Bowing Wild Deer, Warrior with a Writing Brush

Since Japan was my first step into Asia, here’s a salutary bag of traveller stories and pithy impressions.

Waterolour painter just outside Nara Park. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

After we happily munched on just warm pounded, luscious matcha mochi from a downtown Nara shop, we strolled over to Nara Park, a heritage park steeped in Japanese Buddhism, some temples …and its wild deer.

Centuries old thatch roof building, now a cafe. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Copper temple lanterns, with written metal inscriptions baked into the design. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Bowing, Hungry Wild Deer at Nara Park
Its deer have been there for centuries since Nara is considered the historic, spiritual heart of where Buddhism began in Japan. The legend is a white deer carried a god from northern Japan to Kasugataisha Shrine.  Until WW II, the deer were considered sacred.

Over 1200 wild deer roam in Nara Park. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

There are frequent signs all over the park, warning people of sudden aggression from these deer.  They can be and are often after the deer chips you can buy from vendors.  And yes, some deer cleverily, can bow to tourists –for food.  We saw a few bowing deer to some amazed tourists who got off their bikes.

A clever deer bows to charm cycling tourists for a deer biscuit. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Wild deer greet you within the park entry gate. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Deer warning signs in the park. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Here and there in the park, there are deer motifs on the grounds, as a nod to their long-gone sacred status – in stone lanterns that line walkways and Nara’s manholes.

Deer motif sculpted inside temple park’s stone lanterns. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Jack, did pet some deer while he waited for me outside the famous Todaiji Temple.   I shrank away from the approaching deer.

Dragon statuary at a water purification trough. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Soaring Wooden Todaiji Buddhist Temple Complex

Approaching Todaiji Temple –the world’s biggest wooden temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Bronze large incense burner in front of Todaiji Temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

This temple sits in Nara Park. Todaiji Temple is the world’s largest wooden temple.  It is a UNESCO site (lots of UNESCO sites in Japan).  Housed inside the temple, is the world’s largest bronze Great Buddha statue which was completed in 752 AD.  It is over 15 metres high. I found it complicated to shoot photos in semi-darkness.  It was my first time in a heritage Buddhist temple of many centuries.

Great Buddha. Todaiji Temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Giant wooden sculpture of Komokuten, guardian of Great Buddha. Typically depicted with brush pen and scroll. Komokuten sees all evil and protects at the west. Todaiji Temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Not far from Great Buddha, inside the temple is a warrior-like, imposing Komokuten which is a giant guardian for Buddha.  He is the guardian of the west and  sees all evil.  Normally he is depicted with a scroll and brush – a contrast to his ferocious expression. I would like to believe he embodies the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.   Komokuten is carved out of wood, which absolutely awe-inspiring to see.

Great Buddha. Todaiji Temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Massive wood sculpture of Komokuten. Todaiji Temple. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

The park does house working enclave of monks that practice a form of Buddhism. It is less of a leisure park, than a whole enclave of Buddhist temples and buildings in a huge sprawling park that expresses spirituality and cultivated Nature.

Many steps yet to another temple. Nara Park, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Deer design manhole. Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Japan to other Asians or those of Asian Descent
I wonder what others think.  I can only speak as a Chinese-Canadian woman. These impressions are only mine:

So Clean, Neat – a Country with Rules
Certainly Japan strikes many Westerners and to other Asians, as a highly structured, safe and organized country.  To have a clean country with very little

Back end of residential neighbourhood in Nara, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Probably in a middle class area.
Coloured manholes in some Nara areas. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

litter and generally clean restaurants, requires imposing rules, either law or societal norms.  We had problems finding a street litter container while walking along in downtown Tokyo.  No wonder why Japan is a popular destination, since it doesn’t have large scale poverty or noticeable divisions between the rich and poor to bystanders.

I did see the rare homeless street people in Tokyo. One of them was a white woman. I’m sure they exist in major cities but for tourists, perhaps the local authorities ensure they are somewhere else.

Conservative Dress, Expectations of Local Women
What surprised me was the level of conservative dress among many Japanese girls and women.  Make no mistake, some women were wearing expensive or quality clothing.  My seamstress eyes judged perhaps linen or raw silk fabric in

Woman cyclist is wearing fabric arm protectors –to shield from the sun. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

ritzy downtown areas, for the summer heat.  Many local women dressed in longer hemlines and kept themselves protected from the summer sun when we were there.  We saw enough women cycling around with sun umbrellas.  Both men and women cycled in the rain with umbrellas in one hand. There is even an umbrella holder to fasten onto the handlebar that I spotted on a parked Tokyo bike.

Pharmacy with some unexpected body lotion fragrances. Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong.

Some women go as far to wear fabric armbands to  protect their arms from sun.  Sun tans aren’t revered in this part of the world which accounts for some women with lovely skin as they age.  So most likely Asian women in tank tops, sundresses, short skirts and shorts (the latter two for me) were Asian tourists from other countries. The crazy anime dress-costume of Japanese women looking cutesy, yet sexy in public wear, are a minority in Japan.

