Day Seven and Eight of the 13 Day Japan Trip
TR Robertson ...DAY 7 Our second day in Kyoto was going to be a long day for us as it would involve a long bus ride to visit the town of Nara, some two hours outside of the town, then winding through the mountains outside of Kyoto to visit the incredible Miho Museum.
Our destination in Nara was the Todaji-ji Buddhist Temple and the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. This temple is one of the 5 great temple complexes in Japan. The original hall that covered the statue was burned down on two different occasions. The present Great Buddha Hall is actually smaller than the original, but no less impressive. Before entering the Hall we had to make our way through the large crowds and the hundreds of sacred deer that freely roam the grounds. These “wild” Sika deer are not so “wild”, as the locals and tourists purchase deer crackers for 150 yen, a little less than $1.50 U.S., and feed the deer. The deer are so use to people the deer will come up and actually go into your pockets and bags trying to get the crackers. We were told the deer come down from the mountains during the day and go back to the mountains in the evening. This is part of 1,600 acre Nara Park, located at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa. It was established in the 1300’s and is the oldest of the parks in Japan. The number of deer in the park is around 1,200. The Sika deer are a natural treasure and considered divine. Legend says one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine arrived to the shrine riding a white deer and the deer on the mountain have been considered divine ever since. They are considered as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion.
Photos will follow in a separate article
Making our way through the deer, we next approached the Great South Gate, a huge gate built in the 1100’s in the traditional Buddhist style. It is considered one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Once through the gate we saw The Great Buddha Hall. Originally there were two large pagodas on either side of the Hall, but these pagodas burned down some time ago. Inside the Hall, sitting on a lotus leaf design in the center of the large structure was the bronze statue of Buddha. It is 48.9 feet tall and sits on a 10 foot bronze lotus petal. The head alone is 17.3 feet tall. Behind Buddha is an 87 foot golden halo. The statue was once completely plated in gold. It is estimated this Buddha was first constructed sometime between 743 and 751 under decree from Emperor Shomu. One unusual feature recently discovered is the presence of a tooth, pearls, a mirror, a sword and assorted jewels inside one of the knees of Buddha. This was discovered through x-rays completed on the statue. This series of buildings and The Great Buddha are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From this temple our group walked to another shrine located nearby, the Kasuga Shinto Shrine. This is the shrine of the Fujiwara family. The shrine is famous for the bronze and stone lanterns both around and inside the shrine. It is estimated there are over 3,000 large stone lanterns lining the pathways to the shrine and 768 bronze lanterns in the interior. This shrine is very mystical as you walk up winding stairways to the shrine surrounded by the large stone lanterns. The surrounding forest contains 175 kinds of trees, 60 different types of birds and over 1,180 species of insects. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We ate a traditional Japanese lunch at the Nara Royal Hotel, a hotel catering specifically to Japanese clientele. After lunch, this day would continue as a day of Wow moments as our next stop was outside of Nara, in the mountains just outside of Kyoto. Our destination was the Miho Museum. This magnificent museum was the dream of Mihoko Koyama, heiress to the Toyobo textile business. She also happens to be one of the wealthiest women in Japan. Kooyama founded the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement, with some currently 300,000 followers. In the Shiga mountain’s, outside of Kyoto, the Shumei temple was constructed along with a bell tower. These were constructed by well-known architect I.M. Pei. In 1990, Mihoko commissioned the museum to be built close to the temple to house her private collection of Asian and Western antiques bought on the world market. She has over 2,000 pieces in her private collection and 250-500 are on display at any given time. The museum also loans pieces for display around the world. A bit of controversy surrounds some of the work as some scholars claim many of the antiques are from the Oxus Treasure which was lost after 1887 only to be rediscovered in Afghanistan in 1993 and now reside in Koyama’s private collection. Art dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi is instrumental in obtaining most of the art pieces for the collection.
Mihoko Koyama and her daughter, Hiroko, commissioned I.M. Pei to design the Miho Museum. He refers to the design as Shangri-La. Pei designed the glass pyramid and reception hall of the Louvre and the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Pei used the theme of “Peach Blossom Spring”, as a narrow road leads from the visitors center through large cherry trees, arriving at the huge circular opening going through the mountain. The curved tunnel leads to a bridge opening to a beautiful valley and the first view of the entrance into the museum. An old Japanese legend about a man wandering through a tunnel into a beautiful valley inspired Pei for this design. Pei wanted to blend the museum into the mountain, so 80% of the museum is below ground. He has geometric window panels at the entrance, letting in natural light. The exterior and interior walls and floors are a warm beige colored limestone from France. The same stone was used at the Louvre. Huge windows look out onto the forest and the valley and the bell tower and shrine can be seen blending into the forest in the distance. The museum winds around the side of the mountain and is divided into the North Wing and South Wing and connecting hallways. There is a museum shop, a restaurant and a tea room also available. The art work is wonderfully displayed by regions of the world. Some of the art pieces date back over 3,000 years. Art from Egypt, West Asia, South Asia, China, Persia, Rome and Greece can be seen along with explanations. In special display rooms there was a display of Japanese glass covering various periods. A wonderful way to end Day 7 in Japan.
Day 8 was an optional trip many of our group signed up for. This trip would take us to the other side of Kyoto to visit Arashiyama and the Tenryu-ji Temple. The name means Temple of the Heavenly Dragon. It was established in 1339 by shogun Ashikaga Takauji in memory of Emperor Go-Daigo. We toured this small, peaceful temple and gardens then walked up to the magnificent, huge Bamboo Forest. A 400 meter walkway through the center of the forest brought us just outside of the forest, then we strolled through another garden area to the top of an overlook of the Hozu River. Below we could see small boats taking the locals and tourists on traditional boat rides using long poles to propel the wooden boats. There were signs around telling us to not feed the monkeys, but this trip we did not see any. We next walked down to the stone walkway along the river which led us to a small dam and the Togetsukyo Bridge. From here the group was free for lunch and a chance to wander the streets of this popular town. Since it was lunchtime many tried local food, such as, octopus on a stick, shrimp on a stick, fried chicken on a stick, pork on a stick and more. I had a French hot dog, a bun with a hole in the middle with a variety of items that could be added, along with the hot dog. Lots of us also added delicious, creamy ice cream. It comes in a variety of flavors as well, such as green tea, cream, black sesame, cherry blossom. Lots of shopping available with many specialty shops. I especially liked the chop stick shop with every kind and design of chop stick you can imagine.
Our day would end back in Kyoto at the Nishiki Market. This 300 meter long narrow shopping area also had everything you can imagine. My favorite part here was looking at the variety of seafood and vegetables you could purchase. This market would open onto another long pedestrian shopping area lined with shoe and clothing stores. Our farewell dinner awaits us at the hotel as many in the group will be leaving and not continuing to Hiroshima. They will fly out of Okaka tomorrow. Tonight’s dinner will be Shabu-shabu – a Japanese hot pot of thinly sliced meat boiled in water and dipped in various sauces. See what you missed by not signing up for this trip.
Day 9 will find us on the road to Osaka. More about this in another article.