March 26, 2014
It rained all last night and we were a little concerned but we have our good rain gear and things worked out fine. Actually, the misty and mysterious environment added to the experience.
I need to back up more than a little. We ventured on the local railroad to Horyuji Temple where recorded Japanese history begins. The early Yamato period is associated with the town of Asoka some 25 Kms south of Nara where we went today. By 710 the capital of Japan and the home of the emperor was living in Nara.
The earliest great Prince Regent Emperor was Shotuku Taishi ( 574-622) who essentially created the basis for Japanese political and social mores. He was a devout Buddhist who adopted Confucian standards for a rationale for government. Specifically, the Chinese concept of a Mandate from Heaven justified the position of the Emperor. Also the Confucian system of rankings and Chinese court etiquette were put in place by Shotuku. He also adopted much of the Tang Dynasty rules into the first Japanese constitution. Many Japanese consider him to be a saint.
Shotuku fulfilled the previous Emperor Yomei’s pledge to build a Buddhist temple in Nara starting in 607. Today we walked among some of the original structures. These are arguably the most ancient wood buildings in existence. Some are remodels like the Pagoda that was last rebuilt in the 1400’s. The Japanese list 190 works that are national treasures that remain on the grounds of the Horyuji. You are basically strolling through the early center of Japanese society. We saw documents from the 5th and 6th century and statuary from the same era. It is place of Japanese pilgrimage.
I have to compare these buildings with places like Hagia Sophia in modern Istanbul which was constructed about the same time. but while Justinian and Theodora were attempting to resurrect the Roman Empire, the Horyuji residents was originating a new culture that survives today. The Byzantines are long gone but Western culture survives like Chinese culture. I am not sure if the Byzantines or Tang Chinese would recognize the modern world. I wonder if the Yamato rulers would recognize modern Japan.
We enjoyed comparing the architecture of Horyuji with the Chinese structures that dated from the Tang Dynasty. The dragons have assumed lessor roles than the Imperial Chinese dragons. They festoon water spouts that have a spiritual purpose. They also threaten to jump on a passerby who gets too close to the eave they protect. They don’t intimidate since they are about the size of Maclovio.
Not a lot of great pictures in the rain and we obviously couldn’t take pictures in the temple buildings and museums. They were impressive nonetheless. Use your imagination.
We took a round about trip back to Nara using a different railroad system. We decided to do a little shopping in a totally non-tourist search for gardening and woodworking tools. The stuff we found is cool. The shop keepers were even better. I could have spent a day in the tool store with tools that belonged in a museum. The shop keeper was just about as old.
The weather is supposed to be better tomorrow. I hope so since we are heading to the mountains. I had to promise Peggy that I was not leaving her at the Buddhist monastery where we are staying.