Visitors to Nara are likely to notice the word “Yamato” popping up here and there. For example, like in the name of a train station like Kintetsu Yamato Saidai-ji Station, or in the name of a product like Yamato vegetables. There is even a delivery service that uses this name. Though it is rarely explained, there is a reason we see the word “Yamato” more often in Nara than in other places.
The characters in Yamato mean “great” and “harmony”. This word for harmony, “wa”, is a homonym of the word that mainland China used to refer to the yet unnamed people of Japan. Yamato has been used to refer to both Japanese people as a whole, as well as this local Nara region as early as the 3rd century. It was in this land that the first emperor of Japan ascended to the throne, and then on this land was home to the capital of Japan and its palaces many times. From the 7th century to the late 19th century, Japan was divided into provinces, and present-day Nara Prefecture was known as the Yamato Province until just over 150 years ago.
So when we see “Yamato” today, what does it mean exactly? It might be used as a reference to Japan or Japanese people, but in Nara, it usually means this local area. Even with the new name of Nara Prefecture, many foods and products of this area go back centuries to a time when this was still the Yamato Province. Adding Yamato to the name of something, or to a place or even train station, is a tribute to the long, nuanced history of this land.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to learn about the many eleven-faced Kannon statues of Nara. Scattered across the prefecture, these ancient, beautiful works showing the Goddess of Mercy have conveyed the thoughts and emotions of master sculptors for centuries, and captivated their countless visitors. I was excited to see that one of these statues is located and on display at Shorin-ji Temple, a small temple in Sakurai City and near where I live.
I turned off the main highway and followed the signs through a quiet residential area until I reached a small dirt parking lot. Drivers pay the parking fee on an honor system, informing the staff at the temple that we parked down below. I climbed the steep hill to the entrance of the temple grounds and it garden. Red berries of glabrous sarcandra herb and Christmas berry plants were a wonderful compliment to my wide view of the Yamato basin. As this temple is off the beaten path, I was one of only a few visitors this morning, and could take my time and enjoy its fresh air.
I entered the main hall of the temple and said a prayer. The inside was quiet and dark, and yet vibrant with colorful decorations and large statues. However, the main purpose of my visit was to see the eleven-faced Kannon, so I continued out of the main hall and up to the weathered flight of stairs. The stairs took me farther up the mountain, through past more berries and herbs, and flowers that hadn’t yet bloomed this year. I reached the room at the top, removed my slippers, and had to use more effort than I expected to open up the heavy sliding door.
Behind the glass, the eleven-faced Kannon towered over me with a calm elegance that only comes with time. It is an incredibly beautiful piece of art and history that I was lucky to encounter. Though I couldn’t take any photos, I was able to purchase some charming postcards before I left, showing warm drawings of the statue and the beautiful temple.
There are many famous temples and statues in Nara City and all across Nara prefecture, but I think I found a good one here in Sakurai City. If you make your way down south in Nara, please consider visiting this quiet, special temple.
The sacred deer of Nara Park are one of the symbols and main attractions of Nara. Everyday, hundreds of tourists interact with these special animals, feeding them deer senbei crackers, taking photos with them, and watching out for their antlers and droppings. It was one of the highlights when my family visited from America.
As I live in a small, mountain village, and many other visitors live far away from Nara City, sadly, we can’t visit Nara Park all that often. However, I recently discovered two fantastic books of photos in my local library. The photos were taken by a great photographer named Kazuto Sato, and his books are called Deer Park and Deer Land. I highly recommend you check them out! In his photos, he captures the daily, seasonal, and unique life of deer in Nara. Here are some examples.
They live. They eat, they play, they love, they live. His photos remind me of the similarities between living creatures, and why we are all special. The deer of Nara Park are more than a tourist attraction. They are a sacred, beautiful reminder that even if we don’t speak the same language or eat the same things, we can still co-exist, be kind to one another, and create memories together. Even if I can’t see these deer in person everyday, these wonderful photos still warm my heart from afar.
We offer some great programs in and around Nara Park. Here is one where you can see them eat breakfast, and then have breakfast of your own! I think this is a great program for first time visitors or veterans to Nara.
No. 374 Morning Walk in Nara Park and Breakfast
Most people spend no more than a few minutes total brushing their teeth every day. Maybe a minute after each meal, right? It’s a simple practice that leaves our teeth and mouths cleaner and refreshed, and the experience usually ends there. But where do our toothbrushes come from? How are they designed and made? What kind of thought and effort goes into making these small pieces of plastic that we only use for a few minutes every day?
Producing a modern toothbrush actually requires some of Japan’s most cutting-edge technology and equipment, along with the decades of knowledge that have brought us to this point. The fine bristles are cut and situated with exact precision, to effectively clean our teeth and gums.
Though Nara is famous for its 1,300 years of history, it also has one of the most modern toothbrush factories in Tawaramoto Town. The Tanabe toothbrush factory offers participants a chance to tour its cutting-edge facility. In this hour-long tour, you will learn about the history of toothbrushes, enter a cleanroom, and see its leading technology at work firsthand. Finally, you’ll get the chance to make your own “One Tuft” toothbrush, which has recently become very popular. While you will certainly learn a lot and have fun in this hour, you will also be able to take home a toothbrush for yourself and one as a gift for someone special. You will also take home a little more knowledge and experience to make those few minutes of daily tooth brushing just a little more interesting.
Make Your Own Toothbrush at a Cutting-Edge Factory