Saturday 14 Janauary 2023
Today marks the start of our second week in Japan. After a glorious sunny week (during which we walked 74.6 miles), we wake up to pouring rain. After our morning round of room Tetris, as we attempt to negotiate ourselves and our belongings around each other in our tiny room, and another round of pizza bao buns, we set off for Nara. This does not start well. The ‘wardrobe’ consists of a set of coat hangers hanging on a board over the table. When the old man takes the coats, he knocks a coffee cup onto the floor, smashing it. We need to get better at Tetris.
Train to Nara
It’s a 45 minute train ride to Nara on the aptly named Nara Line, which is included in our JR Rail Pass. The Nara JR station is 1.4 miles from the temple itself. You can walk (obviously) or take the No 2 bus, which costs Y220.
Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital, is famous for its temple containing a large Buddha statue. And its park full of deer. It is just 26 miles south of Kyoto, thus a popular day trip.
Nara is definitely guilty of taking a theme and running with it. From instructions to social distance by keeping one deer apart to bollards to drain covers. There are deer everywhere.
As it’s raining (and we walked 75 miles last week) we treat ourselves to a bus ride. It isn’t clear where we need to disembark, but we reach a bus stop circled with expectant deer and figure we’ve arrived.
The Temple is situated within a large park with a herd of what my guide book describes as ‘many (somewhat) tame deer’. This is an understatement! We disembark and run the gauntlet of deer. The old man purchases some deer food from a stall with its own deer circle. He is immediately surrounded. Some deer go for the food, another tries to eat the map whilst another bites him on the arse.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine
We spot a sea of umbrellas heading up the hill and join them in the belief that we are going to the temple.
It’s a pleasant walk through a forest lined with stone lanterns. However, it takes us in the opposite direction to our intended destination and we end up at Kasuga Taisha Shrine. This ancient shrine was originally built in the 8th Century, when Nara became the capital.
We return down the hill and across the park until we really do reach the temple. Entry costs Y600 or Y1000 for a combined ticket including the museum. As we had also intended to visit the National Museum, we select the combination ticket.
At the centre of the 8th Century Todaiji Temple is a huge Buddha statue. It is housed in the Daibutsuden, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.
The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) stands 15 metres high and contains 437 tonnes of bronze plus 130 kg of gold. This makes it one of the largest bronze statues in the world.
You enter at the front of the Buddha, walk round it, then exit via a long line of gift shops.
At the rear of the statue is a pillar with a hole the size of the Buddha’s nostril. It is said that if you can crawl through the hole, you will achieve enlightenment. Unfortunately, the hole has been covered up to prevent the spread of Covid, so enlightenment is currently on pause.
Outside the temple is a rather grotesque statue; Binzuru. It is said that if you have an ailment, you can cure it by praying and touching the corresponding body part of Binzuru. Miracle cures are also on hold due to Covid. If only there was a statue you could touch to cure covid…
As we head back towards the museum, we pass Todaiji Museum and realise that our combo ticket is for this, rather than the museum we’d intended. This small museum houses treasures excavated from around the temple. It also has some rather over zealous cleaners; a lady walks behind us and each time we stop to look at anything, she disinfects and polishes the glass where we were previously stood.
We exit the temple complex via the enormous Nandaimon Gate. How we missed this upon arrival is a mystery. It contains two 13th Century guardian statues (replicas of which can be seen in the National Mueum) and a lot of deer.
Nara National Museum
The museum is a veritable treasure chest of Buddhist artefacts, primarily Buddha statues. Entry costs Y700 with addition fees for special exhibits. We just purchase the basic ticket which provides access to two areas. The West Wing; this contains Buddhist art.
An underground passageway brings us to the Buddhist Sculpture Hall; row upon row, room upon room of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes with varying numbers of heads and arms. With the exception of the aforementioned guardian statues, photography is forbidden throughout.
All Bhuddhaed out, we return to Nara station and purchase some food from a nearby bakery while we wait for our train to Kyoto.
Lunch at Vie de France
Lunch is another veritable feast of fusion. First, a German sausage in Teriyaki sauce wrapped in a tortilla. Followed by a curry-cheese bao bun.
Then we catch the train back to Tokyo, stopping briefly at the supermarket to buy a salad to make up for having bread for breakfast and lunch. Plus a couple of drinks to round off a hard day’s sightseeing. Today’s flavours; orange & cassis and (the best one yet) plum wine soda. For added variety, the tower has also changed colour.
In the evening, while the old man goes for a walk, I attempt to wash my hair in the tiny bath. I add some grapefruit bath salts, which are a rather alarming fluorescent yellow. Then I climb in the bath. In order to wet my hair, I have to put my feet in the sink, but it kind of works.