Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park

November 26, 2016
1PM (very hungry!)

Next mission: lunch near Nara Park. Big mistake. All the hungry people have converged in restaurants near the park, specifically in Yume Kaze Plaza. Because it is near a tourist area, meals here are expensive. But I am too hungry to find a cheaper option. I add to the long line for Tenpyoan Cafe and wait my turn.

After eating a ton of carbs (rice and noodles for energy!), it is time to join the hordes of tourists in Todaiji to visit the world's largest bronze Buddha.

Todaiji
東大寺
Todaiji's Daibutsuden:
April to October 730AM to 530PM
November to March 8AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 600 yen

I dodge tourists and deer as I walk towards Todaiji's Nandaimon (Great South Gate). I hate crowded places but a place as famous as Todaiji and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site? I just have to see it!

With every person I brush past, my expectation of Todaiji goes down a notch. In my head, the number of tourists is inversely proportional to the site's ability to make me go "wow". But, Todaiji, you prove me wrong. The humongous, ancient-looking wooden gate (Todaiji's Nandaimon, the largest temple entrance gate in Japan, designated as a National Treasure), the two dusty, old, wooden guardians (Kongo Rikishi, built in the year 1203, also National Treasures) residing in the gate, and the Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall (the largest wooden structure in the world) make me understand why many people come to see this place.

Nandaimon

One of the two Kongo Rikishi

Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall

The Great Buddha Hall up close

In the center of the Great Buddha Hall is one great—no, gigantic—bronze Buddha! The Daibutsu or Vairocana Buddha is also a National Treasure. My neck almost snaps as I tilt my head, straining to see the Buddha's head. (I am exaggerating, but believe me, it's big!)

Daibutsu

Inside the hall are other ancient looking statues, scale models of Todaiji from different periods, and a long line of people waiting...to crawl through a hole in a column! The hole is said to be the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril and whoever can crawl through it will be granted enlightenment in his or her next life. I don't attempt to crawl through it because I know I will only plug the hole and prevent the rest of the visitors from finding out if they'll find enlightenment in their next life.


Scale models of Todaiji

Somebody's going to receive enlightenment in her next life

There are smaller buildings and a museum in the temple grounds but I skip those and go to the small lake with a wooden boat. Some people take a break on the benches around the lake, some go for a bit of souvenir shopping in the shops by the lake, others, including me, treat themselves to a cone of soft serve ice cream (mine is peach—it's really good!).


Peach-flavored soft serve ice cream

Since Yoshiki-en, a garden recommended by Yoshiko, the Naramachi Walking Tour guide from this morning, is just nearby and free for foreigners, I swing by. (Isui-en, another garden, is also nearby, but requires an admission fee of 900 yen. Zero yen versus 900 yen? Easy choice.)

Yoshiki-en
吉城園
9AM to 5PM
Closed February 15 to 28
Admission fee: 250 yen (free for foreign tourists, just present your passport)

In Yoshiki-en I walk through a pond garden, a moss garden, and a tea ceremony garden. It is late in autumn and most of the leaves have already fallen off, but still I find the garden beautiful and peaceful (zen!), especially the moss garden.

Pond garden



Moss garden


Since the Naramachi Walking Tour this morning only skirted past Kofukuji, I decide to give it a thorough visit and check it off my World Heritage Site list. It's just an 8-minute walk from Yoshiki-en.

Students practicing their music near Kofukuji

Kofukuji
興福寺
Temple grounds open 24 hours

National Treasure Museum
9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 700 yen

Eastern Golden Hall
9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 300 yen

Combination ticket (National Treasure Museum and Eastern Golden Hall): 900 yen

Kofukuji, designated as a World Heritage Site, was established in the year 710 and some time in the past had as many as 150 buildings. Today, only a few of the buildings remain: the Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall), five-storied pagoda, three-storied pagoda, and two octagonal halls (northern and southern). The Central Golden Hall is currently being reconstructed and scheduled to be opened in October 2018.

Kofukuji's Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall) and Five-storied Pagoda

The current structure of the Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall) was built in 1415 (the original was built in 726 and destroyed by fire and rebuilt five times). Inside the Tokondo are bronze and wooden images of Buddha, designated by Japan as either a National Treasure or an Important Cultural Property, some dating back to the 7th or 8th century. In the nearby National Treasure Museum are more Buddhist statues and Buddhist art. (Taking photos inside the Tokondo and the National Treasure Museum is not allowed.)

Southern Octagonal Hall

Three-storied Pagoda

Having had my fill of Buddhist art and images, I head back to Hiloki Hostel to get my luggage and haul ass to the next city on my itinerary: Kyoto.


Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour
Nara: Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Kyoto: Day 5: Rainy Day in Uji City

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