2012 Japan Trip Day 32 – Nara

Date of Travel: 01/03/2012

We found ourselves starting the day on an early morning shinkansen ride back to the Kansai area…which we just left 2 days prior. It was quite inefficient planning on our behalf, but the reason we were heading back was for the Omizutori festival in Nara, which is held over the first couple of weeks of March. We arrived at Nara station and headed out for lunch. As it was still too early to check into our accommodation at Guesthouse Sakuraya, we decided to hop onto another train to head over to Horyuji temple.

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Horyuji temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan. While its complex is not as old as that of Shitennoji in Osaka, its buildings supposedly dated back to the 7th century, making it the world’s oldest surviving wooden building. The approach to the temple grounds was very long but simple in design, as it was only lined with trees. It’s an approach benefiting of the temple itself, as the temple buildings’ architecture, and the general landscaping, was perhaps the simplest I have seen thus far. It was especially a far cry from the elaborate buildings in Nikko.

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We were held up by a tour guide at the temple’s entrance, who wished to show us around. I was not really keen as I did not want him to take too long because we wanted to reach our accommodation by 5 pm before heading to the Omizutori festival. However, Brownie did not know how to say no, so we ended up getting a tour of the place. To be fair, he did tell us a few interesting facts about the buildings, especially some of the statues and carvings present in the main hall and 5-storey pagoda.

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After parting ways with our tour guide, we explored the eastern end of the temple grounds. This part of the grounds featured an exhibit showcasing the temple’s collection of art. Slightly further from that is the Yumedono Hall, which is known as the Hall of Dreams. There wasn’t much to see around this part, and we would have left earlier if not for a security guard asking Brownie if he wanted his photo taken.

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We caught a train back to the JR Nara station, and ventured to the Naramachi area, which like Gion and the Chaya districts in Kanazawa is famous of having old traditional buildings. We then followed a map I printed off from Google to find Guesthouse Sakuraya, where we are staying the night. After reaching the location specified on the map, we could not find Guesthouse Sakuraya anywhere. After asking a few locals, we learnt that the place we were looking for was located a few blocks away! When we told this to the lady who greeted us at the entrance to the guesthouse, we had a good laugh about it. The guesthouse was one of the nicest we stayed in during the whole trip. The staff was extremely friendly, the room was spacious, and the accommodation felt very traditional. After leaving our backpacks and resting for a while, we headed over to Nigatsudo Hall near Todaiji Temple for the Omizutori festival.

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Omizutori is an annual “sacred water-drawing” festival, and is perhaps the longest running Buddhist event in Japan. On every evening over the first 2 weeks of March the priests would walk along the stage of the Nigatsudo Hall with giant torches. We got there relatively early and had a good view of the stage. It was not as crowded as I thought it would be, which probably made the experience more enjoyable than anything else. The falling burning embers from the torches were a sight to behold. As it was only the first day, only one torch was brought to the stage each time. Still, it was a nice atmosphere to be in.

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After the event, we headed up onto the stage to have a wander around. It was quite crowded upon the stage as almost everyone went up. We had a good view of the grounds from there, and also could see a number of security people wandering through making sure that none of the embers would set a fire to the stage. On the way back down, we did come across a pile of additional torches which were to be used over the following days. Each of these bamboo poles were over 6 metres long, much bigger than I thought it would be!

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We passed through a number of small shopping alleyways back towards our accommodation, and found another Katsu restaurant for dinner. I have kind of gotten sick of deep fried foods by this point, but we were quite tired and couldn’t be bothered finding an alternative! The food was pretty good however, as with most katsu restaurants in Japan. As most of the other shops were already closed, we headed back to our accommodation to rest for the night. There, Brownie and J.C. had a great game of Go, while I started planning for the train trips the next day. Another long day ahead tomorrow!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
N/A [3 days in a row – score!]
JR Trains covered by JR
 National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Guesthouse Sakuraya – 5,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store at Newdays KeiyoStreet Tokyo Station City– 385 yen [ham and egg muffin, hotcakes with jam and cream, chocolate melon bread]
Lunch at Nakau near Nara JR Station – 490 yen [large gyudon]
Dinner at Tonkatsu Ganko @ Higashimuki Shopping Arcade in Nara – 1,180 yen [katsu and friend oysters]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Horyuji temple entrance fee – 1,000 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir at Horyuji Temple – 1,000 yen [book]
Souvenir from Omizutori festival at Nigatsudo Hall – 100 yen [pamphlet]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,155 yen (531,520 yen total)

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