Helpers to the Gods

Hello Everybody,

I am finally catching up and writing a few blogs over the next few weeks, from the last few weeks. Between new job and a lot of travel, these blogs have been on the back burner.

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Todaiji Temple constructed in 752 CE.

Every year at Thanksgiving, my tradition is to explore  new destinations. I have so much to be thankful for and chief among them is that I am able to provide for myself and answer only to myself.  After some consideration, I planned out a few places on Mainland (Japan). I also realized that I had a bunch of airline miles burning a hole in my pocket and I could use them instead of spending more money.

Since I arrived here four years ago, people have been telling  me about two places I absolutely MUST go see. The first is Nara and the second Kyoto. I have not made it to Kyoto proper yet, (except Arashiyama) but when I do, I want to dedicate a few days there, perhaps in Sakura season or in the autumn.

I flew into Osaka to begin my weeklong adventure and met up with my dear friends. They have shown me the decorum of the Japanese, and the warmth of Osakans.  And true to form, when I told them I wanted to see Nara, they graciously offered to take me there so I could experience this historically important place.

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Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple) which houses one of the largest bronze Buddhas in Japan.

An approximate 45-minute train ride deposited us in Nara. For those of you who don’t know, and let’s face it, that is most of us, Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan. It was established in Heijo (now Nara) in 710 CE (Common Era).  Some of the oldest and grandest temples are housed within this city.


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Nandaimon Gate at Todaiji Temple.

Along with the grandeur of the buildings are some of the residents, who are known throughout Japan for being very polite. I am referring to the shika (deer) who roam the streets and will bow at you if you give them a shika senbei (cracker or cookie).  Case in point below.

The shika are considered national monuments in Nara because a deity Takemi Kajichi no Mikoto is said to have arrived in town riding on a white deer.  Because of this, deer are thought of as helpers to the gods. They wander throughout the streets and walkways of the temples, giving a little bow when they are graced with a senbei.

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Incense purification at Todaiji.
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Ojiisan with de-antlered shika (deer). Antlers are removed for safety of people and trees, so everyone can live harmoniously.

We followed behind an English speaking tour guide who pointed out the different features of Todaiji Temple.  Construction was begun in 749 CE and consecration of the Great Buddha Hall was held in 752 CE.

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The Great Buddha at Todaji 東大寺

Over its long history, Todaiji has face adversity, attacked and burned several times. For more information about its history, take a look at this site:

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Nara mikan…oranges absorbing the light.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch and walked it off through the city, the university grounds, the hotel that Emperors visit and shop-crowded alleyways. The fresh mochi was made more delicious for the show made of creating it. Rolled in sesame powder with lightly sweetened adzuki beans pillowed inside, the mugwort leaves dried and  mixed with mochi was incredibly delicious.

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Locals at Nara
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No senbei equals a disappointed deer. I was having a good time though.

We rode back to Osaka a little tired and like all good Japanese, I fell asleep on the train, safe in the knowledge that I can do that and no one will steal my belongings.  We went separate ways for a few hours and then ended up at a wonderful Korean barbecue restaurant.

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Just a few bunnies out for a stroll in Osaka train station.

Going back to my capsule hotel, these young ladies (usagi?) appeared in front of me on their way out for the night. You never know what you will see in Osaka.

My next blog will be the next leg of my trip, Okayama, ‘land of sunshine’ and Momotaro!