It’s cool that Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital and is full of imperial history but it was talk of free-roaming deer that eat out of your hand that really drew me in. Sure enough, as soon as we stepped foot into Nara-kōen (a huge park occupying half the city), we were surrounded by deer. True, I’d already bought deer biscuits and they could probably smell them, but they were also everywhere. Laura Numeroff should steer clear of writing, “If you give a deer a biscuit…” because really all that happens if you give a deer a biscuit is that he follows you around until you have no more biscuits, then he follows you around just a little longer to make absolutely sure. Considering how intimidated I was by this, you can probably imagine how the little kids felt. Their faces would go from excitement to sheer terror in a matter of seconds. Kind of priceless.
We obviously stopped by Tōdai-ji for a look at the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and Niō guardians at the entrance gate, but we also discovered that Isui-en garden is Juan’s favorite Japanese garden in all three of his trips to Japan. The show-stealer for me, though, was the walk to Kasuga Taisha shrine. The pathways are lined with hundreds (maybe thousands) of lanterns. And I’m not talking paper lanterns you buy for Halloween to line your sidewalk. I’m talking four- to six-foot stone lanterns patterned after pagodas and covered with delicate rice paper. The 8th-century shrine itself is also fascinating because Shintō tradition apparently required that it be completely rebuilt every 20 years.