Travel Magazine

Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park

By Mustachio @mustachio2011
November 26, 2016
Saturday
Nara Park
It is still a bit dark and quite chilly at 630AM as I gently close the door of Hiloki Hostel and take the two-minute walk to the bus terminal at Nara Station where I will be boarding a bus to Nara Park. I'm going to go see Kasuga Taisha this early to avoid the busloads of tourists that are sure to come at (I am guessing) around 9AM, after they have had a hearty breakfast and a cup of coffee.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkA manhole cover in Nara City
I arrive at the bus stop for Kasuga Taisha just as the sun is rising and I see a few people in the field taking photos of deer. Some are luring the deer with rice crackers, making the deer gather around and giving the feeder/photographer time to shoot some photos up close. I follow one feeder/photographer a bit and sneakily take some photos myself.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
The deer are considered sacred because according to legend, a god is said to have come to Nara riding on a white deer. But I did not come to Nara Park this early for the deer (any time of the day and anywhere in the park, one will surely see deer, because I read somewhere that there are about 1200 deer that roam the park) but for Kasuga Taisha, a 1300+ year old Shinto Shrine that's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kasuga Taisha
春日大社
April to September 6AM to 6PM
October to March 630AM to 5PM
Inner Area 830AM to 4PM
Inner Area admission fee: 500 yen
The path to Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns and shaded by trees on both sides, and crossed by deer wherever. All these slow me down, but I am not in a hurry anyway. I love the peace and quiet; the cool, fresh morning air; the abundance of trees.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkKasuga Taisha's temizuya (where you purify yourself by washing your hands and mouth) is what else? A deer!
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
I reach Kasuga Taisha's inner area 30 minutes before opening time. I return to the path and follow it further where it leads me to Wakamiya Jinja and a dozen or so smaller shrines. Before returning to Kasuga Taisha's inner area, I observe a shinshoku (person responsible for the maintenance of the Shinto shrine) do his morning prayers at Wakamiya Jinja.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkA small shrine
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkAnd the ema, where prayers/wishes are written, are also shaped like a deer!
I enter Kasuga Taisha's inner area through Nanmon (south gate) at 830AM. The inner area is surrounded by a covered walkway with white walls, vermillion columns, and green lattice windows. Along the walkway hangs lanterns of different designs and colors (bronze, gold, green) donated by the shrine's worshippers.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkChumon (middle gate) and Oro (open veranda)
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Lanterns also hang from the eaves of the Chumon (middle gate) and the Naoraiden Hall (a hall where feasts and morning worship services are held). There is a man taking photos of a small chicken stuffed toy with the Chumon as the background (I later learn that people usually take a photo of the coming year's Chinese zodiac animal and send it as new year's day cards.)
Behind the Chumon is Kasuga Taisha's main sanctuary where the shrine's four main deities are enshrined.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkLanterns hang from the eaves of Naoraiden Hall
There is also a small room called Fujinami-no-ya Hall which used to be the shrine's priests' office. Now it is a dark room filled with lit lanterns.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara ParkInside Fujinami-no-ya Hall
In different areas of the sanctuary are small vermillion altars for deities and more behind the main sanctuary. There are deities to protect from evil, to protect from enemies, to protect from disasters, to grant long lives, etc.
Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
In less than an hour, I have seen every corner of Kasuga Taisha's inner area. I skip Kasuga Taisha's botanical garden (9AM to 5PM, 500 yen) and museum (10AM to 5PM, 500 yen), and go back to the hostel to check out and leave my bag at the reception and then go to Kintetsu Nara Station, the meeting place for the Naramachi Walking Tour that will promptly start at 10AM. I will return to Nara Park in the afternoon to see two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are located within the park: Todaiji and Kohfukuji.
Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
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I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan
From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes
Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1¾–2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at the Park (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

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