Nara

My writing time right now is limited by the number of 100-yen coins I have: 200 yen is half an hour.  So I’ll be quick, and therefore not go in order.

Nara seems to be the epicenter of Buddhist sculpture, so now I’m just going to try to avoid more of it in Tokyo.  While there are gems, most of it is fairly stereotyped; in temples it is also usually poorly lit and far away.

The first temple I ended up in today was the Shin-Yakushi-ji, the New Temple of the Healing Buddha, new as of 700-something.  (The old temple is a bit west of town.)  In it is a large statue of this Healing Buddha surrounded by 12 supposedly terrifying guardians.  As I walked around looking at these guardians, I thought that the sculptor had played a massive practical joke: they had exceedingly expressive faces, all expressing the utmost boredom.  One is yawning, another seems to say “why did you station me here, you idiots in Central Command?” and a third is poking his finger with an arrow with a resigned look.  Finally, when I had gone all the way around I saw a picture of what they were supposed to look like.  They were originally painted in bright colors, including their eyes and mouths!  Suddenly everything made sense.

Then there was an interlude of shrines and big trees and a 150 yen (!) flute and a small museum full of 13th-century paintings depicting in utmost and cartoonish detail the customs of Nara of that time, but executed very naively and occasionally just poorly: people seeming to float in trees, a rabbit standing like a deer.

Speaking of deer, they were everywhere and extremely tame.  These are special deer, of course: an ancestor of the Fujiwara clan, whose shrine is the most important in the city, rode in on one from heaven.  So all they do is wander about the city park and get fed.  The only slightly skittish one I met was a calf who had lost his mother: he hadn’t learned the way yet, and was crying in a slightly mewling way.

Then there was a big Buddha and some other stuff and I ran into the Irish couple I had talked to for a while in Nikko.  Then there was a freak five-minute thunderstorm.  Finally I ended up in the Nara National Museum, which taught me everything about Buddhist iconography that I had been vaguely but unsystematically picking up before.

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