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March, 2016

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Our self-guided itinerary suggested a day trip from Kyoto to Nara, Japan’s capital from 710 to 784. Whilst it promised temples, which we’d seen plenty of, the main draw was the deer which roam wild.

Following a 45 minute train journey, we eventually found tourist information and a map.

We walked down the main street, Sanjo Dori, lined with cafes and souvenir shops. On reaching the park area we saw our first landmark, Sawusawa pond. It was large, full of murky water and so uninteresting, that none of us were tempted to photograph it.

However, we then started to see the deer and our cameras were quickly snapping. We bought ‘deer biscuits’ for ¥150 – 8 biscuits similar to digestives in size and colour although I can’t comment on the taste. We tempted the deer closer although they were so tame they needed little persuasion. Some were obviously hungry: one snatched a map from an unsuspecting tourist and proceeded to eat it whilst another grabbed a plastic bag containing a bread loaf from a young girl. Eventually after seeing and photographing so many deer, we decided it was more interesting watching them approach unsuspecting tourists: a young Australian boy wailed profusely having being gently head butted from behind. All the deer had been disbudded and we could understand why. Whilst they looked cute, they could pack a punch.

Our first major site was the five-storey pagoda and Kofukuji Temple founded in the 7th century. However, it was currently being refurbished and not due to be completed until 2018 so we walked on and settled for a quick drink stop.

Refreshed, we continued to Todaiji Temple and paid ¥500 (£3.30) to enter. The main hall, the largest wooden building in the world, housed a huge bronze Buddha alongside several smaller Buddhist statues as well as wooden models of the former and current building. A large wooden pillar at the exit had a hole in its base the same size as the Buddha’s nostril. If you could squeeze through the opening, you’re granted enlightenment in their next life. Despite that attraction, we didn’t embarrass ourselves in case we got stuck.

Waking on, we passed the entrance to gardens which for some reason weren’t on our map, so carried on to the Kasuga Taisha shrine. Whilst the walk was up a long steep drive, beautiful moss-covered stone lanterns, donated by worshippers, lined the path. They’re only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, in February and August, which must be a stunning sight. As we were now well into our Japanese trip, we’d seen enough temples and shrines and strolled back into town and the train home.

This was a big walking day and the app on our phones showed we’d done over 16,000 steps. However, there is a bus alternative and lots more temples and shrines to see if you have the stamina.

Helen Jackson

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