Nara Say Nara Again

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 in Nara, Travel Volunteer Journey | 2 Comments
Nara Say Nara Again

…It bit me! At least I thought it did. There was definitely a flash of teeth. Were my jeans wet with the monster’s drool? It was hard to tell, but still: the horror!

We shuffled off, a good deal perturbed by the experience, and after that avoided the unrelenting deer.

Rather than contemplate the world’s ills for too long, we decided to regroup the next day and head deeper into the park. There were several miles of walks ahead of us. In places like this, where so much has been preserved so well, it’s hard not to let your mind wander.

The stretch leading up to Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do, two grand halls that form an important part of the complex, really feels like time travel stuff. Traditional roofs, weather-beaten stone roads – if you can ignore the vending machines, then surely this is the 8th Century incarnate?

Nara Park, for all its splendour, doesn’t have a monopoly on the city’s historic sites. In the southwest there are days’ worth of other temple complexes that we simply didn’t have time for. Instead, we walked back into town and to the Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple that stretches back beyond even Todai-ji. Like it’s big cousin, Kofuku-ji is a reconstruction, but the original building was founded in 607AD.

The accompanying 33m-high pagoda enjoyed better fortune; there’s enough of its original innards remaining for it to lay claim to the title of the “world’s oldest wooden building”. The central pillar has been dated at 594AD and has survived typhoons, wars and earthquakes to stand today, humble and humbling.

All of these relics draw visitors in huge numbers. Evidently Japanese tourists still have some reservations about safety in the north of the country, but they’re out in full force in Nara. As a result there’s a small army of people ready to sell them, well, tat. To our surprise this was the case even inside Daibutsu-den – and the stalls weren’t short of customers. You wouldn’t get that in every faith.

Then there are the evil-doers selling deer crackers to the maddening crowds, and others selling t-shirts and cuddly toys, and so on and so forth. In other words, it’s nothing you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world.

Thankfully, though, Nara more than compensates travellers with a first-rate service industry. Don’t take my word for it: listen to Michelin, the world’s leading guide to high-end travel, who recognised Nara’s importance to the hospitality scene by including them in their 2012 guide. One three star restaurant, three stars and 21 one-star restaurants were picked. What does that all mean? In short: outstanding food, stupendously-high bills, and an experience of pure luxury.

It’s not just the restaurants either. With tourism being the lifeblood of modern Nara, the accommodation has to be able to cater for everyone, from youth hostels up. As we are fortunate swine, we got to sample some of the very best: the 102-year-old grand dame of the city Nara Hotel; and the ultra-sleek members hotel Noborioji.

With both of them being so generous, it’d be unfair for us to choose a favourite. No matter which one you picked, though, you’d be on to a winner. And the menacing deer would feel a million miles away.

Our time in Nara prefecture was made possible by:

Irori Dining Tanaka, who saved us from ourselves by laying on dinner one night. We’d have been happy with whatever was put in front of us, so to get a ludicrously generous portion of Yamato beef to cook over our own BBQ was unforgettable. Not only that, but we had marshmallows to toast on the same fire for dessert!

The Nara Hotel, which is the very embodiment of tourism in Nara. When we looked at the list of dignitaries that have stayed here over the years, it was hard not to feel a little out of place. But the staff couldn’t have tried harder to put our minds at ease. The grounds and the building were stunning – it’s no wonder the place has been keeping people happy for over 100 years.

Noborioji, a stunning modern hotel right in the centre of Nara, who kindly relaxed their membership rules to give us one of the best rooms in their sleek, boutique residence. When you can run from one room to another, jump and still not make it across the gargantuan bed, you know you’re on to a winner. Oh and did we mention the complimentary bottle of champagne? There was one you know, there was…
















  1. Ryoko Okamoto
    November 2, 2011

    History of Nara is older than that of Kyoto and temples are bigger than those of Kyoto.I like these structure.Deer..may be you will see them again in Miyajima,Hiroshima prefecture!

  2. Eunice
    November 3, 2011

    Deer crackers have resulted in deer poo being everywhere! Did you have fun dodging deer crap as much as I did in Nara? :)