I got the car in December, and was yearning for a long drive. It had been cloudy, raining and cold for the whole week, and the plans for the drive on Sunday had all chances of being shattered. But, Sunday, dawned, bright and sunny; no sign of the clouds and the rains that ravaged for the whole week: a good omen!
I have been to Nara before, a couple of times; but it was always the trains, and then the walk through the Nara Park, to the Todai-ji Temple, the Daibutsu Hall, (of which I’ll write some other time) wandering in the park and back to the train station. This time, was different. I was driving; the first long drive in my car.
We started around 7:00 in the morning. Anri, equipped with road maps, and guide books of Nara, and with the Navigator, that I got from Sai Sensai, was the official navigator. Aysh, with all the knowledge on songs; was the official in-house DJ. We drove up north from Tsu, for some time, got on Route 10 then on to Route 25, and before we knew, we were in Nara. The drive was pleasant, though it was kind of misty, and we were driving through thick sleets of fog and cloud at times. We did loose our way a couple of times, but those were more of funny moments, when the Navigator, the navigator and the map disagreed with each other.
Anri had researched on the World Heritage sites in Nara the previous day, and had decided on the destinations. The first on the list was Hōryū-ji Temple (法隆寺). With its wooden pagoda (acknowledged as one of the oldest in Japan), standing tall in the mist, the long paved path leading to the temple, covered with dew, and the mystic chime (or should I tell gongs) of the bell, Hōryū-ji presented a great welcome. We spent more than 2 hours walking around the temple complex, and the adjacent museum. With a history dating back to the 6th to 8th century AD, the museum had a great collection of artifacts, dug out from excavation sites around the temple complex. After multiple photo sessions, we found a quite coffee-house near the rear gate of the temple, where we had a late breakfast (or call that an early lunch).
Off we drove again, this time for some 25 minutes, and we were at Yakushi-ji Temple (薬師寺) (Check official temple site here). The first thing that strikes the eye here is the two beautiful, majestic Pagodas, standing tall and mighty on either side of the main temple building. On first look, both of these look like 6-story pagodas, but on closer observation, you notice that, they are 3-storied, with a false roof kind of thing (mokoshi) between each story. This is said to be a unique architectural style, and was truly a beautiful sight. The one on the right (east), referred to as the “Frozen Music“, is an amazing sight, and is the oldest structure in the temple complex. The other remarkable feature of the Toto (the east pagoda) is the roof ornament, the Sorin. It is made of bronze, has a height of 10 meters, and weighs approximately 3000 kg. The Sorin is composed of six elements: Hoju (the Sacred Jewel), Ryusha (the Dragon Vehicle), Suien (the Water Flame), Kurin (the Nine Rings), Fukubachi (the Lotus Flower), and Roban (the Inverted Bowl). The Nine Rings represent the Buddhist deities and the Water Flame is a charm to protect the pagoda from fire. In addition to its religious symbolism, the Sorin is important to the structural stability of a pagoda as well as serving as a lightning rod.
Inside the main hall of the temple, are three beautiful bronze statues; The Yakushi Nyorai, or the Buddha of Medicine, seated in the center, with the Nikko (the Sun Bosatsu) and the Gakko (the Moon Bosatsu) on either side. Yakushi Nyorai, is seated on a bronze pedestal (considered as the medicine chest of Yakushi Nyorai), which by itself is a beautiful one, with carvings representing, the Arabic, Indian, and Greek architectural forms. We spent hours looking around, walking and clicking photos around the temple.
Some 10-15 minutes walk from Yakushi-ji temple is the Tōshōdai-ji (唐招提寺). Toshodaiji was the first temple in Japan to be devoted to one of the Chinese Buddhist denominations; The Nanzan school. Even today Toshodaiji is regarded as the head temple of Japan’s Ritsu-shu denomination of Buddhist teachings. This is a huge temple complex, with a number of buildings.
By the time we were done with walking around, and taking picture, we were starving, and food was the only thought ringing in the minds. After a fast wrap-up of the museum and the temple grounds, we walked back to Yakushi-ji, where we had parked the car, and rode on to Kintetsu Nara. We found a cheap parking place here, and went on a food hunt. We decided on a ‘katsu’, shop, which served beautiful pork cutlets, and rice, with sesame seed dressings.
Later in the afternoon, we walked around the Kōfuku-ji (興福寺) temple complex and the museum. This temple houses the second largest pagoda in Japan, and the museum with the “Ashura” statue, that has kind of become the icon of this part of Japan.
By the time we finished with the Kōfuku-ji museum, it was 5:00 pm and other temples had already closed. Walking back to the car, the smell of fresh coffee beckoned us to a great looking coffee shop near the Kintetsu Nara. Pancakes, coffee, recollections of the day, looking through all the photos of the day on the camera.. time flew off and we never knew.. We left Nara, by 7:00 pm, and drove back, with promises that we are coming back here… (which I did.. did go to Nara twice after that; more on this beautiful place in the coming blogs)