“Nahold-up ako ng usa.”
With a smiley, I sent this message to a friend after gallivanting across the green expanse of Nara Park.
Nara served as Japan’s capital for around a century some 1,300 years ago and so it has beautiful temples and other historic places.
I was on my way to the Todaiji temple complex, which houses the bronze Daibutsu or the Great Buddha, said to be the largest of its kind in the world.
But before I got there, I came across herds of deer.
Considered by locals to be the messengers of the gods, the deer are allowed to freely roam Nara Park. And for 100 yen, you can buy biscuits from vendors to feed them. Now feeding the deer in Nara Park is considered to be one of the highlights of a tourist’s visit to Nara. I saw some of them even bowing to other tourists just to get fed.
But some of them can get pushy. While feeding a deer behind a fence, I did not notice one surreptitiously walk up behind me.
I became aware of its presence only after it bit my pant’s back pocket. When I did not pay it any attention, it stepped forward and bit my back pocket again and again.
I swear I heard it say, “This is a stick up, human. Now give me them biscuits.”
To make it stop, I stopped feeding the deer behind the fence and instead gave my biscuits to my assailant.
I noticed an elderly Japanese lady, who was apparently filming me with her phone camera, and her husband smile as I quickly walked away from the four-footed bandit.
“What a welcome, Nara,” I said to myself, smiling.
After the encounter with the bandit (and messaging my friend about it), I proceeded to the Todaiji.
Founded in 745, this temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the world’s largest wooden building.
But before you get there, make a stop by the Nandai-mon or the Great South Gate, the main temple complex’s main gate.
It is the largest temple gate in Japan and houses two giant statues of Ni-o or guardian deities.
They are tall and are as impressive as the Great Buddha in the temple complex’s main hall.
For a great elevated view of the city, visit the Nigatsu-do, a sub-temple of Todaiji, which is perched on the slope of a hill to the east of the main temple complex.
To the south of Nigatsu-do is Kasuga-taisha, Nara’s most celebrated shrine. Kasuga is famous for its lanterns which were donated by believers.
Don’t miss the temple complex’s “dark room,” which has lighted bronze lanterns. This room gives a glimpse of what it is like during the Lantern Festival in August and February, when hundreds of lanterns are lighted in honor of the gods.
Now if only they zapped that deer that took my biscuits.