Sunday, October 09, 2005

Nara - a whole lot of deer and buddha

Friday night I met up with Cheryl and we had dinner at the local Korean joint. We had a nabe pot of vegetables and pork with rice and a variety of kimchi. Very tasty. The guy who runs the place is such a sweet, old man and I think our visits are a bit of a novelty for him.

I think the last time we went to that place, the people sitting at the table behind us were eating the nabe pot thing. It must be some sort of sign because this time the table behind us were eating this awesome looking korean hot plate thing which Cheryl and I have quickly decided to be what we order next time round.

This weekend I headed to Nara. The very old, former capital of Japan, even before Kyoto. I'd visited Nara once before on my school exchange but I just had to go back again and experience it again, 9 years later.

Surprisingly it isn't all that far away ~ about 2 hours away by train. Leaving Osaka, the landscape from the train's window slowly changed as I made my way closer to my distant memories of Nara - walking around the deer park with sembei (crackers) and being caught up in a deer feeding frenzy, the giant Buddha, Mr. Pratt's blue umbrella, taking my very first purikura photo sticker, being enlightened and walking from temple to temple and shrine to shrine.

I had previously booked myself into the Nara Youth Hostel and was feeling a bit anxious being by myself and having to share a dorm with 5 complete strangers. Lucky for me I ended up being the only one in the room. I also bumped into Felicity there! It was a pleasant surprise. The weather on Saturday was rainy and crap so prevented me from covering a lot of ground. Instead I ended up walking through the malls and did a lot of shopping, considering my weekend's purpose was to go sight-seeing.

Mugwort mochi making

Getting my Temple book stamped

Fortunately for me, Andy (Perth JET) was in the city that day and was able to meet up with me on such short notice. I met his beautiful wife, Sachi and their gorgeous, new baby girl, Sasha. Sachi grew up in Nara so she was able to give me brief tour of the place, recommended places to go to and took us to a really nice restaurant, owned by a famous Japanese musician. After an amazing meal and green tea chiffon cake, they drove me up to a lookout spot on Wakakusa mountain which had a great view of Nara city and all it's twinkling lights. Thanks so much for making my Nara visit so much more enjoyable!

Sachi, Sasha & Andy

The youth hostel was really nice with friendly staff, clean rooms, comfy beds, relaxing shower and o-furo and a great breakfast for only 600 yen. However the only downside is the 10pm curfew. The next day had beautiful weather so I managed to see nearly everything I wanted. I was so tired by the end of the day I was tempted to hire one of those rickshaw guys to take me back to the station.

I went to the 3-storey pagoda, 5-story pagoda, Kofukuji Temple, Nandaimon Gate, Todaiji Temple, Daibutsu-den Hall (the world's largest wooden building housing the world's biggest, bronze Buddha), the great bell, Nigatsu-do Hall, Sangatsu-do Hall (brilliant views of Nara), Kasuga Taisha Shrine (famous for its many lanterns and lantern festivals held twice a year), Homotsu-den aka Treasure Hall (where I saw an exhibition of old samurai armour and weapons) and Ukimodo Hall on Sagi-ike Pond (famous spot for many shooting many Japanese TV dramas and movies). Many of these places are World Heritage Listed and National Treasures.

Daibutsu-den Hall was awesome. I don't remember being in so much awe the first time I saw it. Then again I was 14 years old and we were so sick of all the temples and shrines by then. But the structures and gardens were amazing. There is also this huge wooden column in the hall with a smallish rectangular block cut out from the bottom, apparently the size of Buddha's nostril. It is believed that those who can squeeze through it are ensured enlightenment. It was quite amusing watching the little kids crawl through while the more adventurous adults squirmed along on their bellies. I did it last time and wanted to do it again (you know, to be enlightened again) but being by myself and wearing a white v-neck top made me think otherwise.

Enlightened at 2 years old

I also followed the sound of drums and watched the annual Deer Antler Cutting Ceremony. This traditional ceremony of Kasuga Shrine has been held for over 330 years. During mating season in Autumn, the bucks tend to turn 'very wild', detroying the park's trees, injuring other deers and also sometimes humans. So in an enclosure to the sound of a drum, men in 'Happi' coats use ropes to hook the deer's antlers and secure them while a Shinto priest gives the buck water to drink before sawing off its antlers. The antlers are then offered to the god of Kasuga Shrine. The bucks aren't hurt during this ceremony but it was still a bit cringe-worthy to watch.

After my legs couldn't take it anymore, I made my way back to the station and headed home. Nara is beautiful. I really reminds me of Kyoto and I recommend it to everyone. Just look out for the deer. One took a bite out of my map!


At 7:09 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Thanks for your blog. It is a lovely blog , I got to know Japan well with all your stories posted in ur blog. Thanks and I enjoy reading!


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