Monday, November 30, 2009

Nara: Todai-ji


What you see there is the dinner I had Monday night. I went to a local mini-stop and picked up some rameon for those nights I didn't feel like eating out.


The next morning I woke up excited and ready for my day. There was a beautiful sunrise out the window:


After breakfast and checking my destination guide I left for Nara, which is an area of Kansai to the east. Near my hotel is this small Buddhist shrine and temple~
On the way I crossed a bridge over a canal and caught eye of the lovely reflection.
 
 
I took the train into Nara station, which was a straight shot using the Osaka-Namba Kintetsu line. If that sounds confusing imagine how many times I double checked it.
 
Nara Park: Deer roam free
I took a bus into the park near to where the Todai-ji temple is located. Nara park is huge and very beautiful. I couldn't help but envy Japan for having dedicated a chunk of space to a pristine grassland park with trees (wink wink Roboseyo).

Here are some pictures from the bus ride:
 
 
 
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Deer roam around the park nibbling on the grass, taking rests under trees and following any person who is giving out the deer snacks, which you can purchase within the park.

These deer are known as "Sika" and:
Sika deer have had a long history of cultural importance in Nara Park, beginning in the eighth century with a legend that a god rode into the park on the back of a white deer. With protection for religious reasons, the population built up and became tame because of its frequent interaction with people visiting the religious shrines at the park.
 
 
Besides the cute deer the park itself was colorfully decorated with autumn colors.
One visitor to the park saw it fit to feed the deer himself using what I assumed are leftover cookies and crackers. He sure made a spectacle with a huge pack of deer following him around.

I ate a little packed lunch and then moved on towards the temple.
  
 
This appears to be a whole middle or high school that took a field trip to the park. If you have watched Japanese animation then the site of uniformed teenagers is really a site.
 
Namdaimon: Great South Gate
This trip was worth every penny spent because I was seeing for the first time the artworks and treasures of Japan that I studied back in my Japanese History class. Those tiny pictures in the textbook do these works absolutely no justice. I cannot describe to you how huge and overwhelming these structures are.

Nowadays with our tall glass and steel skycrapers seeing something of large stature is common. But to think that this was made out of wood and that back in those days this was a tall structure.

This was built in the Kamakura period, however it was originally built during the Nara period but was destroyed in a typhoon.

To get to the temple you must first pass through this gate.
 
On the way there were some fighting deer.


Here is a detail on the gate, which I suppose is a lantern.
 
Here you can see the woodwork and age that has come onto the gate.
 

Here is the guardian deity the Ni-o and there is a lot of symbolism to these guys.
I think the gate is just a taste of what is too come. After you pass through you then make your way to the entrance where you pay a small feel for admission.

 
 
Ticket kiosk~
 
Daibutsu-den: Great Buddha Hall
Seeing this was unbelievable, mostly because I couldn't believe I was there. All I had to do was become a teacher in Korea and go on a visa run to Japan. Actually I would like to think it is fate because what we are about to see that is inside this building felt like I was meeting up with destiny.
 
Despite that this building has been destroyed twice by fire it was built to last in the Edo period. What you see here folks is the largest wooden structure in the world.

 
On the way in~

There was a water cleansing area.
 
 

Octagonal Lantern: Date backs to the founding of the area...so very old.
 
The closer and closer you get the more you start to realize how small and puny you are. The monk and other folks who made this hall put a lot of effort, time and money into. But also made sure it was made with great craftsmanship and detail.
 
Before you enter the temple you can light some incense to make a wish or tribute to the Buddha. I did so in hopes that family receives good health.

Seated Binzura:
which is believed to cure any ailment if the patient touches the statue with one hand and the affected part with the other.
 
 
Although good for curing ailments his image is a little spooky and I just noticed that he is wearing a raincoat...I thought that was part of the costume...haha.
 

Inside~ Vairocana Buddha: Daibutsu


The seated figure is the largest Buddha statue in Japan (53ft/ 16.2m high), 437 tons of bronze, 286lb/ 130kg of gold and 7 tons of wax were used in its casting. The raised right hand is in the semui-no-in position (mudra), the "promise of peace"; the left hand in the yogan-no-in position, the "fulfillment of wishes"
As I stepped in I was overwhelmed and powerless. It seemed the fatigue from my walking was swept away as I gazed upwards. I cannot tell you how large this Buddha is because words alone seem so meager.

I can only tell you that after taking a few pictures I gazed at this statue, especially the eyes, for quite some time. Other visitors did the same and most of the contributed a coin and then grasped their hands together and said a prayer. I tossed in a coin too but did my prayer without the hand gesture. I thought it might look odd for the westerner to do it.

To the right was the gift shop, but you couldn't get to it. First you have to walk in a circle around the Great Buddha.
  
Let's take that walk~


Section of the lotus petals~




The two figures in front of the statue, Nyoirin-Kannon (fulfiller of all wishes, on the right) and Kokuzo-bosatsu (divinity of wisdom and good fortune, on the left), date from the same period.

Celestial Guardians - to the left Komokuten, ruler over the West, who is depicted trampling on a demon who symbolizes all that hampers the Buddhist faith; to the right Tamonten, in a similar pose.


As you made your way around the Great Buddha you came across those figures and a small scale production of the Todai-ji. I realize now that I only saw a small portion of all this. 




This is the back of the Great Buddha and still it retains a sense of awe and craftsmanship. I couldn't help but wonder how it was built and how amazing that it hasn't been destroyed.


In the back area there was a line up for kids to crawl through a pillar. For some reason there was a hole there.



I did my fair share of souvenir shopping and soon felt like it was time to eat. I left the Daibutsu feeling like I had achieved something great and also at peace.
 The rest of my trip I enjoyed some great lunch and then meandered my way back to the station. It was a great day but all the walking made my body completely exhausted. So today I ended up resting in my hotel after dropping off my visa application. Tomorrow I hope to go out to a site in Kyoto after picking up my visa.

Hopefully I will have time to post more but we will see. ;)
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