One of the most tourist friendly cities in Japan is Nara, famous for its many deers, huge parks, massive temples and last but certainly not least, the Daibutsu, the big Buddha statue at the Todaiji temple. The main temple building was constructed in the 8th century A.D., but it has been rebuilt twice du to fires. The present structure is from 1709 and it was the largest wooden building in the world until 1998. Unfortunately none of these photos gives any hint of how large the statue really is, but at 15m he is similar in height to a normal four storey building. Next time I will make sure I have enough time there to get some decent photos!
The season for Bonodori, one of many Japanese dances, is upon us! One of the first big Bonodori festivals for me this year was yesterday at the huge Tsukiji Honaji temple, near Tokyo’s Ginza district. Bonodori generally takes place around a raised podium that is topped by one or two taiko drummers, while the second raised level is used by a group of very experienced bonodori dancers that show the moves to the general audience at street level. Anyone is welcome to join but I have never managed to get the hang of it. The music is slow and reminds most people of enka, the traditional Japanese “pops” so popular with most people over the age of 70 here in Japan. Every song in bonodori is associated with its own set of movements, hence the need to more experienced dancers to lead the dance from a visible spot in the middle!
It was also fun to walk around the temple grounds and check out all the people, not least the four temple members dressed up in big huggable suits that were almost knocked to the ground by swarms of kids running as fast as possible to get the biggest hug!
The Honganji is a very old temple, founded in the 13th century it was moved here after a fire in the early 17th century and detroyed once again in an earthquake in 1923. The temple was rebuilt by the legendary architect Ito Chuta (1867-1954) who was one of the leading architects in the movement to try and create a style that was uniquely Japanese while incorporating elements of all other forms of architecture, from Chinese and Indian all the way back to the ancient greek temples. It is easy to see the classical hellenistic influences on this huge buddhist temple!
The festival continues today and tomorrow, so if you are in Tokyo and want to see one of the best organized bonodori festivals in the city, just take the subway to Tsukiji station at 1900! After the festival I recommend a refreshing evening walk through the Ginza and Yurakucho areas!
One of the grand temples of the Kanto region is the Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師), the informal name of Heikenji, a huge temple on the border between Tokyo and Kawasaki City in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture. It is the third most popular temple to visit for Hatsumode, the New Year’s tradition, but I visited on a beautiful day in early March, a few months ago. I was in the area to visit a local festival at a nearby shrine but I didn’t want to visit the famous shrine! The closest station is on the Keihin line, which was the fist railway in eastern Japan, taking passengers from Tokyo all the way to the temple. The temple is divided into four parts, and one of them is a really recent build, quite unlike the dark wooden temples you would be used to seeing around Japan. Use the tags to find more posts on the area around the temple!
On the slopes of Mount Wakakusa in Nara you’ll find the Nigatsudo (二月堂), one of the auxiliary tamples of the great Taodaiji (where you’ll find the great buddha of Nara). It was built in 752 but the original building burned down in 1667, so the present building is only about 350 years old. The main building of the temple holds two large buddha statues but as these “hibutsu”, or secret buddha, they are never shown to the public. On the 12th of March every year the temple holds a large service that I have yet to see in person.