Today I am taking a day trip from Kyoto to Nara, with a stop on the way at Uji. I walk to Kyoto Station. It takes me ten minutes at a brisk stride. On the way I stop off at Seven Eleven to withdraw a ¥ 10000 note.
Seven Eleven cash machines are the only ones that accept my Visa card in Japan, and the minimum I can withdraw is ten-thousand yen. I pay ¥ 240 at the station and head off in the direction of Uji by train. In Uji I am off to see the temple that is depicted on every ‘ten-yen’ coin.
A note on Japanese coins. The 100% aluminium ¥ 1 coin floats on water and you can stick it to any part of your face, and it will not fall. The copper ¥ 10 coin is why I am here in Uji, to see the temple. The ¥ 500 is the most valuable everyday coin in the world, and the most interesting. If you tilt it at a certain angle, you can see the kanji for five-hundred-yen hidden in the grooved lines, “500 円.” Also hidden on the ¥ 500 coin in 0.2mm is the word ‘Japan’, spread across the face of the coin.
With me thinking too much about coinage, I miss the stop to Uji. I have to get off the train, then cross the platform, before getting on a train bound for Kyoto Station. An easy mistake to make, and a mistake forgiven by the Japanese train ticketing system, and no extra fee is charged. I eventually arrive at Uji Station and head to the ten-yen Byodoin temple.
Byodoin is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another one off my list. It is one of the few examples of Heian temple architecture left in Japan. It was originally built in 998 AD. It doesn’t seem to attract too many tourists though, in fact, most of the people I see here are Japanese. The temple boasts the most beautiful of Japan’s few remaining Pure Land Gardens, and a small museum. Both are included in the entry fee.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Byodoin Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Byodoin Temple
- Tours of Byodoin Temple
The museum has won four architecture awards. Inside it houses 52 wooden Bodhisattvas, the temple bell, the south end Phoenix, and other historically noteworthy items. The temple bell here is also a national treasure. I discover that the golden phoenix here is the one depicted on the rear side of the ¥ 10000 note. More money musings. After I finish up in the museum, I hop on a packed train full of tourists bound for Nara:
I arrive At Nara just after 3 p.m. It is a warm afternoon, but thankfully quite cloudy. I head to Todaji Temple; on the way I pass a lovely pond with turtles swimming around. I also go via a few of the smaller temples, and a five-story pagoda. Kofukuji Temple is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, but is sadly closed for reconstruction. It actually closed in October 2010 and won’t be ready until 2018. Eight years to reconstruct a temple. Just nuts.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kofuku-ji
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kofuku-ji
- Tours of Kofuku-ji
And then there are the deer. Sika Deer roam freely through the town. There are an estimated 1200 Sika Deer in Nara. You can purchase deer snacks and feed them to the deer if you like. Someone told me that the deer bow when you feed them. I witness a herd waiting patiently at a red crossing light; only crossing when the light turns to green. Very tame, I thought.
Todaji Temple is the second largest wooden structure on the planet. It was built in the Nara period at the instruction of Emperor Shomu. I pay the ¥ 600 entry fee and walk through the gardens toward the temple. There used to stand two 100 meter tall pagodas on the temple grounds, but they were destroyed during an earthquake. In 751 AD, these pagodas would have been the second tallest structures in the world, after the Egyptian Pyramids.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Todaiji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Todaiji Temple
- Tours of Todaiji Temple
Some interesting facts about the temple. Emperor Shomu issued a law in Japan which stated that the people should become directly involved with the creation of new Buddhist temples throughout the country. Thanks to the law, 2,600,000 people were involved in the building of the Great Buddha Hall, and the statue inside.
Another crazy fact, the Great Buddha Hall is 1/3 smaller than the original, having burnt down in 1180 AD, and then again in 1567 AD. That’s what you get when you build it entirely out of wood. I think that every temple I have been to so far in Kyoto has been burnt down and rebuilt. Inside the hall is the statue of the Vairocana Buddha. It is also known as the, “Buddha that shines throughout the world like a sun.”
This is the world’s largest bronze image of the Buddha. Towering up at 14.98 meters. The construction of this Buddha became close to bankrupting the Japanese economy at the time; consuming all of the available bronze in the country. Sadly, behind the statues are many small gift shops. They are so out of place and frankly spoil the ambience of the scene.
It gets to being just after 5 p.m. and closing time at the temple, so I decide to grab some food in Nara. I eat far too much sushi, somehow managing to spend a total of ¥3218 on fish. After that, I hop on the express train back to Kyoto. The express train takes about twenty minutes, half the time compared to the local train.