When i was still new to Japan and was working in Kobe, I have always felt that the places to visit within Kansai area would only be Osaka and Kyoto. Well, that was until i had a casual conversation with one of my colleagues. He mentioned that i should not miss going to Nara and visit Todaiji.
I was like, Todaiji, What is that? And up to this day, i have not forgotten his response to me, “Todaiji, Japan’s Ichiban Famous Temple!” Well, we can translate that to Todaiji Temple being the most famous temple in Japan, and from that day on, visiting Nara, particularly Todaiji temple, has been on my bucket list.
However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, it is only recently, now that I am living in Yokohama, have I gotten the chance to visit this world famous temple known as Todaiji.
First Stop, Nara Park
Todaiji temple is situated in Nara, which is second only to Kyoto in terms of cultural legacy as it host eight (8) Unesco World Heritage Sites. But unlike Kyoto, Nara is quite compact, as such; it is possible to do a whole day tour of all the highlights the city has to offer. It has a small town charm but make no mistake about it, Nara gives you a big punch.
One of the very first attraction you would experience upon visiting Nara is, well, Nara Koen (Nara Park). The park is beautiful and even if it is usually packed with visitors, I found the park very serene.
What I especially liked about Nara Park is the deers that freely roam the area. Buy some shika senbei (deer crackers) and in no time, deers shall surround you begging for more. Call me a sissy but feeding the deers is not for the faint of heart.
The GREAT Eastern Temple
The main attraction of Nara is none other than Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple), the Ichiban Famous Temple. For 500 yen, you get to enter the great temple. It is so overwhelming with its sheer size yet the tranquility of the place cannot be ignored. I’m happy I was able to experience this with someone very special to me.
Todaiji Temple’s main hall, Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), is the largest wooden building in Japan despite the fact that it is only 2/3 of its original size based on the reconstruction that was done on 1692. This massive hall is home to Daibutsu, Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.
Star of the show, Daibutsu!
Photo : Jessica Spengler on Flickr
As I have mentioned, inside the Daibutsuden lies the biggest bronze statue of Daibutsu (Buddha). The statue is an image of Dainichi Nyorai (Vairocana Buddha) and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas. It stands about 15 meters tall and consists of 437 tons of bronze and 130kg of gold. Over the centuries, earthquakes and fires has taken its toll on the statue, with the status losing its head a couple of times.
Going through the back of the statue, you’ll see a wooden pillar with a small hole on its base. People believe that those who can fit through the hole, which by the way is the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostrils, are ensured of enlightenment. It is typical to see parents making their children pass through the hole.
Epilogue, further exploring the magic of Nara
Although typically, Nara is a day trip among tourists, in case you would like to have a longer stay, I would definitely suggest going to Nara Hotel. It was founded in 1909 to serve as the premier guest house in the Kansai region. The design of the hotel is Japanese style complete with the wood frame construction that is all too familiar in Nara.
Photo : Hideki Yoshida on Flickr
The hallway and lounge areas of the hotel are lined with photographs of famous celebrities that have visited the hotel over the years. Finding the spots in the hotel where Audrey Hepburn, Pope John Paul VI, Charlie Chaplin, etc. were they were photographed is surely an adventure as well. You could even play at the same piano that Einstein did. With all the things Nara has to offer, I’m sure it has a major role in Einstein coming up with his theory of relativity. OK, I just made that up.
If ever you get a chance to visit Kansai, be sure to include the gem that is Nara in your itinerary. Trust me, you won’t regret it.