Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Journey to Nara

After leaving Tokyo on Monday, December 6, we headed to Kyoto for four nights.  I had planned to take one of the days we were there to go to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan.  It turned out that day was to be Wednesday, December 7.  Our JR Rail passes got us a free ride to Nara in about 45 minutes.

Tōkondo (East Golden Hall)
From the JR station, we grabbed a cab to Nara Park and started our journey into the past at the Buddhist temple, Kōfuku-ji, a World Heritage site. See also here. We first visited the Tōkondo (East Golden Hall) where I tried to take pictures of the interior that I was not supposed to take. They did not come out too well. (Interestingly, although the visitor was not permitted to take pictures of certain statues, pictures of those statues were available for sale in booths nearby.) Next to the East Golden Hall is the Gojū-no-tō, a five story pagoda which is the second highest in Japan.  The original Gojū-no-tō was built in 730 by Empress Komyoh; the current pagoda is a reconstruction completed in 1426.  We wandered down the path, past the ever present domesticated deer, to Nan'endo, the south octogonal hall, where I had the opportunity to see someone praying presumably as part of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, on which Nan'endo is the 9th stop.


Our personal pilgrimage required our stopping frequently at gardens so our next stop was Isuien Garden, before we tackled the crowds at the main event- Todai-ji, the home of Big Buddha (Big Buddha, Big Buddha).

Isuien Garden is really two gardens in one. The gardens surround a large pond and provide views for gorgeous water reflection shots on sunny days. The garden was relatively quiet--only a few other people were on the paths with us.  Between the gardens were a few ceremonial tea houses and in the back garden we found an old water mill structure.  I crossed the rocks to other side of the pond, allowing a wonderful view back of that rock path. (Fortunately, with some help, I made it across without falling).  We did not visit the adjoining museum preferring instead to head out to the Park again to find Todai-ji.
Isuien Pond from rear garden

Isuien Pond

Water Wheel

Rock path across pond in Isuien

Interior of Tea House in Isuien

We wandered down another deer laden lane to the entrance to Todai-ji where we found the crowds again.  So many school groups visit that there is a sign prohibiting group photos once within the temple grounds- presumably to keep the crowds moving.  Inside the Big Buddha (Daibutsu)  is indeed very impressive as are his friends (although unfortunately my photos of the friends did not come out so well. For better photos see here.)  Although the original Temple and Daibutsu statue were built in the 8th century, the current structure and main temple building, like so many other historical buildings we saw, are reconstructions in this case built in  the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Deer with my dear on the way to Todai-ji 

Main Hall of Todai-ji

Model of original grounds of Todai-ji

Daibutsu (aka Big Buddha)

Binzuru Pindola Bharadvaja
Outside the main temple hall, there is a statue of  Binzuru Pindola Bharadvaja, a disciple of the Buddha.  Legend has it that if you rub the statue and then rub the part of your body that is diseased, your body will heal. I, of course, did that since I cannot rule out anything to cure my disease.

After our visit to Todai-ji we went in search of a particular lunch spot recommended in our guidebook.  It had  just closed but luckily I wandered into an empty store nearby where, in the restaurant area in the back,  we were able to get a bowl of Nara Udon and they called a cab for us to get back to the train station.  What a find!  (more on the food in another blog.  I promise!)

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