Rachel in Tokyo

This is a blog about an American law school student studying in Tokyo for the semester.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Deer Nara...奈良市

Nara was awesome! We had the chance to pet deer and see some of the greatest historical artifacts treasured in Japan. The Big Buddha (bigger than even Kamakura), was only one of the attractions in Nara.

This was one of the smallest shrines I have seen in Japan. It took up about 1/4 of a block. However, we did see an even smaller one in Nikko, which took up a parking space in front of an apartment.

I played with this kid on the ride home. He was so cute!

The 3 of us lit candles. Mutsuko for love and happiness, Tomoko for happiness and work, and me? Studies and happiness of course!

The buddhas in the chinese restaurants...you know...the ones where you "rub their tummy" for good luck? Well, this is the ORIGINAL, at least that what they told me on our trip. We rubbed his tummy for good luck. He sits just outside the BIG BUDDHA in Nara.

Nara was the capital of Japan during most of the Nara period, from 710 to 784. The city was modelled after the capital of Tang Dynasty China, Chang'an (present-day Xi'an). The capital was then relocated to Nagaoka-kyō in Yamashiro Province, before being moved to Heian-kyō in 794, the start of the Heian Period. About origin of the city name "Nara", according to the ancient Japanese book ' Nihon Shoki ', it came from a Japanese word ' narashita ' which means 'made flat'. [1] In the modern age, as the seat of the prefectural government, Nara has developed into a local center of commerce and government. The city was officially incorporated on February 1, 1898.

These students were so cute. We had a brief conversation, in very basic English, with their teacher standing nearby. I was a celebrity.

I have never seen so many wild deer! And they came right up to me! We all fed and petted wild deer!
Nara is famous for its tame deer that roam all over the town, and especially in the park areas. Snack vendors sell small circular biscuits to visitors so they can enjoy feeding the deer. The deer are often a bit overly familiar and cheeky if they see you have biscuits, and can nudge, jostle, and even bite for attention to be fed; be warned if you have small children because they might be a bit scared if a group of deer start crowding you for food.

Once upon a time, as the story goes, deer were the sacred messengers of gods of the Kasuga shrine which is located here in Nara. The descendents of these deer live in the Nara Park and occasionally wander around the city streets. Because they are sacred, they are protected by law.

The deer aren’t exactly tame, but they aren’t exactly wild either. You can buy special “shika sembei” or deer crackers to feed the animals. But as anyone who has done this will tell you, years of sacredness can sometimes make the deer behave in a slightly overentitled fashion.

In the summer, for example, the bucks still have their antlers, and they may prod you from behind to ask that you hurry up and start feeding them.

Clusters of deer may crowd around you and nibble on your buttons or sleeves to demand attention and thus food.
Some deer may not differentiate between the special “deer crackers” and your own food, as this group of students discovered.
Because of its many temples and shrines, Nara is a famous tourist destination. Mythologically speaking, it is said that when the first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, descended from heaven, he rode a deer and arrived in Nara. The sacred deer that wander Nara are said to be its descendants. Around temples and shrines, sacred deer wander around the streets and request food from tourists (deer food is sold on the premises).

An overwhelmed tourist might therefore feel compelled to actually escape from the deer, and it is not uncommon to see people yelp, or run away with deer in hot pursuit.


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