Tag Archives: Nara park

Nara – Sangatsu-dō and Nigatsu- dō temple

Sangatsu-dō Temple

untitled-332After a wonderful meal and with our tummies filled, we continued our walk through a series of steps into another temple. However, the group of temples here now came under one of Japan’s most famous temples, Todai-ji. There were several temples clustered together. A few worshippers had gathered in this spacious temple ground, the Sangatsu- dō. A priest, with his mind pre- occupied, walked past us without any acknowledgment. Sangatsu-dō is the oldest temple in the Todai-ji group of temples. This shrine is sometimes referred as Hokke-do, “Hall of the Third Month”. The architecture of the tile roofed structures was quite impressive.

Nigatsu- dō Temple

untitled-337Next to this cluster of buildings, a steep series of stone steps ascended to the popular Nigatsu- dō temple, “The Hall of the Second Month”. It was founded in 752. Sited on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa, the balcony presented a commanding view of the sprawling city.

The main hall is over 350 years old and the beautiful architecture reflected old Nara designs. Over-sized oval shaped paper lanterns hung along the courtyard hang from the ceilings. Framed pictures and art hung above the doors. At the end of the spacious cobble stone courtyard, surrounded by tall trees and vegetation, worshipers cleansed their bodies at a dragon water fountain with the bamboo ladles provided.

untitled-336 untitled-339 untitled-340 untitled-341Under a row of bronze lantern hung above, the expansive views of Nara, from this elevated position, are visible. Both, the old and new buildings existed side by side in a densely planted city. At a closer proximity, is Todai-ji’s widespread temple complexes incorporated within Nara Park. There was an air of serenity. Everyone on this balcony looked out contemplating their own lives, young and old. Incense fumes filled the still air and worshipers prayed with clasped hands against their chest. They bowed several times in reverence.

Occasionally, a bell was rung using a multi- coloured cloth hanging from the ceiling. Statues of the Buddha were placed inside the rather poorly illuminated hall. Silhouettes of people moved quietly, both with respect and consideration. Tiny flames from lamps flickered in the light breeze.

Around the corner, the space opened up to a small internal courtyard. The floor was paved with granite stones and miniature plants sprouted from a rock garden. More oversized paper lanterns hung along a corridor. Nearby, a tea house was busy as steam from hot tea rose towards the ceiling. It was cozy and atmospheric. The interior was dark with strands of light streaming through a few open windows.

We walked out of the complex by descending a steep covered step. This led us to a picturesque and delightful narrow concrete pathway through local homes.

Nara – Nara Park

untitled-324Vehicles, congested roads, noise and the usual buzz of a city were all absent here. As we continued our walk through the forested area, just the sounds of rustling leaves, the occasional softened chatter, gushing water in a nearby stream, could be heard. It seemed distant from the din of the city nearby.

untitled-323 untitled-322Along the path, a tree, twisted trunk with spreading buttress roots caught my eye. It was exceptionally captivating both in structure and form. The ground was bare apart from a few ferns. Such is the natural environment here. Maples and a variety of trees, both young and old, occupied this cool part of the forest.

Not far, near a vermilion painted bridge over a slow flowing stream amidst the wooded forest is picturesque thatched-roof teahouse, “chaya”. A few low tables were set up outside under the trees. Across the bridge were a few more shops. We entered into a restaurant. It must be the most atmospheric place to eat, amongst this wonderful and refreshing greenery. The location was exceptional. Not quite under the trees but strips of bamboo roof instead.

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“Eating with one’s eyes is truly meaningful when it comes to the presentation of Japanese food. It’s appealing, appetising and could almost taste them. This, is even before consuming the dishes”. One bowl of rice porridge with “omeboshi”, “tsukemono”, pickled vegetables and fruits, and another boiled rice with tofu in “dashi” broth. These are accompanied with four dishes – tofu with steamed slice of ladies finger and crisp fried shrimp; boiled lotus root, a slice of courgette, potato; preserved daikon, four angled bean, mushroom, a mix of sweet potato and a gingko nut; fish meat wrapped with “nori” and a green stick of vegetable. The dishes are either boiled, steamed or cooked with a riot of flavours – sweet, sour, salty, umami, “savoury”, slightly bitter, tangy and especially the pickled vegetables, tangy. All this, slowly washed with miso and green tea. We are in paradise! Added to this is the green and serene environment. Nirvana perhaps but certainly close!

Nara – Kasuga Taisha

untitled-315Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine, is the most celebrated shrine in Nara and is famous for its numerous lanterns which had been donated by worshipers and was established in 768AD by the Fujiwara family.

untitled-310We arrived at the shrine through a path surrounded with matured forest and numerous stone lanterns with the top encrusted with lime green moss. We entered the shrine through a large vermilion gate, “minamimon”, past the ticket office. I noticed a large signage which read “Fortunes in English”. Instead of stone lanterns, here, hundreds of bronze lanterns hung from the ceiling. Walking through these corridors of lanterns gave an impression of being in a “wonderland”. I can only imagine how it would look when the lanterns are all lit up which happened only twice a year.

untitled-316Although there were a few people wandering around, the atmosphere here was serene. A structural wisteria tree with barely any leaves was positioned on the east end of the rather long vermilion and gold lacquered building. We continued towards the “chumon” gate. Inside the Main Hall, “Honden”, a wedding ceremony was in progress. The groom and bride were dressed in white flowing robes. In attendance were the family members, seated on the floor, and a Shinto priest assisted by a white top and orange gowned miko. A small clump of purple wisteria was attached on her forehead. It was a sombre ceremony. On the wall was a colourfully painted mural.

untitled-319untitled-317 untitled-320The cypress-bark roof of the shrine buildings stood in harmony with the natural surroundings. The west end, was dominated by a 20m tall with over 7m width giant Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), “sugi”. A sacred rope, “shimenawa”, made from braided rice straw is coiled around this tree. This scared tree is said to be over 1000yrs old. It certainly had a grand look. There are over 1000 bronze lanterns hung around the corridors in this shrine. All donated by worshipers. Some painted in gold and mostly in bare emerald bronze.

DSC_0630The wisteria flower, “nodafuji”, is considered very important for the shrine. The name Fujiwara could also be read as ‘Wisteria field’. Near the exit of the shrine we encountered a couple of “Mikos”, temple assistants, whom had wisteria worn in their hair. A sika deer greeted Navindd on the exit corridor. The deer that roam freely are protected and said to the messenger of the Shinto Gods. They are not only protected but also revered and adored. We passed several sculptures around this green Nara Park.

Looking back, the shrine is in the midst of woods. The celebrated Kasuga Primeval Forest, Mountain home of the Gods, covered the mountains behind this shrine. However, it was closed to public.