Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park

November 26, 2016
Saturday
Nara Park

It is still a bit dark and quite chilly at 630AM as I gently close the door of Hiloki Hostel and take the two-minute walk to the bus terminal at Nara Station where I will be boarding a bus to Nara Park. I'm going to go see Kasuga Taisha this early to avoid the busloads of tourists that are sure to come at (I am guessing) around 9AM, after they have had a hearty breakfast and a cup of coffee.

A manhole cover in Nara City

I arrive at the bus stop for Kasuga Taisha just as the sun is rising and I see a few people in the field taking photos of deer. Some are luring the deer with rice crackers, making the deer gather around and giving the feeder/photographer time to shoot some photos up close. I follow one feeder/photographer a bit and sneakily take some photos myself.





The deer are considered sacred because according to legend, a god is said to have come to Nara riding on a white deer. But I did not come to Nara Park this early for the deer (any time of the day and anywhere in the park, one will surely see deer, because I read somewhere that there are about 1200 deer that roam the park) but for Kasuga Taisha, a 1300+ year old Shinto Shrine that's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kasuga Taisha
春日大社
April to September 6AM to 6PM
October to March 630AM to 5PM
Inner Area 830AM to 4PM
Inner Area admission fee: 500 yen

The path to Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns and shaded by trees on both sides, and crossed by deer wherever. All these slow me down, but I am not in a hurry anyway. I love the peace and quiet; the cool, fresh morning air; the abundance of trees.


Kasuga Taisha's temizuya (where you purify yourself by washing your hands and mouth) is what else? A deer!



I reach Kasuga Taisha's inner area 30 minutes before opening time. I return to the path and follow it further where it leads me to Wakamiya Jinja and a dozen or so smaller shrines. Before returning to Kasuga Taisha's inner area, I observe a shinshoku (person responsible for the maintenance of the Shinto shrine) do his morning prayers at Wakamiya Jinja.

A small shrine

And the ema, where prayers/wishes are written, are also shaped like a deer!

I enter Kasuga Taisha's inner area through Nanmon (south gate) at 830AM. The inner area is surrounded by a covered walkway with white walls, vermillion columns, and green lattice windows. Lanterns of different designs and colors (bronze, gold, green) donated by the shrine's worshippers hang along the walkway.

Chumon (middle gate) and Oro (open veranda)




Lanterns also hang from the eaves of the Chumon (middle gate) and the Naoraiden Hall (a hall where feasts and morning worship services are held). There is a man taking photos of a small chicken stuffed toy with the Chumon as the background (I later learn that people usually take a photo of the coming year's Chinese zodiac animal and send it as new year's day cards).

Behind the Chumon is Kasuga Taisha's main sanctuary where the shrine's four main deities are enshrined.


Lanterns hang from the eaves of Naoraiden Hall

There is also a small room called Fujinami-no-ya Hall which used to be the shrine's priests' office. Now it is a dark room filled with lit lanterns. Enchanting.

Inside Fujinami-no-ya Hall

In different areas of the sanctuary are small vermillion altars for deities and more behind the main sanctuary. There are deities to protect from evil, to protect from enemies, to protect from disasters, to grant long lives, etc.


In less than an hour, I have seen every corner of Kasuga Taisha's inner area. I skip Kasuga Taisha's botanical garden (9AM to 5PM, 500 yen) and museum (10AM to 5PM, 500 yen), and go back to the hostel to check out and leave my bag at the reception and then go to Kintetsu Nara Station, the meeting place for the Naramachi Walking Tour that will promptly start at 10AM. I will return to Nara Park in the afternoon to see two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are located within the park: Todaiji and Kofukuji.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1¾–2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at the Park (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Saturday, September 30, 2017

What's in a (Business) Name? Sesenta y cinco

Ooh la la, what beautiful eyelashes you have!
Spotted in Greenbelt Makati by Zhequia of FTW! Food, Travel, and Whatevs
Thanks Zhequia!

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City

November 25, 2016
Friday
PM

This day is filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, five to be exact. After spending my morning visiting more-than-a-millenium-old wooden structures in Horyuji and Hokkiji in Ikaruga Town, I return to Nara City to visit two temples and a palace (or more accurately, its remains).

The bus lets me and two Japanese women alight at the bus stop for Yakushiji, by a large but near-empty parking area. 'Ah, good', I think to myself, 'not too many tourists here.' I follow my map and walk by a dozen vending machines all in a row and two small Shinto shrines (Yasumigaoka-hachimangu and Magotaro Inari) devoid of worshippers and visitors before I reach the south gate of Yakushiji.

If you have some yen, you'll never go thirsty here

Yasumigaoka-hachimangu

Yakushiji
薬師寺
Daily 830AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 1100 yen (800 yen when Genjo-sanzoin Garan is closed)
* Genjo-sanzoin Garan is closed from mid-January to February, July to mid-September, and December

Emperor Tenmu started the construction of Yakushiji in the year 680 in Asuka (a town south of Nara), as an offering and prayer for the recovery of his wife, but, ironically, it was he who died first. His empress continued the construction of the temple and it was completed in the year 698. When the capital was moved to Nara in 710, Yakushiji was also moved to the present site eight years later.

