Adventures & Insights

One man's adventures in the physical and intellectual worlds…

My Japanese Travels: Nara and Todai-ji

This is a cut and paste from a MySpace blog I wrote. I’ve realised that I’ve said this blog was going to be about Japan and I’ve not written very much about that…😦

As I’ve said before, and will no doubt repeat again during the course of my life, Japan has been an enormous source of growth, inspiration and awe for me. I could list many reasons why I love Japan as much as I do and why it had such an impact on me – actually I might, I think I’ll post something to that effect later.

For now, relax in your chair (or couch, or bed, or wherever) and come with me on a jaunt down memory lane to a wonderful place in Nara where three young adventurers experienced public transport, wild deer, megalithic homages to gods and a crawl through Buddha’s nostril on their way to enlightenment…

Nara is the city which rightly boasts two of the largest structures in the World – the largest wooden building and the largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana. Both of these structures can be visited at Todai-ji. That’s enough of the lecture, now for the personal experience.

On a bright but somewhat overcast morning, I met up with two of my friends and with train tickets in hand we set off for a day trip to Nara. The excitement started early. We’d been previously advised by another friend (a fellow teacher and Japanese travel veteran) to purchase a certain cheap ticket and to sneak aboard a certain express train to save both time AND money. We were told that the conductors never checked tickets on this particular line. Apparently never occurs more often in Japan than it does everywhere else in the World..

About halfway to our destination, a friendly but stern ticket inspector kindly advised us that our tickets were invalid for the train we were on. What I love about the Japanese is that they will ALWAYS help you, and as he ushered us off the train at the next stop he also told us exactly which train we should be on. After a wait of about 45 minutes in a station where the population was the three of us and the station-master, we were back on our way and before too long we were stepping off the train and out into the Nara air.

We made our way down to Todai-ji and entered the park. Other travellers wandered the grounds with their own adventures underway. Sandra, Mat and I meandered around the grounds taking in all the sights we could while time was on our side. Towers reached for the heavens and centuries-old buildings serenely observed our passage and pausing as we snapped pictures of each other in front of any and all structures and scenes we thought would make a great momento of the day’s travels.

As we approached the gate to the central courtyard, we encountered some of the local fauna – a number of deer were nosing around the area chasing some food. Having never been as close to a deer as I was then, I snapped a few touristy shots of the creatures grazing casually in the park. Sandra was very excited about the deer as well, and eagerly asked us to take a photo of her with the deer. Things got quite amusing though as she revealed her fear of the animals, which Mat and I really should have been more compassionate about. We did get photos in the end, but we had quite a lot of fun doing it!

Another photo opportunity too great to pass up was our stop at Nandaimon – the Great Southern Gate. My panormaic shot couldn’t capture the entirety of the gate and still contain the level of detail I was after, and seperate photos again made permanent records of Ungyo and Agyo, the Nio who ensured our passage through the Great Gate was peaceful.

As we passed through the gate into the inner courtyard that revealed the Daibutsu-den my mood shifted into a slightly more spiritual plane. I try to respect the cultures  and beliefs of the places I visit. It’s hard to explain, but I often feel like I am affected by spirituality and spiritual environments. Just as I felt the almost crushing weight of loss at Hiroshima, I felt a very calming and peaceful ease wash over me as I entered the holy grounds.

The hall itself was extremely impressive – and enormous! Within its walls were three primary statues – two golden statues beside the central Buddha. We joined a number of travellers and tourists in taking photos and discovering the interior of the Hall, where there was a place for prayer if people wished and there were fortune prayers and charms of all varieties available if you were willing to part with a donation.

Walking through the Hall was quite fantastic, and we soon found ourselves standing before what I like to call “The Pillar of Buddha”. Another of the interesting features of this Daibutsu-den is this support pillar, into which has been carved a square hole. It is said that this hole is the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril and whomever passes through it will attain enlightenment in their next life. Naturally, we all decided that it was in our best interests to face the challenge before us.

And so, after some huffing and puffing, some squeezing and maneuvering, we three simple travellers passed – one at a time; through the nostril of Buddha.

Whether enlightenment awaits us we will have to discover at a later point in time, but that day was quite an eventful, fun and fulfilling trip on its own merit.

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