Posts tagged ‘Temple’

“Bambi? You can’t eat Bambi!” (Nara)

November 18th

When you tell a traveller in Kyoto that you spent your day at the temples they look at you sympathetically, as if you have just said that you recently had your tonsils out. Much like having your tonsils out, temple-hopping in Japan’s cultural capital is good for you, and you know it’s good for you but its exhausting and painful and by the end of the day you just need a big bowl of ice cream.

There are 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto, all but one of which are either a temple or a shrine. They have a temple with a bell it takes 17 monks to ring, a temple covered in gold foil, a temple with 5km of torii and a temple with the biggest gate you have ever seen in your life. They are the biggest temples, the most sacred temples, the best temples but at the end of the day, they are all just temples.

You know what it will look like before you arrive – it will be big and wooden and impressive. There will be a sheltered iron pot out front with incense burning and people will be gathered around grabbing at whisps of smoke and rubbing it into their hair and clothes. There will be the sound of coins bouncing off of wood as worshippers throw their money into a box, ring a bell and clap twice to get Buddha’s attention. You will have to take your shoes off and put them in a plastic bag. So you go, knowing what is in store and wearing shoes with no laces and you ‘oooh’ over this Buddha statue and ‘ah’ that beautiful carving. Then you put back on your shoes, trek 100m up a ferociously steep hill and express amazement over this beautiful carving and that Buddha statue.

It wasn’t surprising then that Giles and Anne (our fearless new travel buddies) gave us that ‘Oh no, you have to have your tonsils removed’ look when we told them that we were heading to Nara to see, you got it, more temples. And it was with heavy, slip-on-shoe-clad feet that we dragged ourselves out there at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, expecting to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and wish we had stayed in bed.

What we didn’t know however, and what made the whole trip worthwhile, scratch that, a highlight of Japan, was that Nara is not only a UNESCO-holding, temple-filled tourist mecca, but also a deer park. The park is home to thousands of tame deer who wander around footpaths, chase children with ice cream and lounge on top of sacred Buddha. It made for a lot of fun.

The streets of the park are lined with stalls selling deer crackers and, after realizing that the deer want nothing to do with you unless you have a little something to give back, we bought a pack from the first vendor with thoughts to carrying them with us for the day in case we ran into any super cute fawns. Big mistake. The deer were on to us immediately and, the second the vendor handed them over, they rushed me, nudging my hip, licking my bag and sucking on my coat buttons until I handed over the goods. Terrified, I dropped them and ran (before Gary could even get a picture, much to his dismay.)

Eventually we worked out our own crafty plan and Gary distracted them while I quickly threw correct change at the little old man at the stall and dropped the crackers into my bag before hightailing it. We got away safely but as we made our way through the park, we got a little bored and started to leave trails of cracker crumbs behind us, collecting our very own assembly line of deer.

Oh yeah, and we saw some big temples and pretty stone lanterns. Who knew temple-hopping could be so much fun? Nara – highly recommended for the temple weary.

More pictures of Nara are available in the gallery

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November 22, 2009 at 1:58 am 1 comment

Hida Takayama, the colour of Japan.

It’s 5pm and, in a rural town high in the Japanese Alps, the sun is setting over a scene that could only have been crafted by a hyperactive child in possession of some Magic Markers. Streaks of scarlet red stain the pathways and clash with pools of golden yellow and lime green, the vibrant ruins of an earlier sugar rush. A breeze whistles through the thinning branches, colouring the air with the last remnants of summer and prompting an old woman to clutch the sleeves of her kimono closer to her chest.

Hida Folk village - Paddy field pond

This is the Japan we have been looking for. Here Autumn is one of the most important times of the year and from our seat overlooking Hida Takayama, it’s not hard to see why. In early November the mornings are cold enough to call for the use of thermals during trips to the morning markets and electric blankets at night time. Cold enough to almost merit the fluffy jumpers that all the local poodles are wearing and the sailor costume on a passing terrier. But in the afternoon glow, the changing leaves are worth every hardship. As is Takayama.

Drinking Water

Hugged on every side by snow‐capped mountains, Takayama is the piece of rural Japan that most travelers come in search of. The focal point of the town is a wide river, thick with colourful carp, crossed by a startling red and white wooden bridge. At this time of year the length of the river is lined with maple trees at various stages of their seasonal colour cycle, ranging from the young and green to the more developed, burgundy maples which stretch all the way through the town and up to the top of the hill behind it.
 
Just off the river, traditional wooden buildings line the streets and the smell of fresh sake floats out from local distilleries. From 9am to 12pm the streets are alive for the morning markets and the sweet sake fumes mingle with that of delicious Hida beef skewers being cooked by local vendors and slices of juicy Japanese apples offered up by women in their food stalls. Even during its hectic hours though, there is a sense of peace in Takayama that only comes from knowing that the village is watched over by a ridiculous (and still growing) amount of temples and shrines.

Local man makes traditional Japanese candy 

Takayama is the perfect place to unwind after a hectic few days (and one particularly raucous night) in Tokyo – for added zen anyone visiting should consider staying in the reasonably priced Zenkoji Buddhist Temple.

More photos of Takayama are posted in the gallery.

November 13, 2009 at 3:20 am 2 comments


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