Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nara... The Forest of Yore

25th October, 2006 - So far we have travelled through Buddha's Nara... clean, grand, and a testament to human striving to conquer the world, and our own frailties. There is however another Nara, just as ancient if not more so... beyond the vermilion torii... This world is much older and much more primal in nature. It is a world of the Shinto spirit (or kami) worship. As you move further into Nara Kōen, you find yourself moving deeper and deeper into the old Japan... although this is hardly the wilds of Japan. For a good feel of Shinto beliefs and shrines, please pop into More Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan which is one of the best blogs on traditional Japan on the net.

And of course - Japan is famous for it's trees. This one has most probably been through a bit...

Walking up the mountain, you come first to Tamukeyama-Hachiman-gu .The Shinto of ancient Japan was more about worshipping sacred locations, or even "things"... however following the introduction of Buddhism into Japan in the sixth century (what with it's ceremonies and temples), there was a distinct transition in the way Shinto was observed. The Japanese are very good at adopting new styles, and the Shinto belief system adopted the dedicated shrine - indeed this gateway owes a lot to early Chinese tradition.

Looking back, we are always able to reflect on how far we've gone. The first signs of Autumn, promising of all the great views we would miss out on... for a later trip.

In a very amicable way, the god Hachiman had taken on (willingly or not) the role of protecting the Buddhist temple of Tōdai-ji. For many centuries, the line between Buddhism and native-born Shinto blurred. Following the Meiji Restoration and the ascendancy of the State-based new-Shinto religion, such cozy relationships between the two fell fell away as easily as discarded clothes. In previous centuries, it was often the Buddhist temples that supported the Shinto shrines.

I love the juxtaposition of the photo below, what with the earthen  and age-worn walls, the roof tiles, the white Japanese shide decorations. This more naturalistic look speaks much more clearly to me of Shinto's origin than the familiar vermilion red paint that we can see through the gateway.

It's not so easy  however, throwing off the influence of over a millenia of Buddhist influence! Turning left (towards the north), we re-enter the Buddhist world as we approach Sangatsu-do, named after the Buddhist scripture (or sutra) reading that occurs in March (san - gatsu... 3 - month) - then onto Nigatsu-do... let me guess...named after sutra readings in february (ni - gatsu... 2 - month)?

Towards the back of the temple we see the direct evidence of the cross pollination of religions. This area is very Shinto in feel. The stone basin is for performing misogi harai - or temizu - the washing of hands (and in previous times, the mouth). This purification is Japanese - and specifically Shinto - in origin.

The Nigatsu-do is particularly impressive... it's not quite up to Kiyomizudera standards (he says telegraphing a future post), but it's a nice vantage point with which to take in the surrounds. To reiterate the point from before - these two religions are joined, for the most part, at the hips. See the mini-mini torii in the foreground - this tells us that "here lieth sacred Shinto ground"... what we lack in size, we make up for in occasional shade from this tree. It's all about street frontage.

The panorama from Nigatsu-do is sweeping to say the least.

The daibutsuden stands off in the distance, the city of Nara beyond. Nigatsu-do is very much a sub-temple of Tōdai-ji.

As you move past the Takuyama Hachiman-gu again, you will eventually reach a street of tourist and food shops, at the top of the park. After a long day of walking around, the food was welcome (especially for T-chan), but don't expect the Ritz. Pretty basic tourist standard.

Departing Nigatsu-do, we pass back into the forest - and finally there's a sense of moving back in time... 

Except for... a 7-11 from olden times... deep in the forest we came across this very interesting convenience store.... well, I'm not sure you can expect them to franchise anytime soon, but it made for a very different experience. And no... it's not quite Lawson... just the bare basics of food / drink etc.

Next stop... the time before yore. That's right.... it's pre-yore
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