Monday, November 16, 2015

Kyoto Day 2 ... The Deer Hunters

This is the next post of our Japan trip.  It took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

After yesterday's breathtaking series of events, we did wonder what could top that and Cat's schedule for the day was interesting:

1.  Kyoyo station for breakfast
2.  Train to Nara -- Todaiji Temple (buddha), Kasuga Grand Shrine (3,000 lanterns) and Nara Park for deer (rickshaw between)
3.  Stopping train back to Kyoto stopping at Fushimi Inari
4.  Ponto Cho in th evening

It doesn't sound too much.  Only 4 things on the face of it.  Yesterday's had 6!

Anyway Nara was a short train ride away and is another Japanese city with old buildings on the outskirts built around the large train station... of course nothing like Kyoto's! Nara isn't that much of a city really but has a whole slate of important buildings probably because for about 70 years from 710 AD, it was the capital of Japan.  Back then it was called Heijokyo and lost its status in another one of the civil wars.

We asked a lady at the station where the Todaiji Temple was and she kindly hauled out a map and with vigourous strokes of a red crayon drew all the bits we should see in Nara City.  It was exhausting listening to her and we were probably the 43rd tourist who'd asked the same thing that day.  She was a one-person tourist authority.

More to the point, her directions were spot on too and all too soon as we strolled the 15 minutes in the warm sunshine (yay!) along Omiya Street, we came to the front gates of the temple and went inside.

We'd noticed before in Miyajima that deer walked all over the place and came up to people hassling them for food.  But here in Nara there were attack deer who hunted in packs.  Cat's mum, Thelma, made the big mistake of trying to shrink away from the deer and move away but they were remorseless and just kept on following.

Some do's and don'ts of deer feeding.  If feeding, place cookie in open hand and offer it to the deer.  Do not hold it in your fingers as they may get chomped instead by these voracious critters.  So (top) well done, Cat but (bottom) what do you think you are doing, Indy?  No fingers!!

And if you decide not to feed them, hold your hand out as though you are a policeman stopping cars.
Despite the Do Not Feed the Deer signs, concessions sold deer food to the massive numbers of tourists.  The food itself was large round cookies probably made out of something nutritious for deer.  Whatever they went nuts over them and herded around even the more.

Love the helpful signs!  Do NOT turn your back on the deer.
However deer aside, that wasn't the reason Nara was item 2 on Cat's list.  It was the wooden temple, Todaiji, the world's largest wooden building.  Founded in the 8th Century, the current version is number 3 or 4 rebuilt in 1709, but as the then Shogun was short of cash, he couldn't rebuild it to its full extent.  So it is only one-third the original size and still the largest wooden structure in the world.

The 800 year old gate house
But the real reason this place is famous is the Daibutsu (or Great Buddha) inside.  It is a monster, sorry being more respectful I meant ENORMOUS.

Pretty much standard lay out though:  chubby and sitting with a sort of cheery grin on his face.  Like many other places though, as the buddha is a peaceful man he needs protection so is surrounded by a series of scowling friends that I suspect are meant to scare the bejasus out of you.

Daibutsu in person
This temple reminded me very much of a Cathedral in the west in that it was set out wholly as a place of worship without other stuff getting in the way.  Mind you, the stalls where indulgences were sold were doing a roaring trade.

Some helpers, very grim looking too!
As far as I could work out, you bought an indulgence (something like good health or happiness for the family) and you took it forward to the statue of your choice.  There are plenty around so even if there's a throng of people, there's usually a free statue with one of those chests in front of it with what looks like sand and some candles.  You take a candle, wrap the indulgence around it (usually in the form of a small piece of paper with your indulgence written on it in Japanese characters) and set light to the candle setting it up in the sand.  That's the basis around which there are local customs in different places.  One that cropped up fairly often was the bell ringing option where for again a small payment of another indulgence you could ring that bell.

I know there's gift shops and donation boxes in churches but indulgences like this nearly brought the Catholic church to its knees and sparked the Reformation.

But we did buy a roof slate to help out!!

Next temple was thankfully only a shortish stroll away through the forest and always up more steps (!!) called the Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

I didn't count the steps!

This was a Shinto temple (remember Japan is about 50/50 Shinto/Buddhist) and had its own Zen garden of raked sand and perfectly shaped rocks placed just so.

This shrine is number 60 or so as it's been around over 1,200 years like many of the other temples, shrines, pagodas and other buildings in this really old city so has burned down many times before.  It is also home to the 3,000 lanterns which seem to go on forever.

However it was a long walk up and down through the forest, park and gardens so after Kasuga we were looking forward to a libation and something to eat but ran into the Five Storey Pagoda on the road back to Nara Station for a brief visit too.

The team on tour!

It had been a long walking day so the consensus was for not that much more walking and something easy for dinner.  However Indy found an Irish Pub near the downtown core of Kyoto which we found irresistable particularly as we found that Chelsea were playing Cat's dad Gordon's team, Everton, and were in the process of getting soundly stuffed.

15,500 paces of walking today according to my new pedometer!! Felt like it too.

The art photo!  Some of the lanterns in the dark... helped out by strategically placed mirrors!

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