Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan, from about 710 to 784. The second-tallest pagoda (intricately crafted wood structures built of wood alone, with a tendency to burn down during Japan’s many famous fires) is located in the city, at a height of 52 meters. However, according to a postcard from Nara, “its solemn beauty compares favorably” with the tallest pagoda, located in Kyoto.
Nara was a terrific stop. It is filled with temples, shrines, world heritage sites, and deer. According to legend, a god is said to have once visited Nara atop a white deer, and since then, the deer have been respected and protected as “divine messengers.” These divine messengers are particularly fond of deer crackers, Shika Senbei, which can be purchased from vendors in town for 150 yen (about $1.50). Hungry deer will stand outside of vendor shops, belling, urging you to buy them some deer crackers. But, you have to hide the crackers on your way out of the shop or you will be quickly overwhelmed with eager deer. Once you start giving out the crackers, the deer get very excited, and can be just a bit intimidating. I turned around to find a male whose horns had been sheared off standing right behind me, and then I ran, from a bunch of divine deer. After feeding a couple of rounds of crackers, Dan and I sat on a picnic bench to eat a snack and I had deer all over me, rubbing their heads on my legs, and chewing on my map and shirt. Quite fun though.