Friday, April 2, 2010

Nara – That Is One Big Fat Guy!

On Wednesday, Jenni and I took a day trip from Osaka to Nara, the capital city of Japan between 710 and 794 A.D.  We had been looking forward to this since Kyoto because we met a couple of American girls who had told us all about it and even provided us with a map with all of the must see spots circled on it. 

It took about 45 minutes to get there travelling on one of the local trains (slower trains that stop at every station) from the train station next to our hotel. Before I take you through our day in Nara, I will digress for a moment to tell you a bit more about the rail system here in Japan. Simply put it is fantastic. The rail system makes it so easy to take day trips to other towns that are miles away. Osaka is an excellent base city for day trips to neighbouring towns and cities because it lies pretty much smack bam in the middle of the most populated island in Japan (Honshu) only hours away by train to some of the popular touristy cities and towns. From Osaka you can get to Kyoto in about 45 minutes, Kobe in about 45 minutes, Nara in about 30 minutes and all the way back to Tokyo on the fastest shinkansen in about 3 hours! There are usually 3 grades of trains that you can take to get from place to place; local trains that stop at every station, rapid trains that stop at all major stations and special rapid trains that only stop at major cities. The rail system makes Japan feel like such a small country because you can get from city to city in less than an hour.

Getting back to Nara... We got there in the late morning and after a quick breakfast; we followed all of the other tourists to get to the Nara’s main attraction, Nara Park.  The two American girls who had told us all about Nara had kindly given us their map of the area and had drawn out a route for us to take. They had mentioned that there was “an unusual amount of domesticated deer” throughout the parkland. Jenni and I had taken this as the odd couple of deer that we might see that were hungry enough to forget that they were afraid of people and be bold enough to approach us to see if they could get some food. This assumption was proven to be very wrong as we approached the main entrance to Nara Park. There were HUNDREDS of deer mingling with all of the people. I would go to say that there are THOUSANDS throughout the parkland. All are very friendly (although the signs around the park claim otherwise) and are happy enough to walk around you, let little kids pet them, let you sit among them and feed them crackers. Some of them would get rather excited when trying to get food of someone. One poor old lady had one deer chasing after her, giving her a few good nips on her backside because she was holding a bunch of crackers. It was hilarious!

Our route through the park first brought us to the Todaiji Temple. This template was built to house the statue of the Vairocana Buddha (“Buddha that shines throughout the world like the sun”). The statue is absolutely enormous. It is made of cast bronze and was originally covered in gold plating which has now faded at the front. The big statue is flanked by two other statues that are about half its height. There are a couple of other guardian statues behind the Buddha statue. Next to one of these guardian statues was a wide wooden pillar with a small tunnel (about the size of a dog door) cut through at the base of it. There was a line of children in front of it and they each tried to squeeze through it (I assume it signifies some act of bravery or faith). One German guy even had a crack at it and to the crowd’s delight he managed to get through.

Some interesting facts that we learnt about the temple and the main statue were that the main Buddha statue was consecrated in 752 A.D. but was damaged and repaired throughout the following centuries. The actual hall that houses the statue has been twice burnt in the fires of war (in 1180 and 1567), so the current structure is the third generation structure which was built during Japan’s Edo period (1615 – 1867). The temple that houses the statue is ENORMOUS and even though it is a third smaller than the 1st generation structure that was burnt in 1180, it is still ranked as the largest wooden building in the world (not to be confused with the Sanjusangen-do Buddhist Temple we saw in Kyoto which is the longest wooden building in the world!).

After the large Buddha temple, our route took us up the side of Wakakusayama Hill which has a few shrines that overlook the city of Nara. We had really good weather that day so we were able to see for miles at the top of one of the shrines.

The next stage of the route walked us through some of the open parklands where people were having picnics, feeding the deer and doing the sort of family things you see people do in Kings Park (except without the barbeques, plastic cricket sets and footies).

The last major stop on our route was the Kasuga Grand Shrine. The entrance to this shrine is lined with stone lanterns. Once inside, there are 3000 bronze lanterns hanging inside and outside of the various structures in the building. The 3000 lanterns are dedicated to the 3000 Kasuga shrines throughout Japan. Some of the lanterns have been restored to their original shiny bronze plating, but just like the many statues that we have seen that were once plated in a metal, they have all faded. The shrine was founded in 768 A.D. when Nara was nominated as the capital city of Japan, in honour to the deity of Taksmikazuchi-no-mikoto.

After the Kasuga shrine, we made the long trek back to the train station to get our train back to Osaka. All up, we walked for about 4 hours worth through-out the park and probably covered over 10kms during the day, so by the time we got back to our room we were exhausted.

1 comment:

  1. I am really enjoying sharing your trip around the sights and sounds, plus the baths, naked or not. My trip in Victoria is seeing art in Melbourne, walking Pippin Nad Jazzi the dogs and picking lots of fresh beans, tomatoes, parsley, chives, marrows and then making soups. Beautiful victorian weather, thro not much surf at Bells. Love Margaret