Nara is a smaller city with a vast park containing numerous temples. Todaiji Temple, built in 752, became very powerful. The 15 m Buddha is in the main hall, the largest wooden building in the world. This Buddha is said to be the image of the cosmic Buddha who gave rise to all worlds and their Buddhas. It is thought to have been cast to ward off smallpox which had ravaged the country. Over time it has been damaged by earthquakes and fires with replacement heads leaving a slight contrast in color from the body, though we didn’t notice that. On either side are Bodhisattvas, those who have achieved enlightenment but who have returned to help those who are still seeking it.
Behind the statue is a wooden pillar with a hole at the base. It is supposed to be the width of one of the Buddha statue’s nostrils and to bring enlightenment to anyone who can squeeze through. Sure enough, even adults were attempting it, on their side to fit through, some being pulled out on the other side. Needless to say, we didn’t attempt it.
Being a drippy day we slogged along visiting lesser temples, getting photos of people under umbrellas, drying and resting a bit in a museum, coming across a gentleman being paid to enter calligraphy in blank journals, visiting a small craft gallery, touring a hundred year old reformed private residence, and wandering through a pedestrian mall. At one temple a couple of women were being shown how to pray at a temple. Their patient male guide had them practice a few times. Later in Kanazawa I saw a sign explains the process.
In the Naramachi section of Nara there are many traditional merchant townhouses and other historic buildings. A museum there exhibits various tools, signs, etc. used in the Edo and Meiji periods. It is in part of the owner’s residence. Further on one starts to see what to us resemble hanging sloths but are actually red cloth monkey dolls. Called migawarizarau, they are considered to be messengers and are good-luck charms. Thoughtfully, they take on the suffering of your ills and accidents. We saw several hanging outside of houses, each one representing a person in that household or wishes of the family.
The next morning, the sun gradually returned which made a better day to visit Imaicho, a well-preserved village from the Edo era with over five hundred houses and shops within a two kilometer grid. An interesting tidbit about the train station there – no one staffs it! A machine sells tickets. I guess since they have to be surrendered at the arrival station any non-paying travelers will have to ante up at that point.
Narrow streets are quiet except when an occasional moto cuts through. White plaster and dark brown wooden walls are brightened with spring flowers, especially pansies and cherry blossoms. Most buildings were closed until late morning but we did manage to visit a few private houses and see a few rooms of a sake brewery, though not the factory itself. We were offered several stages of sake and chose the pasteurized one. For me it was too much like a liqueur and not pleasant. The soy factory just had an unmanned storefront. A cemetery outside a temple had a few gravestones with gifts from loved ones, items the deceased enjoyed. An open can of beer was one the base of one! Later we came upon cute kindergarteners filing by in their matching outfits and huge packs. One young one was having a bad day, not wanting to carry his. The adult led him away and likely home. On the way back to the train station we rested at Hackberry Cafe where I enjoyed a most yummy lemon matcha cheesecake and pot of tea.