Capitals of Japan: Nara

Clumsy fool // Nara // Big Buddha // Deer // Fire

On Friday I started writing a post with more details about Kiseki no Hoshi, the Amazing Orchid Show and what it’s like to work here… and then I poured water all over my laptop. Sigh. So, I spent most of the evening pushing q-tips and small pieces of paper into all the nooks and crannies of the key board to get all the water out, and luckily my laptop is fine!*- but no blog post. An update about Kiseki will, in fact, have to wait for another time because I spent the weekend seeing REALLY GREAT STUFF that I’d like to tell you about, starting with…

NARA

Nara was the capital of Japan before Kyoto, between 710-794AD. 84 years isn’t a very long time but it was very significant period in Japan’s political, religious and cultural history and a lot of things happened. If you’re interested you can read about it from someone that actually knows stuff, but if you’re not then the important thing to note is that they built some amazing buildings, made some amazing art, did some mind-blowing engineering: and loads of it is still here! Oh, and it’s famous for deer. Not eating them- just hanging out with them. They wander all over Nara-koen (the main park where all the big temples are) and people feed them acorn crackers. They used to be considered divine messengers of Shinto Gods; now they’re just considered cute. They’re very well trained and will do a little bow for a cracker. Mostly, it’s HILARIOUS watching people trying to get selfies with them and failing, or trying to feed them and getting scared when they get a bit boisterous.

I chose to visit Nara this weekend in particular because it was the annual Yama-Yaki (山焼き) Festival. Literal translation is “mountain roast” but the English name is usually Grass Burning Festival, because that’s what it is. Basically, the priests from Kofuku-ji (temple) set the grass on the upper slopes of Wakakusa-yama on fire to commemorate the settlement of a boundary dispute in 1760ish, so they’ve been doing it for 200-odd years (but probably not with all the spot lights, safety fencing, a live band or police officers with loud hailers politely shepherding the 1,000s of people around). There was a large area of the mountain-top on fire at the start of the ceremony and from a distance it looked really impressive- if not a little shocking. If I saw that much smoke and fire on a hillside any other night, I would be terrified! And phoning the fire brigade. However, it was all put out really quickly. I should note here that there were some immediate and obvious difference between this festival and any kind of similar public event in the UK… Can you guess?? It was really well organised and signposted, it was all neatly finished and everyone had headed home by 9pm, and no one was drunk! I didn’t see a single person (out of thousands) swigging anything. Weird, eh?!

OK, although there are a million more things to say about Nara, I shall leave it there and show you some pictures which will give you a better idea anyway. Stay tuned for Capitals of Japan Number 2: Kyoto, which should arrive tomorrow, unless I throw something else on my lap top.

 

*Except for the track pad, which now has a tricksy little demon inside.

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