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!
Yesterday I posted about the Azabu district in Tokyo, some photos of modern streets, shopping, traffic and restaurants. Here is an altogether totally different street, a part of the long winding temple road that connects the different parts at the huge Todaiji (東大寺) temple complex in Nara. This street was laid in the middle of the seventh century, and for the last almost 1250 years it has been virtually unchanged. Repairs have been made after earthquakes, civil wars, fires, bombing raids and typhoons, but it looks today just like it must have done more than a millennia ago. I think that being able to share this experience, a man made experience, with the people alive back then is hugely important. I am glad there are places on Earth where we can allowed this shared experience.