Nara, Japan (April 15, 2023)

I’ve become fascinated with these high-tech toilets! Yesterday I used one with an auto flush function and the day before the lid lifted when I entered the bathroom stall. Magic I tell you.

This morning we headed 28 miles south to the 8th century imperial capital of Nara, home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nara, with a population of 370,000, is known for calligraphy brushes, India ink, persimmon sushi, pickles made from sake sediment, and tourism. 

First on our list of wows was the Buddhist temple complex Todai-ji Temple, built in 728 to mourn the death of a beloved  crown prince. The centerpiece of the complex is the huge wooden hall known as Great Buddha Hall which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. It is over 50 feet high and has certainly withstood the test of time since it was cast in 749. The wooden buildings in the shrine complex are also impressive … for their size and the age of the massive trees used in their construction. 

We made a stop at Deer Park to see some of the 1,000+ tame deer roaming freely in the peaceful park. They are considered sacred and have not been eaten even during times of war when the citizenship was starving. 

Nara’s most celebrated shrine is Kasuga Taisha. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. This Shinto shrine’s hallmark features are its 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns, many very old and smothered in moss. Donated by worshippers, they are lit twice a year during lantern festivals, one in early February and one in mid-August. What a stunning sight that must be. We lucked into watching part of a wedding ceremony being held in the sacred inner sanctum. The bride, groom, two officiants, and two sponsors were dressed in formal traditional wedding wear including a covering for the bride’s head and face. 

On the way back to Kyoto, we stopped at Fushimi Inari Shrine, dedicated to Inari, the god of grains. Upward of 10,000 tori gates mark the trails at this 1,200 year old pilgrimage site. These orange and black wooden gates are believed to be the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. Donated by Japanese businesses, families, and individuals, they are believed to bring prosperity. To avoid any confusion about who should be receiving the good luck, the name of the donor is prominently inscribed in black ink on the back of each gate.

We couldn’t help but notice stone statues of foxes, known as kitsune. Some had a key in their mouth (to control access to the granary), others had more than one tail (the more the better), and others wore red scarves (to indicate their allegiance to Inari and to expel demons and illness).

We enjoyed all these sites under gloomy skies and intermittent, persistent rain.

We had time to freshen up, pre-pack, and enjoy a cup of tea in our room before our group dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we were treated to a dance performance by a beautifully dressed, 16 year old maiko (geisha apprentice). She was one year into her five year apprenticeship. After her performance she answered our questions and posed for pictures. 

…Odds and Ends…

Green tea fields are covered in thin black cloth. We saw some from the bus today. 

Nintendo started in a mom and pop shop in Kyoto. 

What has looked like smog on some days is really yellow sand blowing in from the desert of China. 

I debuted my last top this morning. It compliments the pants I’ve worn for three days and will wear until we fly home. 


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