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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh Deer!


I think somewhere along the way I opened the floodgates on the cheesy puns and now I just can't get enough of them. Dam! (har har?)

Maybe it's just a sign of my age: The word used for puns in Japanese is 'Oyaji Gyaggu,' Oyaji meaning 'older (middle aged) man' and 'gyaggu' being the transliteration of the English word 'gag.' Yep--apparently puns are only for old farts. Looks like I'm getting a good start.

The first day of our trip was spent in Nara, best known for its deer and its buddhas. In fact, the mascot of Nara (it actually drives me a bit crazy that EVERYTHING in Japan has to have a mascot, and that this one was chosen through a national contest) is a buddha with deer antlers. Nara was the capital of Japan in the 700s before it was moved to Kyoto.
After staying the night with friends from Hiroshima who had just moved to Osaka, I got a late bus and got to Nara Station around noon . I had been told by quite a few Japanese people over the years that Nara is amazing and that its temples and antiquities far more impressive than those of Kyoto. And reading in the guidebook I saw that Nara was, in fact, home to the world's oldest wooden building, the world's largest wooden building, and the world's largest seated buddha, itself one of the world's largest bronze structures.
Sitting here now writing about the experience, I am trying my hardest to speak well of Nara, to praise it for the grandeur that so many of its places possess, but I'm finding it difficult. The forested park surrounding all of the temple areas was stunning, with the deer freely roaming about only making it more idyllic. And the massive wooden gates and temples perfectly and intricately hand-crafted (traditional Japanese building styles didn't implement the use of nails but instead crafted each piece of a building to perfectly interlock with the piece adjoining it) hundreds of years ago still standing held me in awe thinking about the immense history they represented. But Nara was so jam-packed with tourists flooding down every street and junior high students on their class trips yelling and grab-assing (such a funny phrase) that it was hard for an old curmudgeon like me to really get into the spirit of the place, or at least into the spirit I had imagined having..
In a final assessment, I will conclude that Nara was beautiful and we really did probably give it far less time and attention than we could have (only about 5 hours, a large portion of which was spent in a cafe drinking beers and having Israeli falafel while escaping the rain). I also think my current opinion is so much influenced by the magic I felt in Kyoto that there is no way this visit can compete.

To conclude, I'm going to have to end how I started and further cement my place as an old fart by saying 'Oh, Nara. Maybe next time.' (O-nara means 'fart' in Japanese).

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