Nara (Todaiji Temple)

Deer @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

Nara: Show up underdressed for the weather, leave wearing a deer hoodie.

It was a cold day when we left the hotel, but we were tired of lugging our heavy coats all over Japan given that it always warmed up when we got to our destination.

Except for this time. Nara was cold. Very cold. We found this out only after leaving our coats at the hotel.

But we soldiered on, expecting the sun to come out at any moment and make our laziness worthwhile. We walked a mile or two from the train station to the entrance of Todaiji, stopping every few hundred yards to gawk at the deer. Only rain greeted us when we got there.

Deer @ Nara, Japan
So now we were wet and cold and there was no sign of this changing anytime soon. We were also very far from anywhere we could expect to pick up some cheap hoodies, so we circled back to the train station and started our search there anyway. One of the most convenient things about Japan is the fact that there are usually malls attached to every train station that sell everything imaginable. Except winter wear.

Let’s Get Fabulous

We wandered back alleys and peeked into the various stores. Few sold anything resembling clothing, and fewer still were open. There were a few vintage-style stores selling the sorts of secondhand clothing only octogenarians would wear, and there was an American hip-hop apparel store that looked promising. A single beanie was retailing for $50 and a simple button-down shirt (what the hell is hip-hop about business casual?) was over $100. Hell no…if we’re going to spend that much on clothing, it better be designer.

Further down the street, we saw it hanging by a sign– a hoodie…that looked like a deer. We had to have it. It was sold by some guy in his studio; apparently he designs and produces them in-house. It was $80 well spent.

So she was nice and warm, and the focus came back to me, but I said to hell with it; I wasn’t going to spend the rest of our one day in Nara trying to go clothes shopping. Besides, my skin was numb and I’d stopped feeling the biting cold long ago. We continued to meander the back alleys since we’d gotten lost in our shopping exploration and eventually found the main road again.

Nara Deer

Now, the deer. We had seen deer roaming freely in Miyajima so it was nothing new, but these Nara deer were aggressive as shit. It must be some kind of east coast/west coast deer thing, where in either case everything gets more savage once you cross the south side of the tracks.

Deer in Nara are so tough they’ll chew through raw steel and spit out bullets.

Deer @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
I had a few loose straps on my camera bag that they kept nipping at, and they would also nip at the baggier parts of my clothing. I ended up having to tuck in my straps, my shirt, my pants, and my boots to the point where I looked like some kind of goth commando idiot wearing a t-shirt with only with the word “BONE” on it.

In the Shinto religion, deer are believed to be messengers of the gods. What they were trying to tell me by relieving me of what little clothing I was wearing, I do not know. “Unburden thyself of thy sins, and thy clothing?”

Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple @ Nara, Japan
Nara boasts the largest wooden building in the world– Todaiji Temple’s Daibutsuden. The pictures I had seen up to this point really didn’t do it justice, but what’s so special about a big wooden building?

Bloody Handprint @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
Todaiji Temple reminds me of the fictional Rateiin Temple from the manga GANTZ, in which these giant Buddha statues come to life and kill off most of the cast.

GANTZ - Rakeiin Temple - Buddha Mission
Until now, most of the statues we had seen in the temples around Japan were menacing but modest in size. The biggest wooden temple in the world certainly houses some of the largest statues as well.

The first one noticed upon entry is an image of the seated Buddha Vairocana. This is one of the largest bronze statues in the world. Behind him is a halo made of gold; the 16 figures depicted are his various incarnations. His right hand is raised to communicate the mutra of “have no fear.”

Giant Buddha @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
These statues were massive. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from stock pictures alone.

Flanking Buddha are two Nio (“protector kings”). The reason there are usually two of these sorts of protectors outside every temple is that one represents life and one represents death. The left one (Komokuten) wields paintbrush and scroll.

Nio (Protector King) @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
The right one (Tamonten) wields a lantern that shoots laser beams or something to destroy obstacles in the way of Buddhism. Because everything I know about Buddhism, I learned from hyperviolent comic books.

Nio (Protector King) @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
It’s amusing how a culture that creates cutesy mascots for the most mundane things has such a history of producing pants-shittingly frightening military attire and artforms.

Nio @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
On top of that, I find the Japanese obsession with creating obscenely large things and then destroying them a bit curious.

  • Godzilla.
  • Katamari Damacy.
  • Metal Gear Solid.
  • Gundam/the whole “mech” craze.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Shadow of the Colossus.
  • GANTZ.

Bodhisattva @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
Buddha Vairocana is flanked by two golden bodhisattvas. These are individuals who spontaneously decided to follow in the path of Buddha; from what I understand, anybody can be a bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
Todaiji Temple Restoration

Model of Todaiji Temple @ Nara, Japan
In the back of the main hall, there is a small display containing models showing the evolution of Todaiji over the centuries.

Model of Todaiji Temple @ Nara, Japan
Once we got our fill of the statues, we noticed a small booth set up nearby. Todaiji was going to be undergoing a massive restoration project in the near future and for a nominal donation (USD ~$10), visitors could dedicate a roof tile to the shrine.

On it you get to use one of those traditional Japanese brushes used for hiragana and the requisite ink to write whatever you want on your roof tile.

I did the writing. It was surprisingly fluid and easy to create that “Japanese font” you always see used for the marquees of hibachi joints in the US. And the title cards for Metal Gear Solid 4.

Metal Gear Solid 4 - Old Sun

We had spent an unfortunate amount of time shopping earlier and by the time we were done with Todaiji Temple, it was getting pretty late, cold and rainy so we called it a day and walked all the way back to the train.

Deer @ Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan



Pro-family and anti-drug, when he's not too busy living with four beautiful ladies, he likes long walks on the beach and poking dead things with sticks.

Leave a Reply