Nara, Japan

Wednesday, September 25, 1929

Took the 7:55 train for Nara, an hour and twenty minutes away. The country was lovely but so blamed populated. Towns are everywhere as are high tension wires and telephone poles. We wound around through broad valleys past lotus ponds, bamboo forests, tea fields and rice fields.

Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan and continued so from 710 A.D. to 784, during 75 years covering the reigns of seven monarchs. Not only Nara but the whole neighborhoods is of great interest. Here was the cradle of the arts and crafts, literature, and recorded history of Japan, for here in the eighth century were compiled the first written histories of the nation. At the height of her glory, Nara covered an extensive area, with palaces, temples, and public buildings; innumerable residences of noble and wealthy families. The temples then were immense religious establishments which during the previous hundred years had become exceedingly rich and influential.

Fire destroyed many of the old Buddhist structures and time has taken its toll, but the temples and shrines in the east part of the city remain practically as they were.

Nara lies in a broad valley near the beautiful wooded slopes on the east. The city itself (about 30,000) slopes gently up to the foot of these hills where stand many imposing and graceful temples and shrines. From the station the unpaved main street leads to Nara Park, perhaps half a mile away. One’s first impression, and perhaps one’s last, is that Nara lives from the tourist trade, not only foreigners but her own countrymen. The tourist season is in spring when cherry blossoms and maple trees lend to already beautiful spots. Today I saw 9 foreigners and hundreds of Japanese.

This main street is just one long line of souvenir shops and bakeries. At its end one passes under a large torii into Nara Park, the largest and most lovely park in Japan, covering an area of 1,250 acres. Some 700 deer roam about, posing for pictures and begging food. They are all small, coming barely to my waist. Much of the beauty of a large section of the park is ruined by too many buildings and walls. However, that part near and in the hills is a fairy woodland. The long winding road to the summit of Mt. Wakakusa is not to be beat for sheer beauty. Ever turning and twisting it climbs in among the hills under a pine forest along side a tumbling brook, to a point near the summit. Now and then one has glimpses of the valley far below and the distant hills. There are no people here and for once you feel as though you have left Japan’s crowded cities far behind.

From the grass-covered summit of Mt. Wakakusa, 1,126 ft, one has an extensive view of a really beautiful country, the city, temples, and pagodas.

Of the temples, the Todai-ji is the largest and most interesting. It sits in a grove of large trees, a small lake before it. The temple is enclosed in a large yard by a wall. Entering the large pagoda gateway, losing 10 sen to the ticket collector, you see before you the biggest wooden building in the world, the huge two-story pagoda roof towering 160 ft 7 inches above the terra firma. Within, facing the doorway, sits Buddha, the largest image in Japan and one of the world’s largest. At his back is a gigantic gilded lotus leaf with the sixteen disciples seated as numerals on a clock. Buddha is black and dusty now, but had his day back in 749 A.D. He has had a turbulent past,

On either side sit large gilt images and in the rear of the building are two Diva gods, gigantic guardians of the world, which serve to impress the ignorant worshiper with a sense of awe and mystery. These two are often said to represent the female and male principles, or the Indian gods Indra and “the unborn Brahma.” Worshipers entering a temple often write a prayer on a bit of paper and chewing the paper into a ball throw it at the image. If it sticks, the prayer will be answered, and vice versa.

The Nigatsu-do or Second Month Temple, founded in 732, is nearby. The view from here is splendid. This temple is famous for its small copper image of the “Eleven-faced Kwan-on” (never shown) popularly believed to be always warm to the touch. The third largest bell in Japan is nearby. Cast in 752, 13½ ft high and 27 ft. in circumference, weighing 48 tons. After it is rung you can hear the vibrations for a long time after, even though you may be a quarter mile away.

Kasuga Shrine is not far away. At the foot of Mt. Wakakusa in the trees, its bright vermilion paint shines out. The shrine was dedicated to mythological deities and founded in 768. It is approached along an avenue of 2000 stone lanterns. The buildings are hung with some 1000 metal lanterns.

Within this temple is the famous Yadorgi tree, one of the local wonders. ‘Tis a tree trunk on which have been grafted six different kinds of plants—camellia, wisteria, nan din, cherry, maple, and oak. It is regarded as an emblem of constancy.

I took the 2:58 back to Kyoto where I got rice and fish in a Jap hash-house and took the 6:10 train for Yokohama. Was raining a bit.

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