March 25, 2014
According to Japanese mythology a deity arrived from Heaven riding
on a white deer. He arrived in Nara to help protect the Emperor and his new Capitol in Nara. The deer have been protected since that time. After 1300 years they have the humans under control. They can be as pesky as Turkish vendors but are pretty harmless. We had some too salty crackers that they loved.
Nara was the first Capitol of Japan for most of the 700’s. Its religious roots began with Shinto but the Japanese quickly added Buddhism to their repertoire as it arrived from Korea. Buddhist temples sprung up all over the Capitol and by the end of the 8th Century, the Capitol was moved to Kyoto to get away from the monks. That separation did not last long.
We arrived in Nara after an hour train ride from Kyoto. Dropped our luggage off at the guest house and ventured out. To reach the Todai-ji Temple we needed to thread our way through a few hundred deer. No problem except that they like loose straps and any scent of food. The temple houses the Daibatsu, a bronze Buddha that is claimed to be the largest bronze sculpture in the world at 55 feet from the base to the top. It was dedicated in 752 with dignatories from China, Korea and India. It has been remodeled a few times to repair the head that falls off in earthquakes and typhoons.
To contain this guy, the building that encloses it is on of the largest wooden buildings in the world. I am not much on Guinness Records but the place is huge. There is hole in one column that is the size of statue’s nostril. Small people can crawl through the hole for luck. I didn’t try. There were other monstrous guardian figures to scare away the ones that got past the vermillion gates ( I have been duly corrected by my neighbor. They did not keep away too many tourists although it was very pleasant to watch the kids get nibbled by deer. At least I didn’t see any kids with peanut butter on their hands.
The Buddhist complex was in sharp contrast to the Shinto Shrine of the Fujiwara clan that founded the place in 768. We were not looking at original structures as Shinto Shrines are ritually dismantled and reconstructed every 20 years. Inscrutable. Anyway, the structure lean heavily on Chinese design. What makes the place unique are the 2000 stone lanterns and the thousand or so brass and bronze lanterns hang from the eaves of the buildings. We did not count them all.
The Kasuga Taisha shrine is built up against and in a sacred forest. John Muir would have approved. You follow shaded pathways past a number of small shrines. The woods and forests appear to left pretty much alone unlike the Buddhist grass and needle pickers. There are piles of sacred stones and creeks. Heavy duty Shinto. There are even deer that live in the woods but are still tame enough to pose. I actually saw one with his horns.
We had a delightful lunch with a woman in a tiny restaurant attached to her house. She cooked a noodle scramble on an iron griddle a few inches from us. We were joined by one of her regulars and used the dictionary and pictures to converse. Peggy said it was the best meal of the trip. I agree.
Returned to walk around the remains on another Kofuku-ji Buddhist temple complex that featured a pagoda that was last rebuilt in the mid-1400s. The early one dated from the 600’s. They seemed to attract lightning. They now all have Ben Franklin’s lightning rod. They are in the process of reconstructing a temple building for which they have the plans. They started in 2010 and plan to finish in 2018. Pretty amazing to hear the workmen building a place designed more than a thousand years ago. They are using electric tools.
We did pass a strange sight. There were several camera crews busily filming a pond with nothing in it like ducks or carp or anything. Maybe it was a Zen news crew filming nothing. Less is more.
I think we are heading out again since the shops are intriguing. We have even discovered that the Japanese don’t always eat things that wiggle.