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!
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.
I took these photos of the mud and moss that makes up the foundations of the fantastic Toshodaiji (唐招提寺) outside of Nara, one of Japan’s ancient capitals. The temple’s history stretches back to 759 AD when the founding letters were written, but when I visited late last summer I was most struck by the fantastic layer of moss and the thick mud and reused tile walls that partition the different sections of the temple grounds. There is something essential in how the woodland parts of the temple grounds have turned into the thin trees with a thick canopy and the almost bare undergrowth with the thick moss, it looks more like a designed room than the natural space it is. It must have taken great patience to let nature create something like this! The walls are also wonderful examples of patience, mud, gravel and old tiles are reused to create thick massive walls that would stand up to almost anything, except the rain, eventually wearing the walls down to the earth it came from. I am sure when that happens, someone will be around to pick up the old tiles and start building a new wall, a very slow cycle of life. Besides, these tiles that are used in the wall were probably recycled already hundreds of years ago. Who knows in what century someone took the trouble to firing them? Or even in what millennia?
Japan is full of lovely little towns and beautifully quaint old neighborhoods but one of my absolute favorites is the old town of Nara, known as Naramachi. From 593 to the middle of the 15th century there was a large temple complex in this area but after a couple of devastating fires that only really spared the main temple building (today known as the Gangoji, 元興寺) local people started claiming the rubble strewn ground and a town grew up with narrow little streets and plenty of alleys, almost like when weed reclaim an old parking lot, the whole area was soon covered in “weedy” buildings and alleys. The town was never bombed during the second world war so many very old buildings have survived and some of them are open today as museums. A must visit if you ever get tired of the more famous Nara attractions, the deer, the big buddha and the temples!