Typical of temples, Yakushiji too has gates, main hall, lecture hall, and pagoda (Yakushiji has two). But unlike Horyuji and Hokkiji, the two temples I visited in the morning, the buildings of Yakushiji were painted in red and white and with green windows.

Yakushiji's Main Hall

Because of fires and wars, most of Yakushiji was destroyed in 1528 and only the east pagoda and the Yakushi Triad (the temple's principal Buddha images) survived. (I wonder how the east pagoda looks. It is currently under a huge tent undergoing renovation and is scheduled to be completed in 2020.) The current Kondo (main hall) was built in 1976, the west pagoda in 1980.

The Yakushi Triad, a national treasure, can be viewed in the Kondo. It was originally covered with gold, but because of the fire in 1528, it is now black and shiny. In the center is Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing. Flanking the Yakushi Nyorai are two bodhisattvas: Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu.

Yakushi Triad (Photo from Fudo Myo-o)

 West Pagoda

In the Daikodo (great lecture hall) are more religious national treasures like images of buddha, a stone with an imprint of buddha's feet, and a tablet inscribed with verses.

Yakushiji's Great Lecture Hall

There are a few more buildings but they don't look interesting to me. I proceed to Genjo-sanzoin Garan, a separate walled area a short walk north of Yakushiji.

Genjo-sanzoin Garan is only open seven months a year and I am lucky it is open on this visit. I was impressed with Yakushiji's main hall and pagoda, and, though small and recent (built in 1981), am impressed by Genjo-sanzoin Garan, too. There is something about this small complex that makes me linger and stare a few minutes more.

Genjo-sanzoin Garan


Toshodaiji
唐招提寺
830AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 600 yen (+200 yen for Treasure House)

Just a short 500-meter walk north, I find another world heritage site: Toshodaiji, founded by Ganjin Wajo, a Chinese Buddhist priest, in the year 759.

The first building I see after entering Toshodaiji's gate is the main hall. I take a peek inside and see Buddha statues of different sizes.

Toshodaiji's Main Hall

Behind and to the right of the main hall is the Koro, a small hall containing relics (but I don't see the relics—the Koro is closed). Directly behind the main hall is the Kodo (lecture hall) which is actually a building from Nara/Heijo Palace and is the only surviving building of the former palace.

Koro

Also in the temple grounds are the Rye-do where memorial ceremonies are held; Higashi-muro, where monks sleep; Kyozo, a storehouse for sutras and also the oldest building in Toshodaiji; and Hozo, a storehouse for treasures.

Hozo (storehouse for treasures)

Northeast of the temple grounds I find a path shaded by trees. This path leads me to the Kaizan Gobyo, a memorial for Ganjin Wajo, the founder of Toshodaiji.

Towering trees shade the path to Kaizan Gobyo

A lantern at Kaizan Gobyo

From Toshodaiji, I go to the nearest bus stop, a 5-minute walk. It is a bright and sunny autumn afternoon and the temperature is perfect. The short walk gives me a glimpse of this local neighborhood, of locals whiling away time by fishing in the river.

 A peaceful neighborhood

 Gone fishing

A path by the river

Nara/Heijo Palace Site
Tuesdays to Sundays 9AM to 430PM
Free admission

A grand red and white gate (Suzaku Gate, reconstructed in 1998) welcomes me to Nara or Heijo Palace Site. When Nara was the capital of Japan, this was where the emperor's residence and the government offices were. I walk through the gate and find a vast area of grass and one solitary building in the middle that looks so small because of the distance.

  Suzaku Gate

I walk and walk and walk until the small solitary building becomes bigger and bigger and bigger. This building is the Former Imperial Audience Hall, which was the largest and most important building in the palace. The current building is a reconstruction and was completed in 2010, the 1300th anniversary of the Nara Capital. The reconstruction took nine years and it was based upon archaeological and architectural studies. Inside the building are exhibits about its reconstruction.



The grassy areas around are not all grass, there are foundation stones protruding, the only remains of the buildings in the palace.

Building foundations

On the southeast corner of the palace grounds is the East Palace Garden, a reconstruction completed in 1998, but I skip this. I go instead to the northeast side and find the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall. Inside are excavation sites showing visitors archaeological digs in situ. From the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, I go to the west side, where the Nara Palace Site Museum is. This museum showcases unearthed artifacts such as roof tiles, ornaments, etc.

The Palace Site is so immense that going from one end to the other end made me too tired to go back to the Suzaku Gate. I look for the nearest exit and when I find it, I ask the guard if there is a bus stop nearby. Thankfully there is one just a hundred meters away and I find it without a problem. I wait for bus #12 or bus #14 in an open shed where a stooped Japanese grandma joins me.

Had I been short on time, I would have skipped these places. I am glad I started early in the day which gave me enough time to visit these oft–ignored (by tourists) world heritage sites. I love how quiet these places were. I look forward and kind of dread (the crowds) tomorrow when I visit the popular tourist sites in Nara City: Nara Park and Todaiji.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1¾–2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City (you're here!)
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado