Ten Days in Japan, Part 4: Enjoy Your Antler Man-Baby Monk Rice Crackers!

Well, I suck. This blog series has officially become outdated & irrelevant. But since I’m now too poor to be able to go on any non-Texas trips for approximately the next decade, I’m going to finish it anyway. Also, I’ve barely even talked about temples &/or shrines so far & that was half the fun.

Sento-Kun, Antler Man-Baby Monk of Nara

So, Day 6 in Japan, we attempted to do Nara in a day. Nara is a smaller city than Tokyo or Nagoya and was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, which is again one of those mind-boggling dates that makes you remember how much longer the rest of the world has been around than us. (1776, seriously, we’re such babies.) In fact, they are recognizing the 1,300th anniversary of Nara being the capital. As part of the celebration, they introduced a mascot, an insane-looking man-baby monk with deer antlers. You can see him pictured to the left. He’s not cute. Let’s just say that if he was an Olympic mascot, we might actually not find London’s one-eyed alien steel droplets that weird anymore. And just in case you might think it’s a cultural thing, “Sento-Kun” appears to be universally despised.

In any case, Sento-Kun is everywhere in Nara & the city officials are apparently determined to go full-court press with marketing him on signs, key chains, t-shirts, cookies and rice crackers. And it worked too, because by the end of our one day in Nara, Sento-Kun had officially stopped being creepy and started being awesome. Gen even bought from Sento-Kun rice crackers for her office.

In case you were wondering why the ugly man-baby monk has antlers, it’s because Nara Park, which is pretty much the main gist of Nara, has deer roaming all over it. They just walk around all over the place, including inside temple sites, cuddling up to tourists in order to obtain food, by force if necessary.

Nara is home to a number of extremely impressive temples and/or shrines, most of which are randomly located somewhere in the massive Nara Park, which we spent the day hiking around, one step away at all times from dehydration, heat stroke & imminent death. (Seriously, listen to me, don’t go to Japan in August. Foolish!)

The most awesome of all the temples and/or shrines was Tōdai-ji Temple, home to Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

Daibutsu is 49.1 feet tall & let me tell you, you go into a temple being told you’re going to see a giant Buddha, but you still aren’t prepared to see that. It’s amazing.

Besides the giant Buddha, the temple also features four other ginormous, extremely impressive statues, including two scary warrior guardians, along with Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddha of medicine and healing, outside. Yakushi Nyorai is, essentially, a wooden statue dressed in a comical red hat & blouse. It kind of looks like a terrifying version of the Big Bad Wolf in Grandma’s clothing. You’re supposed to touch a part of the statue, then touch the corresponding part of your body & Yakusi Nyorai will heal whatever ailment you have there. I tried it with my bronchitis but Yakusi Nyorai totally let me down. I probably did it wrong.

So, good times, Nara. Next up, final stop, Kyoto. Home to the geisha district, the Kyoto Sana F.C. Soccer Club…and 2,000 more temples and/or shrines.

-Amy Yen

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