Today was Nara. Yet again, I’ve been struck by the welcoming nature of many Japanese. On the train, I got gum from a little Japanese lady who was excited to meet such an okii gaijin (big foreigner). I joked with a little Japanese boy, who mocked me for my okii-ness. I laughed with the other locals as I cracked my head on the ceiling of the bus, and again later that night when a Japanese businessmen fell asleep on the shoulder of his neighbor on the train home. The quick to laugh nature was definitely unexpected, but most welcome.
Being in Nara was an amazing experience. Obviously, the deer were a lot of fun. In Nara, the deer are sacred, and they’re everywhere. They’re also very tame, walking up to people looking for food. You can feed them, or sometimes they’ll just munch on your map or any loose articles of clothing. It was basically a petting zoo for grownups. I find the contrast funny…In Nara, the deer are sacred, while in the US, the deer are just…scared.
I was amazed by the 1300th anniversary festival at Nara’s Todaiji Temple. A small group of Augie kids stayed behind to watch the nighttime festival, which turned out to be a beautiful procession of people in Nara period dress. There turned out to be a lot of people there, but the respect and orderly conduct of everyone amazed me (we were the only foreigners I saw there). There was no shoving or pushing ahead of people to get a better view, but the elderly and small children were always let through to the front to sit down and have the best view. There was a fair amount of ambient noise, but once the procession started, an eerie silence fell over the crowd. The silence was overwhelming…Almost inhuman for a crowd of thousands. I’m not looking forward to going back to Chicago and the pandemonium at Soldier Field…
I’ll skip recounting another day at Nara, which was amazing but just more wandering around temples. Today was a travel day, starting at Osaka early early in the AM, stopping in Nara, then Uji, then settling down for our home of a week or so in Kyoto. Uji was a very unique experience. This is the first Japanese town that I could actually see myself living in…It wasn’t overwhelming like Osaka, or a touristy-museum like Nara. No skyscrapers, but spatial organization was still prevalent. Spatial organization, as the one and only Norm Moline will tell you in his Asian Geography class, is the organization of a city in such a way as to maximize space in a minimal area. The Japanese tend to use every square inch of everything, from gardens and laundry on the roof to underground malls. Anyways, like I said, spatial organization was used effectively but aesthetics and personal space weren’t sacrificed.
Byodoin Temple was our first stop. Here, my ten week crash course on Buddhism paid off. What struck me most was the beauty and attention to detail, while still maintaining simplicity…Like the lotus flower. These flowers served as not only a spiritual symbol but a visual adornment to the temples and shrines. And in this big vase of water, there were only one or two lotuses…Michru Sensei taught us that in the Japanese art of flower arranging, ikebana, one finds beauty in the empty space in between flowers as much as the flowers themselves. Anyways, there were more to see than just lotus blossoms…The temple is known for its 56 ancient Buddha statues and its magnificent main shrine, for which it has received its status as a World Heritage site. Pretty cool stop that isn’t on the main list of tourist attractions here in Japan.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Genji Museum. There I was reminded how ridiculous the Tale of Genji is. The book was written in the Heian Period by Murasaki Shikabu, a woman lucky enough to be a part of the Heian Court. The book revolves around Genji, the ancient Japanese version of Hugh Hefner. Fun fact: apparently it was based off of a real man, and that real man’s summer home happened to be Byodoin…Pretty cool. Turns out it does pay to read all that boring text in museums.
I snuck out of the museum a little early to explore Uji. I wandered down to the Uji River, which was one of the most beautiful natural views I’ve seen in Japan so far…The little island park in the middle of the river definitely added to the scene.
The trek to Kyoto was uneventful…And the day ended at our home for the next few days, Higashiyama Youth Hostel. We’re definitely getting an old school cultural experience befitting Kyoto, the “cultural core” of Japan. Shoes off before entering the building, small and simple rooms, and communal showers. Very small communal showers.
One last final note—the driving is amazing here. The roads have to be at least a third smaller than ours back in the states, but somehow our bus driver managed it. And backing into a space at that ridiculously crowded truck stop? I’m impressed and never driving in Japan…
I’m almost finally caught up…As I’m writing this we have one full day left in Kyoto, then off to Hiroshima. I’ll try to be fully caught up and regale you with my Kyoto adventures while in Hiroshima. And if you want a lot more pictures, just go ahead and Facebook friend me if you’re not already…I’ll have about 600 or so by the end of Kyoto, and it kills me to have to limit my pictures to one or two for this blog…
Posted on August 30th, 2010 by phillip-litchfield
Filed under: Phillip Litchfield