Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sacred deer and a Giant Buddha

J and S's Grand Adventures in the East Part 4: Nara

Our hostel was a short 3-minute walk from the train station and was a ryokan-style accommodation. (A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn.) The day we arrived was oppressively hot so we headed over to the Nara gyoen (park) to see the famous Nara deer. See, because of the Buddhist temples and the Temple of the Great Daibatsu, the deer of the city are considered sacred. That means they are left alone and can roam wherever they please. They typically stick to the parks, but we did see them wander in the streets and even up to the temple. Never missing an opportunity to make some money, the locals started selling deer biscuits so that lame tourists could feed the deer and pet them.

We'd heard that they bow for biscuits. Turns out, so did we.
"You got any more of those biscuits?"

 Later that evening we headed to the Todai-ji temple, where the largest bronze statute of Buddha sits. In Japanese, these statutes are called "Daibatsu." According to Wikipedia, the temple is also the largest wooden structure in the world (it kind of has to be, when Buddha is almost 50 feet tall). We lucked out that day as there was a lantern festival going on.

It's hard to tell how big he is, but I think I was about the size of his finger.
There were huge throngs of people waiting in line (with deer interspersed). The temple was huge and they had lit several hundred (perhaps thousand?) lanterns. The moon was big and bright and the whole thing felt surreal. We eventually entered the temple and saw the Daibatsu. Monks were chanting in the background. I can barely express how big he was.  Earlier that day we had popped into the Nara National Museum (the free part of it, anyway) and saw an exhibit that showed how they made the Daibatsu statutes. Apparently they split his head down the middle and put in crystal eyes with white cloth behind them to make them look real. For the hair, they sculpted each curl individually and then added them one by one, in a particular sequence, to the head. But, looking at the Great Daibatsu, I couldn't figure out how they put it together.

For dinner we had udon and rice at a small mom and pop type noodle restaurant. The kind with a vending machine outside.

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