Fujiyoshida–There isn’t too much to do in this town, so here I am, back at the internet cafe, with a greater amount of time to spare. I’ll try to relate what’s happened since Jason and I arrived in Nara as best I can.
Tuesday, May 31st: The beds at Naraken-Seishonen-Kaikan Youth Hostel aren’t very comfortable, and the windows are large, so consequently we woke up bright and early (and largely unrefreshed) at around 6:15 AM. Fortunately, this left us with a great deal of time in which to see Nara before nighttime, at which time most temples and museums are closed.
Our first stop was Kofukuji Temple, on the grounds of which are a spectacular five-storied pagoda and a museum with a number of interesting artifacts. Kofukuji was my up-close-and-personal encounter on this trip with premodern Japanese art and architecture, and I wasn’t disapppointed. I’d have to say that the highlight of this particular temple was a set of statues housed at the museum depicting famous priests: they were so lifelike, I was almost convinced that I might see one of them blink if I were to watch long enough. (This, by the way, is a quality I’ve found in many Japanese statues. Apparently, after the Heian period, the trend in statue-making emphasized realism; as a result, care was given to make the statues as lifelike as possible. Crystals were even used for the eyes to lend them a more realistic shine.)
Kofukuji paled in comparison, though, to the next temple we visited. Todaiji houses the Daibutsu, a gigantic wooden Buddha statue 15 meters in height. I’d seen pictures of it before leaving for Japan, but nothing could have prepared me for a face-to-face encounter. It really is as big as it sounds and a wonder to behold. The structure housing it is also the largest wooden structure in Japan (and, if I’m not mistaken, in the world as well). The entrance to Todaiji is flanked by statues of guardian deities, Indian devas co-opted by Buddhism fairly early on as protectors of the Buddha. Frankly, the entire place is incredible, but the Daibutsu really stands out as its chief attraction.
After leaving the temple, we wandered around Nara for awhile, ate lunch at a small restaurant (I had oyako donburi, and it was fabulous–much better than anything you can get in the States), and wandered some more. At some point Jason got tired and decided to go home; I decided to stay in the city and check it out for myself. After losing myself in the city’s network of tiny side streets and dead-ends (Japan has a lot of these), I managed to find the Nara Prefectural Museum, where I killed time for awhile before hitting the streets once again. Eventually, I made my way back to the Youth Hostel and rested there for awhile before heading off with Jason on a new adventure: we were schedule to meet my friend’s dad in downtown Nara for dinner that night.
This particular friend of mine currently lives in the States; he’s originally from Nara, though, and his family still lives there. When he found out that we would be passing through, he contacted his dad and arranged for him to meet us in front of the Kintetsu Nara train station, at which time we would find a place to eat. Now, my friend’s dad doesn’t speak English, so I was, to be honest, a bit nervous about eating dinner with him. My Japanese was less than steller when I had just completed three semesters of it last December; with several months in between my and daily use of the language, I wasn’t too confident about my ability to ask for the location of a bathroom, much less carry on a conversation.
We met our dinner companion at the designated time and location; for obvious reasons, he had no trouble picking Jason and I out from the crowd. He brought with him my friend’s brother, who also didn’t speak English; we said our introductions and established where we were going to have dinner: a shabu-shabu restaurant a few minutes away by car. Shabu-shabu, if you’ve never had it, is a lot like hotpot: the waiter or waitress will boil a plate of water on a burner in the center of the table and furnish the guests with as many plates of thinly-sliced raw meat and uncooked vegetables as they want to throw into it.
Well, Jason and I weren’t too good on the particulars of how long to cook each item, so our host took it upon himself to furnish our bowls with food whenever something became ready; the four of us must have cleared about five huge plates of meat that night. Needless to say, Jason and I were both stuffed. In the meantime, we managed to make rudimentary conversation with my friend’s dad. I got the feeling that he’d had some experience talking to people who didn’t know very much Japanese; he spoke to us very slowly and clearly and seemed comfortable talking about just about anything that we could talk about. In any case, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile, and we had a great time.
It appears that my time is up, and I’ve gotten through one day. I’m going to start skipping days and moving to highlights when next I have access to a computer. Cheerio.