Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Kakegawa and Nara
The Kalks and Urhausens are a adventurous bunch, including my cousin Nikki who is teaching in Kakegawa. Stephany and I stayed with her one night in the midst of a torrential storm. The weather kept us from exploring much of the town. Instead Nikki introduced me to my two new favorite foods sake in a juice box and sakura mochi (pink sweet rice wrapped in a cherry tree leaf). Nikki works for Aeon and is lucky enough to teach adults and kids. The demand to learn English is much lower in Japan than in Korea. Nikki's Aeon was the only language school in her adorable town. Despite Kakegawa having fewer foreigners than in Daegu, the locals were nonplussed about Stephany and I hoofing around. Oh and by the way, if your ever in the mood for a macaroon the best ones are in Kakegawa. A bold statement I stand by.
After our overnight we were off to Nara. The capital of Japan for a brief period in the 700's, Nara ranks up with Kyoto in terms of Japanese history. We had a good deal of back tracking to do in order to see Nara and I want to thank Stephany for putting up with me, as I was determined to see the city. The main reason I wanted to see Nara was Todai-ji (remember ji= Zen Buddhist temple). The worlds largest wooden building, Todai-ji is one of the Japan's iconic buildings. It was originally built in 728 and suffered through several fires. The current building was finished in 1709 and is 30% smaller than the original. Inside sits the Daibutsu, a 50 foot bronze Buddha. I wish the weather would have been nicer that day as I wanted to see more of details engraved on the bronze. However the lack of interior lighting creates a feeling that the line between earth and the divine is being blurred. This "smudging"of mundane reality is the reason that when I travel my favorite thing to see is holy places whether they are shrines, temples, mosques or cathedrals.
In one of the pillars in Todai-ji has a large hole exactly the same size as one of Daibutsu's nostrils. Lore says that if you can crawl through the hole you will achieve enlightenment in your next life. I dared Stephany to squeeze through the pillar and she did! She had a large audience of school boys on a field trip. I started to chant "nice shot, nice shot" (a famous english phrase thanks to video games) and soon enough everyone joined in. This rush of dorky adrenaline has to be one of my favorite memories from the trip. The silliness in the temple was not out of place in the country where Hello Kitty sits on Buddha's lap.
Nara is also famous for its tame deer who are a religious symbol in both Buddhism and Shintoism. The deer are tame until the second you buy a deer biscuit from the vendor. After which, they will jump up on you like a dog standing on its hind legs to get a treat. I created the challenge to see who could get the best party pic (you hold out the camera with one arm and take your own picture) with a deer. The other tourists must have believed that we had gone off of the deep end as we ran around putting one arm over the deer and taking picture of ourselves. Not quite the proper way to treat the messengers of the Kami. Sorry Nara deer....
After a long day of traveling we returned to the bullet train station and begin the journey to our final destination, TOKYO!