Saturday, November 13, 2010

one night in Nara

Last month Ryan's parents came to visit. We spent a few days showing them around Tokyo. Actually, they got the whirlwind tour of Tokyo. Since Ryan had to teach a couple of lessons, they were traveling with him all over town, from Ginza to Shinjuku and back in a single day. On another day we did Asakusa to Tsukiji to Shibuya and accidentally stumbled upon more traditional culture in one day than Ryan and I have seen in a whole year (a kids Kabuki, a tea ceremony, a live music performance, and two traditional weddings). After a few days, we boarded a bullet train for destinations south of Tokyo. 

First stop was Nara, which was the capital of Japan long long ago. It is the home of the biggest Buddha statue in Japan. The big buddha, or "Daibutsu", is housed in this big ole building - the largest wooden structure in perhaps the world. Or at least it once was. It was destroyed in 1180 and rebuilt 66% smaller in 1709 (thank you, wikipedia).
The Nara Daibutsu was originally cast in 752 and has had a few touch ups in the centuries since. He is 15 meters tall (about 50').
Nara and the Daibutsu are apparently prime spots for school field trips, so we saw many groups of kids in matching outfits and brightly colored hats on the temple grounds. We also saw a lot of deer. They roam wild in the garden around the buddha. 
You can buy little crackers to feed the deer. But they get pretty aggressive, so be prepared to feed fast and then wave your hands up to let them know you are all out or they will swarm you and attack.
And by attack, I mean the following four, well-illustrated actions:
By the way, did you know that deers make noise? Well, this suburban girl had no idea and was pretty shocked to hear the strange buzzing/squealing sound coming from bambie here.

This year Nara celebrates its 1300 year anniversary. In order to commemorate the event, folks decided to create a mascot. The winning design was this fella - a combination of buddha and a deer. His name is Sento-kun and his image was all over town promoting everything from shopping to...what is that? field hockey?
But he is a little disturbing looking with that man face and baby body, those droopy ears and those strange horns. Don't you think? Here Sento-kun lounges and makes "come hither eyes" (to quote my friend Jill).
Apparently so many of the Nara citizens were outraged by the ugliness of Sento-kun, that they protested and designed their own suitably cute mascots as alternatives. One of the forerunners was Manto-kun here. Notice his hat looks like the roof of the buddha building?  He's pretty cute. 
But I guess once Sento-kun started getting called ugly, he won the hearts of many Japanese. Everyone loves an underdog. So the horned man-baby, Sento-kun, will remain the lasting symbol of Nara.

We discussed this and many other things Nara with Ryan's friend, Taka, who is currently living there. He treated us to some yummy bar foods and far too many drinks at the Izakaya owned by his brother. 

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