gurdymonkey: (gurdymonkey2)
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Got up to take an early train to Nara, a city about 30 miles south of Kyoto. Nara was Japan's capital from 710-784 CE (when the Emperor moved the capital to Kyoto), and it has a number of impressive shrines and temples dating from that period. The parklike environs of the eastern part of town are also heavily populated by Japanese Sika deer: a legendary guardian spirit of the then-new Capital descended from Heaven on the back of a white deer to protect the city. Vendors sell waferlike deer crackers for 150Y (about $1.50) a packet, so the deer are not only used to being fed by visitors but can be quite demanding about it. When I wasn't fast enough with a wafer, one grabbed at my pants' leg to hurry me up. They are smaller than North American white tail or mule deer.

Our first stop was Todaiji (Eastern Great Temple), the world's largest wooden structure, and home to the largest bronze Buddha as well. My camera was a bit challenged by the light conditions inside, but I did get a few photos. (Most active temples do not permit photos inside the Buddha Hall, but this one does. The building has been rebuilt twice after fires, so the current one was completed in 1709  - and it's 30% smaller than the original, but still impressive. (Yes, I'm cribbing stats from Wikipedia....)

From there, we wandered up through the Kasuga Taisha shrine complex, also dating from the 8th century. Set in a forested area on the slope leading up to the mountain, it's quite lovely - though there was a big wedding going on, so we didn't go inside. The massed ranks of stone lanterns have been donated over centuries by patrons of the shrine.

Josh, Ellen and I visited the treasure house, which contains armor and weapons belonging to famous personages and two massive taiko drums dating to the 13th century (no photos, unfortunately).

We found a place for lunch on a street behind the shrine at the base of the mountain. I also bought some calligraphy supplies from a shop there, then we circled back down past the shrine. Ellen needed a break. so she sat and had some tea while we went on to Kofukuji, once the family temple of the powerful Fujiwara family. The pagoda is extremely impressive and even larger than the one at Toji in Kyoto.

As you can see from the photos, one of the temple halls is undergoing reconstruction. We've encountered this at several sites: the building is enclosed in a giant pole building so they can work in all weather. There are even some shrines and temples where it is the practice to completely rebuild on a regular cycle!

We collected Ellen where we'd left her, at an outdoor tea vendor in the temple's shadow, refreshed ourselves with bottles of Raimune (it's basically a lemon-lime soda like 7Up). We headed back down into town, detouring through a shopping arcade on our way to our ryokan. Hakushikasou is just a couple blocks from the train station. We had a large traditional room to share. Ellen and I went swanning off to the women's baths in our loaner yukata. The entire room is a "wet zone" with drains in the floor and stations where you can sit or stand and scrub off with soap, shampoo, etc. BEFORE you enter the tub and turn into a limp noodle from the delightful warmth.

After, dinner was served on trays in our room. It was a huge feast - and I found I wasn't hungry and just sort of picked at it.

Our hosts came to clear trays and lay out our futons, and then we all went to bed.

Breakfast was in a dining room downstairs. Josh, Ellen and I opted for the Japanese breakfast, while Cori and Andy went with the so-called Western breakfast. Rice porridge, smoked salmon, pickles, vegetables, miso soup. I had more of an appetite than the night before, but still couldn't finish. And I had a slightly scratchy throat....

Off to the Nara National Museum for the annual showing of selected treasures from the Shosoin Repository. Back in the 700s when the Emperor died, the Empress donated his possessions to a temple repository. I saw clothing, weapons, a lute-like musical instrument, bronze mirrors, a pair of the Emperor's shoes. I invested in the exhibition catalog, plus back issues of several catalogues from previous years. My suitcase isn't going to make weight at this rate!

We stopped for lunch at an okonomiyaki joint in that shopping arcade downtown. I decided to have an attack of common sense. I was tired, footsore and not feeling great, so I got a train back to Kyoto before the others and snatched some down-time for myself. I napped the rest of the afternoon, sent the gang off to dinner without me while I had tea and toast and monitored the laundry. I'm hoping to be feeling better in the morning.
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