Monday, November 23, 2020

A morning walk in autumnal Nara Park

As my old blog friends might know already, there is no place named Nara Park on map in Nara City. It is the spacious area with fields, hills, woods and forest, mountains, brooks, temples and shrines including World Heritage sites, museums, residential area, and so on. Wild but friendly deer welcome visitors.

I strolled around some parts of Nara Park starting from Tobihino Hill last week.  Tobihino/飛火野 literally means “飛fly 火fire 野field.”  It is said that signal fires were launched there to inform people in the palace site of something in emergency in ancient times.

At the north edge of Tobihino, I came across a photo session conducted by a group of students.  I was part of it with some of other tourists before I knew it.

Then I walked into the woods of Kasuga Shrine founded in 8th century.  Shrine is for Shintoism, native religion of Japan. There's no founder, no doctrine, no script but simple nature worship or awe of nature for both beneficial and un-controllable power.  

 The woods are dark green with massive evergreens. 

Wisteria grow too wild without human maintenance.
The tangled twining vines have made gigantic sculptures or jungle gyms.

I named the sculptures below, clockwise from top-left;
"Vine garland", "Green man (right) and reptile (left)", "Knot", and "Dancing couple".

Coming out of the woods, I was at the path leading to the Kasuga Grand Shrine, which consists of the main shrine and many other small shrines. About 2000 moss-covered stone lanterns line the approach to the sanctuary. The oldest dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1568).

Mini shrine and  stone lanterns

Leaving the shrine approach, I walked north to the Yoshiki River. The river is noted for Japanese Maple. The final blaze of the leaves felt coming soon.

Not only tinted leaves but also reflection is always intriguing.

And, barks as well.

Tree Lichens

One side of the river is Kasugano Park.

The buck above was not buried half in the ground but was rested in front of a  tree beyond a tiny hill.

A drifting leaf in the Kagami-ike Pond

Ukigumo Park, the other side of the river, was ablaze with Chinese Tallow leaves.  How mesmerizing!

My youngest grandchild M had a Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3) rite at Kasuga Grand Shrine. She’s going to be 3 next month. To finish it quick, M wore dress. She’ll have her memorial photos taken at a photo studio in March, dressed in kimono with a lovely hairdo. She looks forward to becoming like a princess of Japanese period drama.  

One day at Mt. Wakakusa, collected leaves, and Shichi-Go-San

Today is Labor Thanksgiving Day, which stems from the ancient Shinto harvest festival since the start of rice cultivation. I can't thank enough for all the workers supporting our daily life, now especially health care workers.  This is really tough time for anyone in any situation. Probably old common sense (mask, sanitation of hands, gurgling), and social distancing and attitude to cooperate at the time of emergency as well, would be the best survival tools to go through this pandemic. Remember “mask” is the safest and the most affordable substitute for vaccine.

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Monday, November 9, 2020

A temple for protection and well-being of the nation

In the early 8th century, Japan was going through many difficulties including a long drought, rampant thievery, political turmoil, and above all, the smallpox epidemic brought in from the continent, which reduced more than one third of population.  The 45th Emperor Shomu, a devout Buddhist, decided to unite the nation through Buddhist faith. Todai-ji (UNESCO World Heritage) was founded as the Central State Temple in 752, together with a state temple and a state nunnery in every one of the 66 provinces.

People were so sparse on June 17th, 2020.

The structure above is Nandai-mon Gate, or Great South Gate, National Treasure, rebuilt in 1203.  The 8th century original was destroyed by a typhoon in 962. It is the largest wooden temple gate suitable in scale to the existing largest wooden structure in the world, Todai-ji Buddha Hall (National Treasure) where Vairocana Buddha is enshrined.  The construction is based on timber-frame joinery, composed of several different pieces of timber. Each piece is dovetailed. It reflects Chinese Sung style architecture, a double roofed, one-story structure with no ceilings. 

Great South Gate, Inner Gate, Buddha Hall, and Lecture Hall (now ruins) stand straight on a central line of the precincts from south to north.

Buddha Hall seen through the Inner Gate

The current Buddha Hall was rebuilt in 1709.  Due to a shortage of funds and materials, the size was reduced to two-thirds of the original width, and an arch-style gable was added.


Back of the Buddha Hall is relics of Lecture Hall, where only foundation stones remain.

Lichen on the foundation stones, October 31st, 2020

Chinese Tallow leaves at the relics of Lecture Hall, October 31st

At one time, there were more than 100 buildings in the precincts of Todai-ji.  During the civil wars of the 12th and 16th centuries, almost all the buildings were destroyed by fire. After a fire in 1567, the Great Buddha sat in the open air for 140 years.  Only Sangatsu-do Hall, Shoso-in Repository, and Tegai-mon Gate have long survived since 8th Century. Over the years, Nigatsu-do Hall, Great Buddha Hall, Nandai-mon Gate, Belfry, etc, were reconstructed.

Since its foundation time, Todai-ji was not only a center for rituals of the nation but also a center for scholar monks to learn Buddhism beyond different schools. After Meiji Restoration, temples had to choose. Todai-ji chose Kegon.

The Kegon text says that the songs of birds, the colors of flowers, the flowing of water and the forms of clouds, are all the Vairocana Buddha's teachings, serving as divine inspiration to all living beings. 

According to one of the monks, "ke" of "ke-gon" means "flower".  "Each of us has a seed within us. Buddha is the one who has grown the seed to flower beautifully. What we are supposed to do is only to do our best to grow a seed into a flower. " 

Todai-ji Buddha Hall seen from Kasugano Park, Aprio, 2019

Kagami-ike Pond in front of Middle Gate, August, 2016

Japanese maples changing colors over the wall of Kaizan-do Hall (Founder's Hall), November, 2017

Entrance to the spacious precincts of Todai-ji is free of charge except entrance to the Great Buddha Hall.  It has its own beauty in each season. You can go any time even at midnight if only you can brave the pitch dark.  Under the circumstances, many people would have difficulty to come. When it gets possible, have a good time. 

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Cosmos fields before sunset

Cosmoses are fairly representative of autumn flowers in Japan.
They are written 秋桜 meaning “autumn sakura/cherry blossoms.” 
In autumn, they dye the fields of the country shades of pink.
They are easy to grow even on non-fertile soil as long as they are in lots of sunshine.
 I have taken photos of cosmoses swaying under the blue skies many times.
On a sunny late afternoon with floating clouds last week, I suddenly wanted to photograph
 dancing cosmoses in the gradual darkening right before sunset. 
The place is one of my favorite cosmos spots, the fallow paddy field around Hoki-ji Temple 
less than half an hour by car from my home.

The flowers are not only graceful but also as hardy as weeds.

Unfortunately the sky was not so dramatic as I had expected before departure,
 but the flowers did do their best job. 

Airy cosmoses are floating in the falling darkness, looking at the Cosmos.

My grandson Y, who almost always draws dinosaurs or vehicles, 
got inspired to make a sketch of some cosmoses in a white vase;
pink to magenta flowers, yellow discs, and distinctively feathery, fern-like leaves.
The flowers seem to have made him add butterflies.

What were you inspired by recently?

There are eight posts about cosmos flowers including this one, here.

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