We left Friday at three, and cruised into Nara around 11pm. A long, long time ago, Nara was once the capital of Japan, but only for a short time. Political power was soon moved to Kyoto since the pesky priests were getting too powerful. Kyoto is THE place to go to see unbelievably gorgeous shrines, but to be honest, I much prefer Nara. Kyoto is a big city, with all the usual problems of big cities. But in Nara, all of the beautiful sights are in and around Nara Park, and you can see them all comfortably in one day, on foot. And there's lots of overly-friendly wild deer that hang out with you. That's cool too.
The most major site in Nara is Todai-ji. It's the largest wooden structure in the world, and it houses a really really big Buddha. That's the picture below. It's amazing really, because the present structure is only two-thirds the size of the original.
Unfortunately, it started absolutely pissing rain while we were at Todai-ji, and we had earlier decided to lug around the tripod instead of the second umbrella, so we spent the rest of the day getting really really wet. But who cares! It was so exciting to be in Nara and to have the whole amazing weekend before us.
From Todai-ji we meandered through Nara park up to Ni Gatsu Do (next picture), which means February hall/second month hall...(?) Very cool building, with what would have been an amazing view of Nara had it not been for the buckets and buckets of rain.
After this, we headed over to Kasuga Shrine. The walk over was amazing. It was through the park again. The path was lined with stone lanterns. Trees, grass, and moss were everywhere, and super green. And the walk was unusually quiet and peaceful, mostly due to the rain. To see some pictures of the shrine, check out this site.
We did not pay the fee to enter the shrine. We agreed that the outer view and the amazing walk leading to it was enough for us. However, while we were admiring the outer part of the shrine, something really awesome happened. I noticed some really dressed up people waiting with large cameras, and I thought, "oh, it must be a wedding." It was. The bride and groom, followed by their families, mothers both in beautiful black and gold kimonos, made their way up the steps and were quickly ushered into the main part of the shrine. We thought that was the last we would see of them. But as we made our way around to the side of the shrine, we realized the bride and groom were just inside the shrine, posing for their formal pictures. Wow. What a beautiful sight. They were both gorgeous. What made it all the more memorable was that there were some excited British tourists gawking and taking their pictures. The groom broke his formal posing for awhile and humoured them by casually coming over and saying hello. It was really neat. He spoke some English, and told them his age (28) and his bride's age (23). He shook hands with them, and then they asked him if he would pose for a picture. He agreed, and the sudden change in him was literally breathtaking. He was wearing a long black kimono and holding a fan in one hand. He suddenly took on a serious, what I called "samurai-looking" pose, puffing out his chest, and holding the fan at his side, just so. As soon as the picture was taken, he broke back into his easy smile, but I was, well, smitten. Wow.
Later, as we left the park, we were lucky enough to see them being escorted away. Not the best picture, but what a great memory.
Finally, the deer. They were everywhere. And they were funny. Very personable really. In one section of the park, we were trying to figure out where the strange high-pitched barking was coming from. A small annoying dog? Oh no, it was a deer. A male deer, obviously distressed about ... we're not sure what. But he ended up distressing all the tourists around him too.
Then, when we were on our way to Kasuga Shrine, we saw the following scene: those audacious deer! These two almost walked straight into this woman's store! We were trying to figure out what was going on. Most of the vendors sell "deer senbei" - rice crackers for deer. We thought maybe the deer were trying to steal her senbei - most vendors have to keep them locked in a cage. We later found out why the deer were so forward with her. After some time, she came out with a bowl-full of old bread...to feed the deer. You should have seen them come running...down the streets, from over the hills... she is one popular woman, she is...
And finally, this picture is blurry, but I like it. Jeff was having a conversation with this deer. Looked like the deer wanted to talk back...