In 2015, the JJ family took a trip to Japan, taking advantage of cheap fares on American Airlines. The trip was split between Tokyo, Kyoto and their surroundings. I have already written about our Kamakura visit. Recently, I heard a podcast on Japan highlighting Nara. And thought it would be a good time to do a postcard on this lovely old capital.
Nara is located in the Kansai region of Japan, about 25 miles from Kyoto. Like Kyoto, Nara was one of the old capitals of Japan. Nara is easily accessed from Kyoto station via the JR line. It is famous for its mountains, dense forests as well as the main temple of Todai-ji, the Kasuga-Taisha shrine and the Nara-koen, the home of the iconic deer.
Once at Nara station, we obtained maps of the area and took the local bus to the Todai-ji Temple where sits the Vairocana Buddha. The temple was founded in 752 AD and has been destroyed by fire at least twice and restored each time. The original temple was a 1/3 rd larger than the current one. The Todai-ji temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Outside the temple, the roads were busy with local shops and people trying to get out of the rain but the deer and the beautiful fall colors accorded us a warm welcome. The deer certainly weren’t shy around the hordes of visitors.
Once we obtained our tickets and walked into the main temple area, I was struck by the vastness of the wooden temple as well the sense of tranquility that prevailed. Surrounded by mountains and forests, and wide expanse of lawn on both sides, this is an ethereal location for a temple. I can imagine why someone would have chosen this plot of land to build this temple in.
The 45 foot tall Vairocana Buddha statue is massive and still, sunk deep in thought. With its radiating backdrop, the bronze Buddha does, indeed, look like the radiant sun. Behind the Great Buddha are displayed scale models of the original temple that were ravaged by fires. The outer temple complex contains a museum, a hall, and a research center.
After admiring the Buddha and the temple interiors, we quenched our hunger with Macha tea and sweets. We did not have time to visit the Shinto shrine but rather headed out to the train station again. This time we made our way to Osaka, also on the JR line. A port city, Osaka is known for its food and cultural activities. Our main goal was to visit the Kaiyukan, the Osaka Aquarium.
The area of the Kaiyukan is where the giant Tempozan Ferris Wheel is located. The Kaiyukan and the Ferris wheel were colorfully lit at the time of our visit. Inside the Kaiyukan, the tour starts at the top and follows a spiral ramp to the lower floors. We have visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Monterey Bay one in California. Yet, this aquarium kept us captivated with its design and variety of exhibits. If visiting Osaka, I think this aquarium would be enjoyable for all family members.
Traveling in Japan is easy with its excellent train network, well supported by local public transport within cities and towns. Of course, language is a big barrier and it pays to plan ahead. Japan is very safe to travel in, no matter what time of day. The Japanese are very respectful and their common courtesies made me feel acknowledged, as if I mattered, at all times. That was a unique feeling I am yet to encounter elsewhere.