Awakening the second day in Osaka we were in for a surprise and treat. As it turned out the day was a Japanese holiday and Nat was off work. Nat would become our tour guide to Nara, the beautiful ancient (710 - 784 AD) capital and the cradle of its arts, crafts, literature and industries. It was in Nara that Buddhism first appeared in Japan and reached its peak in 752 when Diahutsu, the world's largest bronze statue of Buddha, was completed in the Todaiji Temple.

The main hall of Todaiji Temple houses the Diahutsu and is known as the world's largest wooden structure. Both the Diahutsu and the main hall have been damaged or destroyed by fire numerous times since they were first completed. The present statue dates to 1692 and the building to 1709.

Todaiji Temple Main Hall

Entrance to the main hall
which houses the Diahutsu

Nat and Anne by the

Diahutsu, the world's
largest bronze statue of

A sentry standing guard
in the temple
Diahutsu is immense standing 53 feet high
and weighs 452 tons

A shrine devoted to animals

The Shrine above is a good example of the importance that the Japanese place in their faith. The small wooden plaques and tied pieces of paper contain messages from people. The message may be a request for some favor to be granted or a thank you for a favor already granted. Such small shrines appear everywhere throughout many of the temple complexes. It also seems that these shrines are devoted to particular aspects of life, such as the Love Shrine at Kiyomizu Temple and this one to animals at Todaiji Temple.

Leaving Todaiji Temple we proceeded into Nara Park, or what is commonly referred to as Deer Park. There is a good reason for this as the park contains over 1,000 tame deer that roam free within the confines of the park. Being an animal lover this was one part of the day I particularly enjoyed.

Entrance to Kiyomizu Temple

Feeding the deer at Nara Park

Statue along the walk

Leaving the grounds of Todaiji Temple and entering Deer Park you cross through the barrier shown in the picture above left. On the temple side of the barrier there was no sign of deer anywhere; on the other side they were everywhere.

Nat and I purchased food to feed the deer while Anne took our picture. While tame, these deer can be a bit aggressive when there is food to be had. A bit of advice: Don't place extra food in your back pocket because the deer can smell it and will be nipping at your pocket to get to the food. I know because I've been there and done that!

After an enjoyable few minutes feeding the deer Nat, Anne and I continued down the walkways of Nara Park toward the Kasuga Grand Shrine. Along the way we passed avenue after avenue lined with Japanese lanterns and small statues. You could see little pieces of paper stuffed into some of the cracks and crevices of the lanterns. Like the pieces of paper tucked into the shrines these tiny pieces of paper contained the same types of messages.
Kasuga Grand Shrine is one of the most famous of the Shinto shrines in all of Japan. Built in 768 the shrine is painted a bright vermilion color over Japanese lacquered. Over 1,800 stone lanterns line the shrine precinct and another 1,000 suspended from the eaves of the corridors are the offerings of devotees to the deities enshrined. Twice a year these lanterns are lit on the evenings of the Lantern Festival. It must be a beautiful sight to behold.
Leaving Nara Park and heading to the car we passed yet another five-story pagoda. Pagodas are found at virtually every temple we visited and are common throughout Japan. Anne and I began to wonder what purpose, if any, they served. Later that night, after returning to Nat and Kako's, we looked up what a pagoda was and to our surprise we found that they served mostly as decoration. They were not useful for storage as there was very little room within them to store anything.

Leaving Nara we headed to our last stop of the day, Osaka Castle. Osaka Castle should be familiar to you as it was seen in the film Shogun many years ago. It is a beautiful castle nestled in the center of bustling and modern Osaka.

Moat surrounding
Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Osaka's modern skyline
from Osaka Castle
The history of Osaka Castle dates to 1496 when a small monk's lodge was built nearby. By the late 1500's this lodge had grown into a rather large temple, Ishiyama Honganji, and in 1580 the temple was surrendered to Nobunaga Oda. Oda was attacked by a rival in 1582 and committed suicide. Hideyoshi Toyotomi succeeded him and unified the country. Hideyoshi built a magnificent castle, however, it was burned down in 1615, 17 years after his death in the Summer Siege. Shogun Hidetada Tokugawa took control of Osaka and in 1620 he began to rebuild Osaka Castle completing it in 1629. By the mid-1800's many of the buildings of Osaka Castle had burned down. In 1931 a restoration effort was undertaken to rebuild Osaka Castle. During World War II many of the smaller buildings were destroyed by bombing raids, but the magnificent Osaka Castle survived in tact. Osaka Castle today houses an amazing museum with many artifacts from Japan's ancient times.
For the next leg of our journey Anne and I would say good-bye to our good friends and take the bullet train south to Hiroshima. Our goal in Hiroshima was not to view the remnants of the destruction caused when we dropped the atomic bomb, although I'm sure we'd see that as well, rather it was to ring the Peace Bell in Peach Park. Something that Anne and I hoped we could do. Join us on the next page to see what happened on this our final day in Japan ...
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Getting There
Singapore -- Orchard Road | Chinatown | Merlion Park | Arab Town and Indian District | Tang Dynasty City | Singapore Zoo | Mandai Orchid Garden | Sentosa Island
Hong Kong -- Hong Kong Island | Hong Kong at Night and the New Territories | Kat Hing Wai and Lok Ma Chau | Kowloon | Causeway Bay
Macau -- Monte Hill and St. Paul's | A-Ma Temple and Lou Lem Ioc Garden
People's Republic of China -- The Border and Farming Village | Lunch and the Ox | Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Home | Chinese Market
Bangkok -- The City and Weekend Market | The Grand Palace | Grand Palace (Emerald Buddha) | Grand Palace (Dusit Group) | Ayutthaya (Reclining Buddha) | Ayutthaya (Ruins) | Bang-Pa-In Palace | Chao Phraya River
Phuket -- The Hotel and Popeye | Phuket Island | The Beaches and Local Wat | Promthep Cape
Japan -- Tokyo | Niko & Toshogu Shrine | Osaka & Kyoto | Visiting Friends | Nara | Hiroshima & Miyajima | Going Home

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