One of my favourite series of fantasy short stories in Japanese is 夢十夜 ”Ten Nights of Dream” by Natsume Soseki (the foremost novelist of the Meiji period) whose image used to appear on the 1000 en note.
Each dream begins with the phrase こんな夢を見た “I had this dream …”
My favourite is the 7th night’s dream (which I chose for my Japanese 9 recitation)…but the one I want to mention today is the sixth one… about Unkei the greatest sculptor of the Kamakura period…famous for creating the Nio guardians at the gate to Todaiji temple in Nara. For the 100th anniversary of Ten Nights, a special movie was created…I found this excerpt of the 6th dream with english subtitles on youtube
It’s about 10 minutes long and in this hilarious modernmisation, carving becomes a performance art and Unkei has become a Kamakura version of Michael Jackson/Billy Idol!
All this is by way of saying that I spent the day in…
Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan (from 710-784). Prior to Nara, according to Shinto traditions that honour the dead, the capital had to move each time the ruler died. The permanence of Nara was a result of the influx of Buddhism. If you can count you will realise that this year is the 1300 anniversary of the founding of Nara. The mascot is called Sentokun and it’s Buddha with deer antlers. Another interesting number is 14, the number of world heritage sites in Nara: 6 temples and 8 primeval forests.
The trip to Nara is about 45 mins using the JR Yamatoji line…however, even I had trouble finding the the train. Now I was well aware that there are three different stations called “Namba”: one is a subway and the other two have JR lines, so I go to one of them, and start looking for signs that say “Yamatoji”…there are plenty of directions to all the other lines, why not the one I want…finally I find a map of the entire complex and in fact “JR Namba” does not seem to be connected to “Namba” by any underground passages… so it is backp to the road, to hunt for “JR Namba” — following people in businerss suits usually leads to the right location (and it does!).
You may ask, if my Japanese is so good, why don’t I stop and ask someone…I’ve found that most Japanese have absolutely no idea where anything is located unless they use it on a daily basis…you see scores of them staring at maps endlessly looking for the right exit…
Anyway, I’m in Nara outside the main museum by 10 am…and there are hundreds of tour buses and thousands of people queueing to get into the museum…more about why later.
All the major temples and museums are in this giant park. There are some 1200 or more deer roaming freely, and they are quite tame and you can pet and stroke them…unless apparently you happen to be a little old lady carrying foodTodaiji temple
This temple is the home of the largest Buddha in Japan. The Nio guardians at the gate were carved by Unkei…one has his mouth open to represent active agression, the other has his mouth closed (he must be passive agressive). They represent the sounds “A” and “UM”…which create the sanskrit word AUM = perfection. The ones here are now kept behind cages and are lit and shaded in a way to make them difficult to photograph
so here are a different pair off the web
I like to think their nicknames are Fitch & Abercrombie!
“Talk to the hand!”
and this is one of his roadies. Obviously here is another opportunity to get a goshuuin (almost full now)
Don’t remember who this next one is, (they are all Buddha, we are all Buddha) but you wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark nightDid I mention there are lots of school children around as wellI like these lions (though it’s not quite Al Hambra)and this thingamujig from off the top of a Pagodaand a very fierce (but cute) dragonThe next building Nigatsu-do Hall is up high on a hillsideand once the school kids clear some space you can get a view of the city of NaraThe next temple Kasuga Grand Shrine is also heritage listyed and is famous for its lanternsinside and outsideI think it is quite unusual to see hiragana engraved on things, usually it’s kanji!
The reaon the museum is so crowded is that once a year for only two weeks, assorted treasures for the Nara temples are put on display…it’s called Exhibition of the Shoso-in Treasures —if you want to look it up — some of the artefacts shown this year have NEVER been shown before to the public, while others have not been seen in 20 years or more…hmmm…it’s a 30 min wait to get in the door and who knows what nightmare awaits inside…I do the whole hog…entry, audio guide and catalog book. Shame I wasn’t allowed to take photos.
There is a 5-stringed biwa (the only remaining one in existence, most are 4 stringed) made from red sandalwood with inlaid mother of pearl. It takes another 45 mins to get even close to this one. I think people’s true personality emerges at times like these, I was pushed and shoved and even had my audio guide torn off at one point by zealous viewers…the older they are the ruder they are…i think…the little old ladies with canes are the worst of the lot…i decide there is only one way to fight backYes this strategy worked very well, after a while I was able to view things in relative comfort.
This is my last stop for the day. Also heritage listed it is actually several different tempels and buildings: a 3 storey pagodaa 5 storey pagodasomething called the octagonal buildingOooh, look I wonder what that is going to be?well they have only just started but apparently it will look like thisand it’s only going to take 8 years. on the way back I saw some more mochi-poundingand some street art with BCC(octahedral) symmetryafter a long day, even the following was a comforting sight!and I haven’t forgotten … the solution to the geometry problem isI couldn’t have explained it better myself!