We had been thinking about venturing down to Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. The island is the
site of the famous floating Torii gate, and the view looking towards Misen-san Island has been called one of Japan's 3
best. It would be about a 2 hour train ride, however, and we had already spent a lot of time traveling on trains. Also,
the potential for becoming hopelessly lost and confused was high. I knew we would find it eventually, but it would
probably be a stressful journey much like our experience getting to Nikko. We decided instead to go to Nara which
is about a 45 minute train ride from Kyoto. Like Nikko, we had tramped through Nara in the rain in 2005 so we wanted
to re-visit it on a sunny day.
It was Wednesday in Japan, but in the United States, election day was dawning. On previous evenings we had been watching
CNN on the television in our room. This was a different version of CNN than we were used to, though. It was much more
international in presentation, and we got the distinct impression that the rest of the world was longing for a change
in U.S. leadership as much as we were. It was kind of hard to pull ourselves away from the coverage of such a critical event,
but we knew that the reports would soon become repetitious and that nothing definite would be known for hours.
It was another warm and beautiful day, and we soon found ourselves in Nara walking up a narrow street lined with
stores heading for Nara-koen, the large park where most of the famous temples in the city are located.
About 1200 small deer roam through the park enthusiastically seeking handouts. Lisa bought some of the
biscuits sold by the park vendors, and she was soon surrounded by a crowd of admirers.
Our first destination was Kasuga-taisha shrine. Our Japanese friends had told us that they planned to take us
there in 2005, but they had reconsidered because it was raining so hard on the day we were in Nara. This was a
wise decision on their part, because it is a fairly long walk across the park through a rather heavily wooded area, and
we probably wouldn't have appreciated the shrine fully on that day. The walkway to the shrine is lined with hundreds
of stone lanterns.
Here are some of the lanterns at Kasuga-taisha shrine which makes use of them during special festivals held twice a year.
We continued walking into the woods and soon experienced one of those remarkable
moments in Japan when you find yourself in a place with no one else around. It was a good opportunity to take some
more pictures of each other. We also came upon this sign depicting deer mourning another deer who had apparently
eaten something other than the approved biscuits.
When we emerged from the woods, we found ourselves in a pleasant neighborhood of low rise apartment buildings
which seemed to be inhabited by students. We walked in the most likely direction, and soon found ourselves back among
crowds of people in the vicinity of Todai-ji Temple. We passed these peaceful scenes on the way. When Lisa was walking
up the steps through the gate in the picture on the right in the second row, an elderly woman suddenly grabbed her arm for
support, and after Lisa had helped her through the gate, the woman smiled and thanked her. I was reminded of all the
spirited older people climbing the steep steps with no guard rails at Nikko and Himeji Castle.
The building on the right below is Todai-ji's Daibutsu-den or Hall of the Great Buddha. It was built in 1709 and although it is the largest
wooden building in the world, it's only two-thirds the size of the original structure. The Great Buddha itself is one of the largest
bronze figures in the world.
By the time we finished exploring Todai-ji and viewing the treasures inside Daibutsu-den, we were very hungry so we headed back to
the shopping street we had walked up earlier in the day. As we neared the park exit, a man came up to us
gesturing wildly with his hands and waving a paper. He was saying "Only one in the world! Only one in the world!" At
first we thought that maybe he was some kind of artist and that he wanted us to buy a sketch he had made, but when we
looked at the paper, we realized that he wanted us to look at a tree near the sidewalk. As we looked up, we saw that
a patch of bamboo was growing out of the tree trunk. We thanked him for pointing this out to us, and he smiled happily.
We had a late lunch/early dinner at a Coco Curry House, and nervously headed back to the hotel to view the election
results. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and gave a cheer when we heard that Obama had won.
We spent the evening happily watching televised scenes of people all over the world celebrating the news. We
particularly enjoyed the coverage from Obama, Japan. In the first scenes, people were merrily dancing hula and downing
sake, but by the end of the night there was only one exhausted man sleeping with his head on the table in a community
hall that had clearly been the scene of great celebration.