Friday 20 March 2020

What to do in Nara, Japan

Nara is a quaint city in the Kansai region of Japan. I say quaint but this pretty city used to be the capital of Japan before both Kyoto and Tokyo. I would describe the atmosphere as being similar to that of Kyoto in that it is rich in culture and home to an abundance of shrines, temples and gardens.

Nara Park
  • Opening hours: 24hrs

The most obvious difference between Nara and Kyoto is the presence of over a thousand sika deer who roam the lands as sacred messengers of Takemikazuchi, the god of thunder. Up until 1637, it was considered a capital offence to harm the deer and you could be sentenced to death however, after WWII, their status was lowered a little and today, they are seen as a national treasure.

These cute, spotted deers have learned to bow their heads in return for food. You can find vendors selling senbei (rice crackers) all around Nara park for a small fee (100yen-200yen). It's a fun way to kill some time - simply bow your head and the deer will bow in return for some delicious goods. Ensure that you only feed them the senbei being sold by vendors as they are made specifically for the deer and are good for their diet. Feeding them human food can be detrimental to their health.

It's important to keep in mind that the deer maybe used to the presence of humans however, it's their still wild animals. Mind your fingers when you're feeding them and also, when you're not feeding them. I sat down to eat a snack and a few minutes later, I realised that some deers were circling me like sharks. It was a little scary! I also found that they like to nip at your clothes and bags as they think that you're hiding food from them. Greedy little buggers but they're so adorable!

Todaiji Temple
  • Opening hours: 7.30am-5.30pm April-October, 8am-5pm November-March
  • Admission: 600yen

Todaiji is a Buddhist temple built in 752 as a way to bring forth peace in a time where smallpox, crop failure and violence was profuse. As you approach the temple, you come across the Nandaimon gate (great Southern gate) which has two, fearsome Nio posted at either side of the gate. These statues are the there to guard the temple from evil spirits, demons and humans.

On the day that I visited the temple, the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. When entering Todaiji's dimly lit great Buddha hall (Daibutsuden), it took my eyes a few second to refocus and when they did, it gazed upon the 15 meter bronze statue of the celestial Buddha, Vairocana.

Inside the temple there is a wooden pillar with a hole at the base. It is said to be the same size as the great Buddha's nostril and if you can squeeze through the opening, you will be granted enlightenment in the next life. When I was there, a group of school children were visiting and one of the students manage to squeeze their way through the small hole. He just about fit but had to be pulled out with assistance from his peers - it was quite amusing to watch!

  • Opening hours: 10am-7pm

Nakatanido is a small confectionery shop which has become famous over the years for their mochi pounding performance. Steamed, glutinous rice is pounded using large wooden pestles at an incredible speed, fresh and warm and filled with mugwort and red bean paste. Japanese mugwort is an aromatic herb and adding it to the mochi gave it a fresh fragrance and green hue.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the mochi masters at work however, I was able to taste some warm, squishy mochi. My partner wasn't a fan of the traditional filling however, I didn't mind it as much as it was slightly sweet and creamy.

Cafe & Pancake Gram
  • Opening hours: 10.30am-8pm

Before coming to Japan, I had a list of food items I really wanted had to try and souffle pancakes were at the top of that list. These pancakes are a lot lighter and airier than you're accustomed to. In fact, the Japanese have a name of the texture of these pancakes and that is fuwa fuwa, an ideophone for fluffy.

You can only experience these premium pancakes at certain times of the day: 11am, 3pm and 6pm and there are only 20 orders at each seating so it's important to get there early. When I visited the Nara branch at 6pm (there's a few available over Japan including Tokyo and Osaka), there was only one other group of people present. We were seated, placed our orders and waited around 20 minutes before a gravity-defying stack of 3 jiggly pancakes were presented in front of me. Even with the addition of whipped cream, syrup and butter, the pancakes weren't overly sweet. They have a similar quality to cotton candy in that you have a bite and it's like you're eating air, but yummier.

The only disappointment is that you'll wait all that time just to devour the stack in under 5 minutes - or is that just me? You can have a look at the other items on their menu here.


1 comment:

:-) said...

Wow sounds amazing, yummmm pancakes