As my friends and I neared the corner leading to the Todai-ji Temple, the largest of the Seven Great Temples of Nara, I heard the one thing I did not expect I would be hearing in Japan: People shrieking.
One thing I observed during our first few days in the Land of the Rising Sun was that we were in the company of introverts. The Japanese people tend to be a subdued bunch, at least in the places we’ve visited before Nara. How many cafes and restaurants in both Kyoto and Osaka did we go to wherein we felt like we were the only people talking in the room? One too many. And this happened a lot in transit, too. M, B and I would go about with our usual chatter until we’d reach that point when we would realize that ours were the only voices heard in the train. I found it a little unsettling yet comforting at the same time. It further reinforced the fact that I was indeed a stranger in a strange land—and that, to me, is always a good thing. :P
When we finally reached the path that would lead us to Todai-ji, we were pleasantly surprised to hear a sound that reminded us of home: good ‘ol noise. The reason? This little guy right here:
And probably a hundred of his friends freely roaming around the place.
There were schoolchildren having a field trip in the temple grounds and they alternated from excitedly chasing after the deers to being mildly afraid of them once the deers approached to be fed (hence, the shrieking). It was such a delightful mix of sight and sound, and it made reaching our final destination all the more thrilling.
It felt like we were reaching the end of a pilgrimage.
When we finally found ourselves facing the massive home of the Great Daibutsu (Buddha)—also said to be the world’s largest wooden building—we were rendered speechless.
Todai-ji, home to the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, was truly a sight to behold.
To give you an idea of how big this statue is, its open hand is as tall as a human being.
Other smaller statues were also on display in the main hall.
At one point, I felt like I was in that scene in Mulan where Mushu was waking up the ancestors. Especially after I saw this one:
This statue of Binzuru, one of Buddha’s disciples, was my favorite. It is commonly believed in Japan that when a person rubs a part of the image of Binzuru and then rubs the corresponding part of his own body, his ailment there will disappear.
Earlier that day, we also paid a visit to Kofukuji, where Japan’s second tallest pagoda proudly stands at 50 meters.
What I loved about Nara is that all the sights of interest are in one location: Nara-Koen.
The park is a 20-minute walk from the JR Nara Station, which could extend to an hour because you’ll be distracted by the quaint shops you see along the way.
That afternoon spent amidst Japan’s World Heritage monuments was what made me fall in love with Japan. Everything about that day was just perfect—from the time we spent walking along quaint Sanjo-dori street all the way to Kofukuji and Todai-ji. A gloomy raincloud had followed us around for days, but the sun finally came out that amber-hued afternoon, and it set the stage for us to experience Japan in full glory.
There was just something otherworldly and ethereal about Nara that day. When we came back this spring and retraced our steps, it felt different. The place was the same, but I guess the magic of seeing a beautiful place for the first time wasn’t there anymore. Still, I will always have a soft spot for Nara. And I really wouldn’t mind seeing it again and again.