Saturday, October 27, 2007

Japan Day 4: Nara

Nara isn't a particularly big place but it spent a brief period as the first permanent capital of Japan which means, surprise surprise, lots of temples and shrines. Both of the places we were going to see were world heritage sites, but the city also has quite a few world heritage sites we didn't see. Theoretically, the buildings are very old but in reality, because they're made of wood they've been burned down and rebuilt fairly often.

There is a huge park in Nara and everything we were planning to see is within it. There are hundreds of deer wandering around the park and you can buy these cracker-like things to feed them but we chose not to. I'm sure they get plenty of food anyway. Anyway, the first thing we did was walk straight through the park to Kasuga Taisha shrine. The shrine is famous for it's many lanterns--both the stone ones lining the approach and the metal ones within. Twice a year there are festivals where they light all the lanterns, but they were pretty neat unlit as well.
Not a great picture but you can see all the lanterns lining the path, going off into the distance.

Inside the shrine.
And yet more lanterns.

From the shrine we walked to Todaiji Temple which is, the literature tells us, the largest wooden structure in the world. As you approach the temple there are some mostly schlocky gift shops and more deer than ever.
Gate with deer.
The main hall, or Daibutsuden.

Todaiji is famous not only for it's size, but for the Daibutsu, or giant bronze statue of Buddha. (making the Daibutsuden "the hall of the Great Buddha").
The Buddha is massive (15 meters in height, with fingers the size of a human) and I don't think you can get a good idea of it from my rather poor picture, so here it is featured in a video. The golden statue in the video is Kokuuzo-bosatsu. The video also shows you a small segment of the horde of schoolchildren that we were wading through in Todaiji.

Taking pictures within the dark and cavernous temple was difficult, and while I tried to take photos of some of the large statuary, they really didn't come out well. Here's one that is decent though and it gives you an idea of what several of the statues looked like.

One of the pillars holding up the daibutsuden has a hole in it that is supposed to be the size of Buddha's nose. If you can crawl through the fairly small hole, you are theoretically guaranteed a place in heaven. I didn't get a chance to crawl through because there was an incredibly long line of schoolchildren going through, but so it goes.

The following statue was just outside the temple. It's the image of one of Buddha's disciples. If you rub a part of the statue and then the corresponding part of your own body any ailment you have there is supposed to disappear.
Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja)

And after seeing all that we walked the mile or so back to the train station and headed back to Osaka.

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