Nara, Japan

Buddhism vs Modernism: The Double Face of Nara

Memorial day of only your once ????
Young cyclist from Nara standing next to a billboard with a mysterious caption.
Visitors to the balcony of the Nigatsu temple.
a sweet profession
Employees work in a traditional candy store.
autumn lake
Autumn colors of the Isuiem garden on a gray day.
Bike shopping
A resident of Nara examines products on a city street.
nigatsu, almost night
The illuminated Nigatsu temple in the twilight.
bank of
Residents of Nara examine the window of a street stall in Nara.
Silhouettes produced by the Yakushi pagodas over the sunset.
Sanjo-dori street moment
View of the long Sanjo-dori street.
group shopping
Group of students examines a jewelry store in Nara.
In the 74th century AD Nara was the Japanese capital. During XNUMX years of this period, emperors erected temples and shrines in honor of the Budismo, the newly arrived religion from across the Sea of ​​Japan. Today, only these same monuments, secular spirituality and deer-filled parks protect the city from the inexorable encirclement of urbanity.

On the bench immediately in front of the train, Yumi begins by shyly stating that she is from Osaka. As the conversation continues, he corrects and assumes that he was born and lives in Nara, Japan.I'm shy … I prefer to say I'm from Osaka ...".

It was with surprise that we learned that, for some of the younger inhabitants, Nara can be considered “countryside” in its undervalued facet, reason for retraction and even some shame, by the crude comparison to cosmopolitan and ultra-sophisticated Japan of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe or Osaka.

There seem to be no real reasons for this type of complex. Inheritance and living testimony of the medieval past of the country of the rising sun, skyscrapers and neons, the high definition screens of Japanese metropolises or the line of fire would never suit Nara. shinkansen (bullet train) that connects them and passes a few kilometers to their side.

Nara's style is another, comparable, on a reduced scale, to the neighbor Kyoto: not very luminous. Not really any less bright and showy.

Certain features that are unique to you – such as the largest wooden building in the world, the Todai-hee, the vast lawned gardens and the deer that roam them without a certain destination – enchanted the first visitors and have valued it, since then, to the point that UNESCO has qualified the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” – ruins, six temples and eight primary forests – as a world heritage site.

Sanjo-dori Street, Nara, Japan

View of the long Sanjo-dori street.

The Modern and Busy Nara on Sanjo-dori Street

When we got off the long compositions Japanese Rail serving Nara, we arrived, of course, on time. As is universally known, when it comes to professional schedules and responsibilities, the Japanese are not sloppy.

Introduces us to the city in the long run sanjo-dori, the main shopping street and the one that leads to its historic area, where almost all the gardens and secular buildings can be found.

On both sides, different establishments succeed each other. A McDonalds that overlooks a kimono store, which is opposite a house of pachinko (game of luck that hooked many Japanese) which, in turn, reveals a convenience store and so on, without any thematic or visual logic.

For consistency with the inconsistency, on foot and by bicycle, people of all ages, nationalities and types pass us by.

Young cyclist at outdoors, Nara, Japan

Young cyclist from Nara standing next to a billboard with a mysterious caption.

Local wage earners are imprisoned in dark suits, boys and girls spending their ultimate freedom teenager: they, in mini-skirts to the limit, high boots and Soviet cap ushanka; they are less exposed to the cold, but equally surrendered to westernized visuals cool that decorate the windows.

Gangs of raucous students also cross paths, wearing children's uniforms from their schools and assorted Japanese and foreign visitors, from out-of-the-box backpackers to spruced up millionaires.

Pastry dough and the face-to-face with Secular Nara

A cluster of these characters witness the traditional production of green tea dough, used in various types of typical Japanese cakes, filled with a sweet bean cream.

The protagonists are two confectioners armed with mallets that alternately hammer the contents of a tub with all their might and shout in a military manner, with every movement. The choreography impresses other passersby who, little by little, join the audience.

Confectioners knead pastry dough, Sanjo-dori, Nara, Japan

Confectioners beat the dough used in the manufacture of traditional Japanese pastries, in Sanjo-dori.

Nearby, the rounded shores of Lake Sarusawano are a natural meeting point for outsiders. They are occupied by hyper-equipped amateur painters and photographers or with a compact machine at the ready, strategically positioned in front of the reflection of the highest pagoda (50.1 m) of the Kofuku-ji temple, another of the heritage highlights of Nara and former claimant to the title of the highest from Japan that lost, however, to a rival of Kyoto.

The current Kofuku-ji – consisting of only four buildings built later: the three- and five-story pagodas (goju-no-tou), the Treasure House and the Tokondo Hall – is a tiny part of the approximately 175 that formed it in the peak of its splendor and that disappeared during the 1300 years that have passed since the beginning of its construction, dated 710.

Pagoda silhouettes Yakushi, Nara

Silhouettes produced by the Yakushi pagodas over the sunset.

Although small, this is, even today, one of the main Japanese temples of the Hosso Buddhist chain, also known as yuishiki, that all existence is consciousness and, as such, that nothing exists beyond the mind.

Dessi Tambunan, a Indonesia with Japanese anxiety

The conscience of Dessi Tambunan, a young expatriate Indonesian woman who welcomes us into her home shortly after we arrive in Nara, almost drove her to despair. “You know… I don't know what else I can do”, she vents in a pout, pulling at the tender look of a Java doll: “I do my best to adapt and be recognized as theirs. It never seems like enough.