Walking near Sensoji Temple. Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Fine hand embroidery festooned this entire kimono of centuries old. National Museum of Tokyo, 2018. Photo by J.Chong

By accident, in the evening, we cruised about a popular restaurant street in the business district of Tokyo, where there was 95% Asian men and probably most were Japanese.   I have a hard time shaking off, the working, career reality  for  bright university or college-educated Japanese women who have dreams beyond marriage and children.

Cherry blossom manhole. Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Maybe that’s why there are so many Japanese national young men and women at ESL schools in Vancouver  –a chance to taste a freer, multicultural society, to be oneself, less obsessed about “saving face”.  Japan is not multicultural. The country makes it difficult for non-Japanese to immigrate and become citizens. (Stress is on citizens, not temporary / migrant workers.)

Approaching main gate for Sensoiji Temple, Asakusa district, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Dancer mural. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Cycling in Tokyo and Kyoto
We didn’t do any cycling. Yup. Amazing.  We were too busy trying to compress our time by taking advantage of our hotel shuttle bus from Kyoto train station to our hotel whenever we took day train trips to Inari-Fushima and Nara after Tokyo.  The bike rental shops we passed by, in Kyoto didn’t seem to quite have bikes I would have enjoyed cycling.

Quirky sign on a narrow sidewalk. Higashimaya District. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Cyclists are allowed to bike on the sidewalk in Japan, which we found in Kyoto slightly disconcerting as a pedestrians, since that city had a sizable mode share of local cycling commuters all times of the day.

A few cyclists comfortable carrying umbrella while cycling in rain. Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong

A Society to Try for a Few Months or a Year
Japan has impressively preserved its great historic architectural, religious and cultural sites, as well as its centuries-old cultural festivals, which unfortunately, were not on during the start of monsoon season when we were there.

Entry into Yasaka Temple park. Kyoto, Japan 2018.
Rabbit charms, a symbol of fertility. Yasaka Shrine. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Incense burning at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa district. Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Raining heavily that day.

If it means becoming accustomed to some singing washroom bidets, beautifully laid out fast food meals, polite service, trains on time, sure it would be great to live there for a few months to discover more of its nooks and crannies.

Egret by pond in Yasaka Temple park. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker
Roof water trough artfully drips steady rainwater into a floral ceramic pot. Sensoiji Temple, Tokyo 2018. Photo by J. Chong
Leaving Nara Park. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Watercolour painting at a Tokyo local artists’ showing. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    Thanks for taking me with you on the interesting tour! 🙂 I would never have thought that the deer can bow for food, or even – what is more – become aggressive. Ours here in our yard are shy. They do like their food [just some handfuls of corn every evening] and come for that, but they stay away from us and don’t come closer that maybe 10 to 15 feet. I’d love to feed them from my hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jean says:

    There are deer in our area but they probably visit on fringes of town. Once a (young) moose walked onto a transit rail pedestrian bridge. We just have big wild rabbits in the city core parks..etc. I’ve seen them skitter across traffic intersections.


  3. Fascinating! Sounds incredible, but how expensive was it? Costs seem (from what I hear) to be pretty high. Still, it sounds amazing. How long were you there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hotel in a big city Japan will tend to be expensive, if you want a bed (not floor futon) with breakfast. Food is comparable to big city in North America except the portions won’t be ginormous. Ways to make it fun yet abit less expensive is to eat: in their markets or surprisingly the big train stations offer a ton of restaurants open in the evening also. We spend 10 days in Japan -Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto. We didn’t focus much on the cost since it becomes a distraction. Going to Nara park itself, was free but food, souveniers cost something.


  4. Marta says:

    A great walk! You reminded me of my trip to Kyoto and Nara 3 years ago. Amazing pics, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Glad they brought back good memories! 🙂


  5. Lani says:

    I’m not surprised that Japan is more conservative re: dress. My AA friends have mentioned being pointedly stared at on the train for wearing sleeveless blouses and such. And yes, in Thailand, I can usually tell who the Asian tourists are by the way they dress. And lets not forget regional differences – smaller towns and cities are more conservative than say – the beaches where plenty of tourists are. Thailand’s changed a lot in the short amt of time I’ve been here, too.

    I wonder why the deer in the signs only attack old women and little girls? 😛

    Still drooling over your pictures and adventures to Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I never noticed until you mentioned on that strange female human being deer victim in the signage! So Japanese. As if male human beings are exempt.

      I guess I had perceived Japan in cities, so much more fashion forward re showing abit more skin.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lani says:

        It does seem like they would be more progressive in that regard, doesn’t it? So strange. Times, I’m sure, are changing though.


  6. One of your best posts ever, Jean, I enjoyed it enormously. Your photos are spectacular– you’ve really got an eye for capturing unique angles and perspectives. I’m gonna hafta see if I can get an umbrella holder for my bicycle!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Ahah! Sure beats trying to hold an umbrella in 1 hand while cycling.

      Liked by 1 person

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