|Nara Park maps – great use of symbology|
Visiting Nara is on many ‘must see’ lists for Japan, so there probably hundreds of blogs written about this place. I will highlight just a few elements.
Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 and is considered the cradle of Japanese culture, arts, and crafts. Buddhism first flourished here. The major cultural heritage sites in Nara have been registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an irreplaceable part of the cultural heritage of all humanity.
By visiting Nara Park and its many sites on a Monday I was likely to miss some of the usual crowds. I got away early, aiming to be on the sight seeing trail by 9:00am. The guide from the local tourist information centre was great, and the friendly staff had pencilled in a suggested route. Being me, I decided to take in as many of the minor temples and shrines in the precinct as I could rather than head for the 2 or 3 primary tourist destinations.
Sarusawa-ike Pond and then Gangoji Temple got me in the culture and history mood, then on past the Daijoin Temple and Cultural Hall (closed at this time). Entering the south-west corner of Nara Park I found the Tenjin Shrine, juxtaposed beside a children’s playground. Tenjin Shrines are dedicated to the kami of Sugawara Michizane. Again, a lone devotee was making an offering at the shrine.
|Ukimodo Hall at Sagi-ike Pond|
Winding pathways led to the Saga-ike Pond and the beautiful Ukimodo Hall that in the stillness of the morning seemed to be floating on the glassy lake. Cherry and plum blossom buds hung pregnant, due to burst with colour in the coming days and weeks.
|workers at Kasuga Wakamiya Shrine|
The cleanliness and order of Japan
|finished swept gravel|
is wonderful. At the Kasuga Wakamiya Shrine a group of 5 older men and women swept every leave away from the entrance ways and paths. And then I saw their real handiwork – the gravel forecourt stroked artistically with rakes. I did not dare walk on it, if only much beauty could remain forever.
|novices at prayer ~ Enomoto Jinja|
Having admired the Kasuga Grand Shrine, the mid-morning calm was broken (or is that accentuated) by a low and melodious chant. At enomoto-jinja two young trainee priests (I assume) chanted on the outside landing as a senior priest undertook a ritual inside, around a shrine. The rhythmic chant continued for some minutes, accompanied by the gurgling of water cascading through a small channel nearby. I stood and listened a respectful distance.
|Manyou Botanic Garden|
Adjacent to the Kasuga Grand Shrine are the Kasuga
|Spot the deer|
Taishi Shanen Manou Botanic Gardens. While small, the landscaping particularly the water features is beautiful.
A few plum blossoms were out, as were some camellias. Alas, a few days or weeks early for the hundreds of plum and cherry trees to be in bloom – but it can be imagined.
|The Great Bell|
The Great Bell of Todai-ji is, well, big.
|Geez that bell is big|
Called “Nara Taro” it was made in the Kamakura-era (1192-1333) and is 3.9 m. high and weighs 26 tons.
|A tile for eternity|
The Todai-ji Temple was completed in 752. The current building is the second remake of the original and is at two-thirds scale of the original. That still makes it the biggest wooden building in the world!
I understand that the maintenance of huge buildings like this would cost zillions of Yen, and that the tourist trinkets are important income for these places. I usually limit my trinket purchases, but I was struck by the invitation to purchase a roof tile for 1,000Y.
On the underside of the tile you could inscribe your words for the ages ahead. My words ‘for the love and peace in eternity’ were drawn from the Todai-ji Temple itself, its re-incarnations over 15 centuries. I finished off my tile with ‘for my family’ to symbolise that my family travels with me to this spot and everywhere in my heart and soul.
I can’t go anywhere without drawing in some emergency management issue, and Nara Park was no different! The ‘refuge site’ designated the safe place to congegrate following an earthquake, when the greatest dangers will be from fire.
|Earthquake Refuge sign ~ understandable using symbology|