They always look at me in a different way. I can't quite explain why but I've been here for almost three years. I still feel like I'm just a foreigner…” she continues in the purest of sincerities.

The outburst moves us. It gives us disturbing conclusions. The most obvious was that the young Indonesian woman had arrived in Japan with an anxiety the size of enormous expectations. A member of a wealthy and influential family in Jakarta, Dessi had been caught up in the dream of Japanese high society.

A wealthy, attractive and sensitive Japanese – as, in his view, they were almost all – would fall for his porcelain pout and life would be a fairy tale, far from the atrocious humidity, poverty and civilizational backwardness that, he considered it, they involved his, despite everything, dear tropical homeland.

The school of oriental dances and English that had opened in the center of Nara was operated thanks to some shy but courageous teenagers from Nara who sought to combat the secular rigidity and formality in which they were raised. But their bony hips prevented them from aspiring to the teacher's graceful movements and, on an oral level, the same kind of problem snarled and held back the teaching of the “world's language”.

A Personal Niponizing Project

Dessi complained about everything and more. Even so, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays there she left her studio-triplex mirrored at the beginning of the night to dress in a kimono and learn, kneeling among the good ladies of the city, the complex movements of the tea ceremony, which she saw as the passport to the desired integration. When he returned, he complained again about the irresolvable marginalization.

His existential project had started in neighboring Osaka, the great working metropolis of Kansai. But exorbitant rental prices and fierce competition forced her to move to Nara, a city that teenagers Sophisticated locals, fans of the ultimate Tokyo, see as old-fashioned and conservative and that the authorities continue to protect change in honor of the glorious past.

Nara: Capital for Nearly a Century and its Only Active Geisha

Nara, whose name is believed to come from the term Narashite, which means smoothed, it remained the Japanese capital for most of the XNUMXth century. It was originally called Heijō-kyō. Such as Kyoto, at a time when Japan was trying to follow the civilizational example of China, was built in the image of Chang'an, the present city of Xi'an, where the famous terracotta army is located.

Many of the works of that era were consumed by time and its advents. As for the living characters representing Japan's classical times, Nara has one more famous than any other. On the date of our visit, Kikuno was the only geisha residing in the city. The only one of two hundred that once coexisted there.

Geisha Kikuno in Nara, Japan

Kikuno assumes one of the poses that geishas refine as a form of sensuality.

Kikuno dedicated himself to the craft since he was 15 years old. She was now 45. Desi admired her enormously. He took us to one of his nightly shows. One of the many for which the geisha saw herself in demand on a daily basis, which is why, even being the protagonist - the artist only of the show, by the way – he ended up abandoning it in a hurry after two short dance performances.

Desi left the room sighing, inspired by another stream of laments about her situation. Still, we had time to comment on Kikuno's performance, his haste, and the slow extinction of geisha art in general in Japan.

The next day, Desi was busy with her chores. We continued the thorough exploration of Nara, with the exception of its large Buddhist temple, the All Ji, the biggest wooden building on the face of the Earth, to which we had already dedicated almost an entire afternoon.

Discovering Nara Florestal and Historic

We surrendered to the autumnal landscape of the parks, always keeping an eye out for the daring deer that got used to chasing passersby, eager for the cookies that visitors buy to give them.

We climbed Mount Kaigahira-yama, the highest in the city, at 822 meters. From the windy top, we admire the panoramic view of the modern houses scattered along the valley. Then, we went back down, looking for other historical and religious monuments that make Nara a special case.

The roof of the Todai-ji Temple and the houses of Nara, Japan

Panorama of Nara with the roof of the temple. Todai-hee highlighted.

Of all those we had gone through, the Kasuga Taisha shrine proved by far the most illuminated.

Kasuga Taisha's Dazzling Stone Lanterns

The path that precedes it reveals about two thousand stone lanterns that are lit during the days of such a Chugen Mantoro Festival. Every year, on the days – or rather the nights of August 14th and 15th – it generates a solemn mysterious atmosphere that dazzles Buddhist believers and non-believers alike.

Stone Lanterns of Kazuga Shrine, Nara, Japan

The stone lanterns of the Kazuga shrine.

We walked along the temple's long lanes among families proud of their children dressed in colorful kimonos. We see them stop to take a picture, every ten meters.

In every corner that stood out from the natural setting and during the various Buddhist rites that precede the entrance to the temples: purification with sacred water from the fountains, prayer and donation of yen believed to help obtain the benevolence of the gods and for out there.

So dictates the social and religious tradition that, due to the strong Japanese group psychology, most Japanese insist on respecting.

Father and Son, Kazuga Shrine, Nara, Japan

Father and son purify themselves with water at the entrance to the Kazuga shrine of Nara.

We regain our energy in the bucolic garden of Isuien, famous for its postcard scenes, especially from October to the end of November, when the leaves on the trees take on soft shades of red and yellow that blend in with the misty background of the surrounding mountain.

From there, we follow the ancient residential area of ​​Nara Nara Machi, the small neighborhood where a small percentage of the city's almost four hundred thousand inhabitants live. There are a succession of one-story dark wood houses, built in the XNUMXth century, some still used as homes, many – identified by letters in characters kanji, of Chinese origin – already converted into small craft businesses in which the gaijin (foreigners) poke their noses to satisfy curiosity

In historical terms, in this small residential and mercantile elder of Nara we were at the opposite end of the modern zone where the train had left us and of Avenida Sanjo dori.

Crows on a tree in Nara Park, Japan

Flock of crows occupy a leafless tree in Nara Park.

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