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3-Day Model Trip Day3

3-Day Model Trip Day3 / Kansai / Sightseeing in Nara

Nara had been the capital of Japan before the government was seated in Kyoto. As it is an ancient capital in the 6th to 8th century when the Buddhist culture flourished, there remain numerous temples, shrines and other historic sites. This time I decided to visit the temples and shrines registered as the World Cultural Heritage. First, to the Todai-ji Temple famous for the great image of Buddha.

The Todai-ji Temple is famous for the great image of Buddha, a symbol of Nara, and the temple building itself is the largest existing wooden structure in the world. The present temple building was the reconstruction in the mid Edo Period (1603-1867). It is 57 meters wide, 50 meters deep and 48 meters tall. It is an imposing structure when you see it close at hand. But it is two-thirds of the original size. What a majestic structure it must have been in those days! The official name of the great image of Buddha is Birushana-butsu, and it is 15 meters tall. The Buddha has mild expression on its face, but I was told if I look up from a corner, the face looks more handsome. The precincts are dotted with national treasure sanctuaries and towers, such as the Nandai-mon Main Gateway building, the Shoro bell tower with a national treasure bell, and the Nigatsudo temple where they hold a water-drawing ritual with burning torches called "Omizutori" in March. The Shosoin known for its Azekura-zukuri(a log house-like configuration of triangular woods) style built with triangular logs is a treasury that contained some 10,000 treasures, but today the treasures are preserved in another building and only the exterior appearance is open to public.

I went on to the Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine. The Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine, the Todai-ji Temple and the Kofuku-ji Temple are located within the Nara-koen Park. Some 1,200 deer inhabit in this park. They are wild animals to be sure, but it is believed that they started to inhabit around the Shrine because they were considered as sacred animals since the Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine enshrines a deity that came riding a white deer.

The distance from the first torii gate to the principal shrine is as long as 1,300 meters. In the precincts, there are the principal shrine, the Wakamiya-jinja Shrine and many other shrines. Some 2,000 stone garden lanterns stand in a row on the approach way. It is surrounded by thick growth of trees, and the sunbeams shining through foliage gave me somewhat fantastic sensation. I felt as if I was being purified by just walking in the precincts. About 1,000 hanging lanterns are hung along the corridors of the inner main shrine. They create a perfect harmony with the corridors painted in bright red.

After I left the Shrine, I took a bus to the Yakushi-ji Temple in the Nishi-no-Kyo in the western Kyoto. The Yakushi-ji Temple was first constructed in the capital Fujiwara-Kyo in the Asuka District in the south of the Nara Basin by the order of Emperor Jito in the end of the 7th century, and was transferred to the present location when the capital was transferred to Nara in the early 8th century. Most of the buildings were lost in fires by acts of God and battles, but the priests made great efforts to reconstruct the Kondo, the golden sanctuary, the Saito, the western tower, and other lost structures in recent years. The sight of the only remaining original structure Toto, or the east tower, and the Saito, or the west tower reconstructed in 1981 standing together is truly magnificent. These two towers appear to have the same height, but actually the newer Saito is 2 meters taller. I was told that this is because they had designed the tower with due consideration to the subsidence of ground due to the weight of the structure itself and shrinking of the lumber so that they will be of the same height in several hundred to one thousand years later. I can only offer my truest respect to their determination to hand down the history correctly to the future.

Then I visited the Horyu-ji Temple that was the first in Japan to be designated as the World Cultural Heritage. This is a temple founded in 607 by the Prince Regent Shotoku-Taishi and Empress Suiko who reigned Japan from the late 6th century to the early 7th century. It is known for the Kondo, a golden sanctuary, that is the world oldest wooden structure. The temple has suffered relatively small damages from acts of God and warfare, and many sanctuaries, temples and Buddhist images remain in their original states. The five-story pagoda that enshrines Buddha's bones and is the oldest pagoda in Japan and most of the structures in the precincts are designated as national treasures. If you wish to appreciate the Buddhist images, artworks and crafts close at hand, you should go to the Daiho-zoin treasury. The treasury preserves Buddhist images with archaic smile and various treasures of the temple. Another must-see in the Horyu-ji Temple is the octagonal hall called the Yume-dono, a hall of dreams. It was built as a memorial hall dedicated to Shotoku-Taishi in 739. Although it has undergone several repairs, it is the oldest octagonal hall. The esthetic balance of the roof that stretches from the center in curves and the octagonal hall design is splendid. It is a beautiful structure with a mysterious air.

I have toured through the old capitals of Japan before Tokyo was designated as the capital. The cities with long history possess many World Cultural Heritages, and I was simply awed by the magnificent structures of the temples and shrines and splendid artworks.