This was going to be the most tiring day out as a lot of walking was to be invovled. The temple tour route we were going to take was 5 km long and we were going to have to travel an additional klick to get to the start. Considering how we felt after Himeji, there was some trepidation.
A slow train ride found ourselves in a modern town centre, now signs that this was the ancient capital of Japan, before it moved to Kyoto. Shinto is a religeon/way of life with a superstisious slant. As a result of the emperor being a deity, once he died it was felt his kami would curse any who distrubed his rest, so the capital would be uprooted and moved else where. Once bhuddism became the religeon of the emperors tis changed and thus Nara became the first fixed capital. It only stayed this way for 84 years. At the end of that time the bhuddist temples held such power and influence that they were close to taking over power. Eventually one priest did seduce the empress and try just this, so the emperor moved the capital away to a new city that became known as Kyoto. End of lesson.
Nara is famous for three things, one it’s temples, including the world’s largest wooden structure, two, a very large budda, and three, it’s herds of very friendly Nara deer, who are considered to be national artifacts. The main walk, which we took, covers the three main temples plus a few others, and is mainly in Nara-Koen. We started off going to Kofuku-Ji, a relatively nice, historic temple that alas is presently undergoing building work, which destroyed some of it’s feel. It was an easy start, just on the edge of the park. From there we proceeded on to Todai-Ji.
Not sure where to start on Todai-Ji. The original complex dates from around the 8th century. It houses one of the largest bronze buddahs in the world, and the main building has been burnt down three times – last in 1709. Approaching you should go through the main gate, Nandai-Mon. Tbis in itself is massive, very impressive and very imposing. It contains two gaurdian figures, both looking agressive. Heading through here you see another big wooden structure, this is just the front to the main compaound, the Daibatsu-Den. It’s only as you get close to here that you finally see the main building, and words jsut do not do it justice. It is large, very large, and despite showing it’s age, looks like it will outlast much around it.
The entrance fee of 500 yen is standard fair for a buddist temple, and it really is a must to go inside. It’s so large that even the tour parties of school kids seemed small. The main entrance towers over you as you enter facing the massive bronze buddah. The only light is natural, coming in through the front doors and slatted windows. To each side of it is a large bronze figure, though smaller than the buddah. Wandering around, you very quickly become more impressed with the building, though you get a shock when at the rear you see a model of how it originally was, then two models of the Daibatsu-den. One for now, and one for the original one. it’s only at this point that you realise the original building was about 50% wider than the present one. It must have been highly impressive, or more accurately, very humbling to visitors.
Post temple we wandered up towards Nigatsu-do hall, where fire festivals are held. Along the way we came across the shoro belfry, which houses a suitable large bell to go along side the near by temple and buddah. A quick lunch stop was taken here, before proceeding on up to Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do halls. The view from the main veranda of the former allows you to see across the Nara plains, to the far hills, though it was spoilt slightly by the Nara fun fair in the distance.
From here we walked though the supposeldy gaudy Tamukeyama-jinja, a slightly run down, though brightly painted temple. I quite liked it as the atmosphere was very peaceful, probably due to a lack of tourists. However we didn’t stay long as we still had a treck to do to reach Kasuga Taisha, the ancient and most revered of all shinto temples.
If we thought we were tired at this point, we had yet to encounter the toughest part. This shinto temple complex is in it’s own extensive grounds, mainly up hill. Once though the gate you just encounter row after row of lanterns and lots of small shrines. Eventually you get to the main building, we actually went beyond and had to double back. Visually it’s only o.k., but it’s the sort of religeous place where you can feel it’s importance and karma. We paid to enter – a worshipping fee, though we weren’t sure there was much more to see. This was worth the 500 yen, and I would recommend it to anyone. It was here that a rather funny thing happend. there’s a prayer hall that I looked in to. From the door you could see what was possibly a neighbouring room. I was just about to take off my shoes to wander in when I heard chanting starting. Deciding it was a prayer section in the area I could not see I decided to wait until it ended. Dave joined me, wandered round the building, the wandered back saying he coould hear nothnign round the other side. We ventured quietly in to find … a tape recording. It must have been on auto-reverse and had just started up as I was about to enter.
Once we finished here we headed on back down to the swtation via a coffee shop for a well deserved rest, coffee and cheese cake. The official route was meant to be about 5 km, but with the extra distance we had to travel to/from the start, plus the extra distance walked around the various complexes, we must have done more like 8-10. Net result was two very tired, though content people who flaked out on the train back.