったが、都が置かれ政治の中心地とされた場所だ。新しい天皇が即位すると同時に遷都するというのは、当時当然の流れであった。名実ともに“自分の都”を作り上げる事は、当時好まれた事だったようだ。 聖武天皇は、国の平穏を願って東大寺盧舎那仏像の建立の詔を発し、この素晴らしく巨大な大仏を東大寺に納めた。





奈良も同じように、多くのお寺や神社、そして荘厳な建物に囲まれて本当に美しい街並みだ。特に今日のようにお天気の良い日には最高♪ 観光バスで到着する観光客や修学旅行の学生など、これだけ多くの人々が詰めかけるのも当然だ。だがここ奈良公園は、それらの人々が全くいなかったとしても“人間”以外で賑やかしい・・・。