Monday, December 31, 2007

The People of Nara


The City of Nara is often recommended as a day trip when visiting Osaka or Kyoto. The plan was to stay 1 night there, then pack up and head to Kyoto the next day. My father and I ended up spending 3 days in Nara. Well worth it.

Nara was the capital of Japan for a period in the 7th century. This period was called, you guessed it, the Nara period. Nara brings up images of tame deer, bowing to you for some semba (rice crackers).

We lodged at a couchsurfing host. A few people who I had hosted in Kure had stayed in Nara before they stayed with me. They all recommended Mayumi's cafe, Youan. Mayumi-san is a sort of cultural ambassador I had heard. Sure enough, there was a festival going on and she arranged the local tour guide college to set us up with students to give us one-on-one tours.

The Kasuga Wakamiya festival dates back almost 1000 years. But we were treated to what could be called the openning ceremony I guess. At midnight we walked along the thousands of stone lanterns that line the way to Kasuga shrine. We reached our spot and waited. And waited. About an hour later, enjoying the 2 degree temperature, hundreds of monks, dressed in white, came running up the path. There were going to call the god from his resting place at the shrine, and bring him down to a temporary home. The god would reside here during the upcoming festival. We were told not to look at the god when he makes his way down, lest we be blinded.

And hour later, traditional music could be heard up the path. Then came the chanting. More like a cross between moaning and screaming, the monks had possession of the god. The electric lights went out and massive, 5 meter long torches were dragged down the path, leaving only the glowing embers as light. The moaning got louder and louder. The procession passed us as we stared at the ground. Peripheral vision viewing of the god was allowed, but it was too dark to see anyways.


I'll never tire of the tradition in Japan. I look out my window and see smokestacks and rooftops for miles, a solid contrast to the spirit that lies beneath.

Next: Photos from Osaka, then off to China.

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