2014
07.18

SYNOPSIS:  About two more temples in the Southern part of Nara.  About an interesting ceremony at the Yakushiji.  About a keyhole tomb.  About making a scene at a bank. 

 

Mount Fuji loosened its grip. Only when there was a step was I reminded that I had dome something quite foolish, yet amazing.  It was almost a joy to be reminded of it.  No more red eyes, no more unhappy muscles.

Nara is a beautifully compact city and has something interesting to offer in each of its four corners.  Most people focus on the North-East, the big Buddha and Nara Park, but the South-West has two temples that should not be missed.

The Yakushiji is known as one of the oldest temples and one of the few where you can enjoy two beautiful, three-storied, flanking pagodas (not the double roofing which makes you think the pagoda has six stories).  Mind you, only one of them is original, since much of the temple was destroyed during a civil war in the 16th century.  The new one was built as recently as 1980.  Who cares?  But with my luck the original one was fully covered up undergoing a renovation project…  Oh well. Yakushiji also houses some of the most beautiful triads of the Medicine Buddha (Yakushi) and his attendants Nikko and Gakko in its main hall and a Maitreya triad in the lecture hall, but you have to see them to fully appreciate them.

What was most interesting about this visit is that I witnessed an event which I can’t quite place.  Was it an initiation ceremony?  Was it just a PR stunt?  In any case, the temple was crawling with little kids.  They could not have been more than 1st graders.  Really, I think they were kindergarten age.  The girls all wore pink hats, the boys blue ones and they were obviously instructed in how to behave at a corner of the temple when I arrived. Then they were led into the main hall and seated.  I did not think about any of it and was already on my way out, when from the other side of the compound a huge procession of monks and nuns arrived — now, that promised an event!  I hurried back and caught the head priest greeting the youngsters; cameras were flashing everywhere.   Remember, there is no photography in these halls…   I took this as an invitation to take plenty of pictures, too. Then the kids recited sutras!  Again, the monks shook their hands, blessed them and then the kids left.  Unfortunately, I was in the very back of the crowd and could not photograph any details.  Now it was the monks turn to recite sutras.  I was still taking pictures but within seconds I was chewed out: no photography!  … Yakushiji overall was not the most appealing temple, with its covered up stupa, wide open sandy spaces, and the back looking like somebody’s vegetable garden.

But the Toshodaiji made up for this. Could there be any more sects of Buddhism in this country?!  By now I am getting lost.  Toshodaiji is the headquarters of the Ritsu Sect and goes back to the mid-eighth century.  It is located in a lovely, slightly hilly wooded area just a 10 minute walk from the Yakushiji.  Here, three giant Buddha figures dominate the main hall (Kondo) which are truly awe inspiring: another Yakushi, the Cosmic Buddha Roshana and a 1000-armed Avalokitesvara (Kannon). But most pleasant was the walk through the grounds.  The temple boasts the oldest wooden buildings, the original sutra depository (Kyozo) and treasure house (Hozo).  A new, rather ungainly concrete treasure hall has been built behind them in the woods. It was not open to visitors but judging by the size of it, this temple has some treasures to protect! Behind a lovely pond and tall walls, the temple houses a clearly Indian stupa platform.  That was quite an incongruous site but it attests to the spread of Buddhism from India.  Usually, the Indian roots are overshadowed in Japan as almost all the Buddhist imports here came via China and Korea rather than directly from India.  A lovely mossy graveyard at the rear of the compound rounded up this visit.

Since I was in the neighborhood and saw the distinct keyhole shape of a Kofun tomb on my map, I hiked out there to see what it was all about.  I had seen images of one of the largest such tombs of Emperor Nintoku who ruled as the 15th Japanese emperor in the 4th century.  These are prehistoric tombs which are unique to Japan.  Many of them housed lovely simple clay figures and houses known as Haniwa.  I now wonder if any of these tombs is accessible or can be appreciated at all from the ground?  The one I went to was a miniature version of the one you see in the downloaded picture.  But really, it was just a hill surrounded by a man-made canal/pond.  I was quite disappointed.  But now I know.  Perhaps when I am in Osaka, I can spend my time elsewhere rather than chasing Kofun tombs.  But perhaps, they have helicopter rides?

It was hot, hot, hot today.

People always look at me with great pity since I turn so red in these temperatures and look truly miserable.   Nobody in Japan seems to turn red.  Lucky for them. There was still some time in the day and so I tried to take care of business:  exchanging money.  I went to a bank on the busy street on the way to Nara Park.  First the receptionist asked if I had cash and a passport.  Yes.  She came back with forms to fill out.  At that point, she wanted to know the name of my hotel: Guesthouse Nara K…  With all the temple names clouding my hot head, I could not come up with the name. She did not know any guest houses called Nara something and her map did not show it either.  No name, no money.  By that point, I was quite frustrated, but I kept trying.  I was able to dig up a map where the guest house was listed with its proper name:  Nara Komachi.  Now she wanted the address!  I pointed to the road on the map and said:  here is your address.  No, no.  The full address and the phone number.  And since I could not produce either one of them, she would not allow me to exchange money!  Can you believe it?  Don’t tell me that the Japanese don’t like to say “no”.  They will say plenty of “no” especially when it comes to enforcing stupid rules. I had it and whether she spoke English or not she would not have missed the sentiment of my outburst.

I gave her a whole earful about the stupidity of enforcing rules like this, particularly since she could look up the address of a hotel in her own town in a local phone book, but would never need it in the first place, nor would I be there long enough for anything anyhow.  I had cash and a passport — that had been plenty in the past.  I made quite a scene.  I was done with politeness.  In hindsight, I think it was just the heat.  But it felt good to let loose for just once. A

fter that, I headed for the famous Kasuga Taisha Shrine to make amends.  Well, really only to cool down a bit as it was nestled pleasantly in the woods.   3000 stone lanterns supposedly line the paths around the shrine and after enjoying the serene park and the vermillion buildings with red and white clad Shinto priests and priestesses hurrying about, I was not so sure anymore that the scene at the bank was necessary.  But then, perhaps it was.

Good night.