As well as being home to a vast amount of cultural sites of its own, Kyoto is also surrounded by other locations that make a great day trip (particularly with our Japan Rail Passes).
Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan, and with 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, it has plenty of wonderful sites including what is considered one of the top 3 sights in all of Japan.
We have seen a fair bit of old Buddha since we landed in Asia. We have seen him in tiny emerald form, in golden reclining form, and in gargantuan carved out of a cliff face form to name a few. Nara lays down a marker down in the world of impressive Buddha statues wxith the Daibutsu-den, or Great Buddha, standing at 15m tall and one of the largest cast bronze figures in the world even though it was made way back in 746.
Maybe we have been a bit over exposed to Buddha, whilst it is an impressive sight I think we were more taken with the building in which he resides. The main hall of the Todai-ji temple is the largest wooden building in the world and is simply extraordinary to look at, particularly when set against clear blue skies and bathed in bright sunshine.
Now only two thirds of its original size after the initial structure burned down, it still stands over 48 metres tall and nearly 60 metres wide, and despite the masses of tourists it manages to never feel too full.
Walking round the rest of Nara through the majestic gardens, parks and temples affords you plenty of opportunity to feed the wild deer (or as wild as a population continually fed by tourists with 150 Yen biscuits can be – though that said one did eat Niki’s map) and admire the hundreds, if not thousands of stone pillars housing lanterns lining the pathways. If you are lucky enough to visit in February during the Mantoro festival they are lit and reportedly provide impossibly atmospheric and beautiful lighting for a night time stroll.
The furthest point on our walk round Nara before retuning to the train station is a stop at Wakamiya-jinja temple. Whilst being all the things that we have come to expect from temples (beautiful, calm, relaxed etc) it also has some of the more unusual prayer plaques we have seen.
It is common to see small pieces of wood tied to walls with writing on them as people wish for various things, and often certain temples will be associated with a certain aspect of life e.g. we saw one that was associated with study and children would often come to write a prayer before exams.
We are not sure quite what the theme of the Wakamiya-jinja temple is but the pieces of wood were heart shaped or with pictures of either men’s genitalia of women’s breasts on the reverse. Perhaps we’ll let you decide what you think people are praying for?