Nara Prefecture

Although I spent most of my time abroad in Tokyo, I had the amazing opportunity to check out other famous cities and areas in the Kansai region of Japan. One of my favorite places to go was Nara, a small prefecture and city about 3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, and lends its name to the Nara period.

While the city itself isn’t much to look at, Nara is rich with history, particularly when it comes to temples. There are 8 temples, shrines, and ruins in Nara (known as the Nanto Shichi Dai-ji), which remained powerful even after the capital of Japan moved to Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) in 794.

Nara Park Nara Japan

However, my favorite part about Nara was…the deer.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Hi there!

Yes, that’s right. I said deer. According to local folklore, deer in Nara became sacred after one of the four gods of the Kasuga Shrine appeared on a nearby mountain riding a white deer. From then on, the deer were considered to be divine, and killing one was a capital offense punishable by death. Although the deer were stripped of their sacredness after World War II, they’re still considered National Treasures of Japan.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Whutcha doing?

Sika Deer Nara JapanToday, the miniature Shika deer can be found wandering around Nara Park and on some temple grounds. They’re extremely friendly and can be pet (although you might want to wash your hands afterwards).

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

You can also buy stacks of rice crackers from vendors along the road and feed the deer from your hands. Just be careful though- once the deer know you have food, they won’t leave you alone. I was stalked by a deer for a good 15 minutes, and when I wouldn’t keep feeding him, he head-butted me several times.

Sika Deer Nara Japan

This deer knows what’s up. He’s stalking one of the cracker vendors from behind.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Sika Deer Nara Japan

Here’s my stalker deer friend literally moments before he head-butted me. Notice the sheer terror in my face.
Don’t worry though, I survived.

The deer are also extremely intelligent and have been known to wait at stoplights before crossing the street. You can even bow to the deer, and some will even bow back! I had an elderly Japanese couple laugh at me when I tried this, but once I walked away, I saw them trying the same exact thing.

Sika Deer Nara JapanSika Deer Nara Japan

Like I mentioned earlier, Nara is home to several important temples and shrines in Japan. I visited Todai-ji, a large Buddhist temple complex. Todai-ji is known for its Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), which was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998.

Todai-ji Nara Japan TempleDSC_5086

Todai-ji also houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, which stands at almost 50 feet tall. The statue was completed in 752, has undergone several restorations and repairs since then.Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Guardian of the Great Buddha

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

At the Great Buddha Hall, visitors can see the many statues, purchase ema, and visit a small gift shop with deer paraphernalia.

Todai-ji Nara Japan Temple

Japanese ema (prayer plaques)

Todai-ji Nara Japan TempleNara may not be as exciting as downtown Tokyo, but it still has plenty to do. Check out ancient Japanese history, enjoy a relaxing day in the park, and pet some deer. Just make sure to bring some hand sanitizer, and plenty of money for rice crackers.

DSC_5103

I’m staying in the Kansai area for next weeks Travel Tuesday, so make sure to keep an eye out! Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy!

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Purikura

Walk into any arcade or mall- or simply down any shopping street in Japan- and you’ll probably find flocks of teenage girls huddled around photo booth machines called purikura. It’s no surprise that teen girls love taking photos of themselves, but Japan has created a market just for that.

A typical sheet of purikura photos. And yes, that's me with the long red hair!

A typical sheet of purikura photos. And yes, that’s me with the long red hair!

Purikura, shortened for “print club” in Japanese, are definitely unique. For a few hundred yen (usually around $2-$5), you can take photo booth pictures, print them out, and send them to your mobile devices. However, the main attraction of purikura is that you can edit the photos before you save them.

I abused using the cat ear sticker for this one.

I abused using the cat ear sticker for this one.

To use a purikura machine, you simply enter your money on the outside of the booth, and then move into the studio. It’s usually equipped with a green screen to stand in front of, a shelf to put your purses down on, and a huge screen to see exactly what you look like. The purikura machine will snap several photos of you before you move to a separate editing booth.

Outside of a purikura machine

Outside of a purikura machine

My favorite arcade in Shibuya had literally a dozen purikura machines. Take your pick!

My favorite arcade in Shibuya had literally a dozen purikura machines. Take your pick!

Here’s where the real magic happens. Purikura booths are equipped with special cameras and Photoshop-like functions that automatically make your skin look perfectly airbrushed and beautiful, and even increase the size of your eyes. For us foreigners, this sometimes made us look a little alien, but luckily you can adjust these functions so you don’t look like a model version of ET.

Notice our flawless, glowing skin! I could get used to this.

Notice our flawless, glowing skin! I could get used to this.

Do you want a kawaii (cute) face, or a cool face?

Do you want a kawaii (cute) face, or a cool face?

DSC_0693From there on out, the options are endless. Purikura have options for adding fake eyelashes, blush, eyeliner, and more. You can make your legs look longer, change your hair color, or even slim your face. With purikura, it’s easy to look like a model or celebrity.

You use a touch screen and a stylus to edit purikura

You use a touch screen and a stylus to edit purikura

DSC_6110Depending on the theme of the booth (from Vogue to Japanese pop singers, like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), users also have options to add a variety of stickers, frames, and cute backgrounds. You can add time stamps, cute messages, or even draw on the pictures themselves. I loved adding cat ears and bows to all of my pictures.

Purikura advertisement. Don't you want to look like that?

Purikura advertisement. Don’t you want to look like that?

"Girls are sensitive to cute things! That's why they are so selfish!" WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, PURIKURA?

“Girls are sensitive to cute things! That’s why they are so selfish!” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, PURIKURA?

Finally, once you’re done pur-fecting your purikura, you choose a layout for your pictures and print them out. Many girls cut them up and use them as stickers on their phones, but I just enjoyed keeping them as memories.

Purikura from the one date I had in Japan. If you're reading this Hikaru, you were cute. Call me.

Purikura from the one date I had in Japan. If you’re reading this Hikaru, you’re cute. Call me.

Purikura is great for girls looking to take cute photos, friends enjoying a night out, or even couples going on a date. Do you think you’d enjoy it? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!