The Kansai Episode: No Temple In Sight

This changes everything.

We begin our stroll eastwards from Kintetsu Nara station, passing by the Dear Park, before reaching our next stop: Todai-ji. It’s particularly known for its Great Buddha Hall, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue, and the temple itself is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”. Predictably, the place isn’t particularly packed. The temple was formerly known as Kinshosen-ji, built by Emperor Shomu in 728 as an appeasement for Prince Motoi who passed a year after his birth. It only rose in prominence in the Nara Period, where Buddhism was heavily regulated by the state. Todai-ji served as administrative centre, housing no less than six Buddhist schools complete with their own administrators, shrines and library. With the capital’s move to Kamakura, the power of Japanese Buddhism followed. There were various attempts to restore the lineage of Vinaya Buddhism, but nothing came to fruition.

A visit to the Great Buddha Hall is awe-inspiring, even if you don’t believe in it. Motivated by the Emperor’s edict that people should be directly involved with the establishment of Buddhist temples, believing that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect the country from further disaster (it wouldn’t, and still doesn’t), more than 2.6 million people were involved in the construction of this grand singular structure. The project was such a matter of national security that it nearly bankrupted the Japanese economy, consuming most of the available bronze. The original complex also contained twin 100 metre pagodas, second only to the height of the pyramids of Egypt, but were subsequently destroyed by earthquakes. Despite its size, the wooden housing you see today is actually still 30% smaller than the original building. Nevertheless, it was the world’s largest wooden building until 1998. The statue itself has been recast due to earthquake damage, with the oldest part of the structure dating back to 1568, and the newest in 1867.

A look inside.

The entrance to the Great Buddha Hall which we must enter from by the side.

I believe, you don’t need to be Christian to love God. All you need is to care for your fellow man; love your friends, your enemies even more, and you shall be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. I’d rather be damned for all eternity than have the nicest, good people sit in hell for not being Christian.

I find the endearing spirit of humans absolutely admirable and inspiring.

A model of the original Todai-ji complete with its two 100 metre pagodas.

After that, we walk to Kasuga Shrine, built to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. Kasuga Taisha, which we didn’t know at the time, is famous for its lanterns which were donated by worshipers. There are more temples and shrines, but we decide against it. With Nara’s bus network not covered by the Kansai Thru Pass, charging it on the ICOCA was a burden that my travel partner simply couldn’t bear. In addition, with these other venues located in the suburbs and the fact that the general closing time seems to be fixed at 4pm, there was always a fear that we’d make a wasted trip. It’s not what we’d have wanted, but Kansai has been a region of surprises – there are treasure troves in places where you least expect it. As we wrap up our sightseeing, there’s an acceptance that one has to grapple with. One can only go back only to return again some time soon.

Note the lines of lanterns.

Devotion.

Awww… Children in costumes.

This empty space is actually holy ground, where three deities hang out.

This couple looks so good together, plus the guy’s pretty good looking. XP

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