Nara park and old Nara

Nara park is great to walk around, the grassed grounds are extensive, ringed with some ancient, moss and lichen encrusted forest, there are dozens of shrines and temples scattered throughout the park. The major shrines and temples are exquisite, often surrounded by moss covered stone lanterns that in old times would light the way leading to the ancient wooden buildings. These wonderful buildings are constructed with natural materials highlighted with mottled red, bright orange and subtle gold colours, their moss covered rooves, sometimes thatched, sometimes capped with classic tiles keeping the fine mist away from the ornate relics within. There is a calm feel about the park, even though the crowds are plentiful near the major shrines and temples, it’s not overwhelming.

The almost tame deer, looking for an easy meal are quite plentiful and can be quite insistent. It’s funny seeing people react to them, especially when they are feeding them when the deer become quite insistent indeed. It is early spring so there is scant grass growing, the overly friendly deer have done a great job at keeping the lawns short, but the poor things must be quite hungry. I especially liked seeing the children react, some clearly terrified, many inquisitive, bowing themselves in introduction to the deer before the feed or pet them, I even think the deer bow back.

As the grounds of the park are so large it’s easy to get away from the crowds there are walking trails through old forests, leading to many of the smaller, less impressive but equally exquisite shrines and temples scattered around the park. Visiting these smaller spaces give a nice opportunity to enjoy the tranquillity more, to listen to the birds sing among the trees and to watch the light beaming through the branches catch on the bright orange Shinto shrines and lichen coated stone. The more subdued colours of the Buddhist temples are lit up by the Sakura, still far from full bloom, but full enough to inject bursts of colour and brightness in an otherwise drab, brown/grey/green colour palette.

As nice as it is spotting the deer amongst the stone lanterns and across the fields it’s also nice to escape the park and the crowds completely. Nara national forest is immediately behind Nara park, there are a few limited walking trails within that lead steadily to higher ground. These tranquil uphill paths are free from crowds and tame deer yet they are only a few minutes apart, I hadn’t dreamed of finding a space like this so close to a city in Japan, there are a few temples in the forest too, just further apart and less spectacular, their isolation giving me enough cause to make a visit.

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