Susan's Shanghai Blog - Nara (subset of Week 53)

This is a subset of Week 53 in the Shanghai Blog. In the website redesign, we needed to split each individual city out.

Nara is the capital of the Nara Prefecture, and contains 8 temples, shrines, and ruins. However, based on what you see when you come out of the train station, Nara is all about the deer. According to the legendary history of the Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god, Takemikazuchi, arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijo-kyo. Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country. Tame deer roam through the town, especially in Nara Park. Snack vendors sell "shika sembei" (deer biscuits) to feed the deer. Tame is almost an understatement! They come right up to you and are everywhere! They also drop their head, like asking for the deer crackers.

This is the Zeitakumame-hompo Main Shop, which is a building from the late 19th century. It has 3 buildings: the main building (west warehouse), east warehouse, and a former drawing room.

Kofuku-ji is a Buddhist temple with a couple of interesting buildings. The original temple was established in 669 in Yamashina. In 672, it was moved to Fujiwara-kyo, and it was dismantled again in 710 to move it to Nara. The temple was damaged and destroyed several times, and rebuilt although several buildings were never reconstructed. This is Sanju-no-to, or the 3-storied pagoda.

Hoku'en-do is the older of 2 octagonal halls and is the North Octagonal Hall.

Nan'en-do is the South Octagonal Hall.

Goju-no-to is the 5-story pagoda

Tokon-do is the East Golden Hall.

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal which we did for lunch. The restaurant, Wa Yamamura, was recommended by Andy Hayler's restaurant guide/blog. It took a bit to find it, but once we did, we were warmly welcomed and shown our 2 seats at the counter. The restaurant was totally full, with what seemed to be a party in the room and the counter full. The first two pictures are the chef (or who looked like the chef) grating fresh wasabi; the second being the tea pot. We were given little colorful post-it notes for each course written in English by the server who seemed stuck with the "americans who don't know about Kaiseki"). Each course she would wite out what it was and hand it to us.

First dish is the cold dish with Yuba, crab, shimeji mushroom with a kabosu vinegar jelly.

Second matsutake mushroom, pike conger and karuma shrimp all steam-boiled in an earthenware tea pot.

Next was the Mukozuke, which is a dish of sashimi. In our case, fatty tuna, squid, shrimp, and flatfish. It came accompanied with the fresh wasabi as well as the curly yellow things, which are some type of squash that we watched him cut off.

Hassun was next, which sets the seasonal theme. In this case, it was assorted small dishes for the Doll's festival. This plate included fig with miso, vinegar seasoned persimmon, kuruma shrimp & sillaginoid fish (pls don't ask, I don't have a clue what Sillaginoid fish is), bay scallop & okra with vinegar, Shungiku (a leaf vegetable which has a mild aroma with a hint of flavor of chrysanthemum) dressed with mustard, squid with egg, eel & burdock, gingko nuts, and apios fried with almond.

This is a salt grilled sweetfish with vinegar sauce. It was brought to us on top of a grill and it was stuffed with something. Now, this was funny ... she brings it out and sets it in front of us and we just stared at it wondering .. oh my gosh ... what do I do with THIS?? So obviously, she was the "OMG" look on our faces and decided to show the "poor americans how to eat the fish".

I think this is Whelk, which is something like a snail. The post-it note has Whelk & something else, but the something else is in Japanese characters (I guess it didn't translate well).

Ebi-imo, which is a rice cake made with lotus root, and yuzu citrus in a thick starchy sauce made of Kuzu (which is a thickening agent)

Next up is rice with chestnuts and some miso soup.

Tom got this (but not Susan, since she was stuffed by now) which was rice with soy-sauce cooked tiny shrimp on top.

Last up, Sweet Jelly with Kyoho grape and melon.

Then coffee in these really lovely white and blue cups.

Lastly, a few pictures of the staff. Of course, I always like to have this "fantasy" view of the owners .. the owner is the chef, and the woman at the end of the counter being his wife. Then the two girls in the 2nd picture being the daughters .. a happy family restaurant. Tom always teases me about it!

After lunch, we grabbed a taxi back across town to the other side to go to the Todai-ji Temple, which is a Buddhist temple complex. The main building, the Great Buddha Hall, houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

The Daibutsu or Great Buddha, was started in 743 upon command of Emperor Shomu. The status is over 49 feet tall and weighs around 500 tons.

Kokuuzo-bosatsu is the Japanese name for Akasagarbha Bodhisattva, who is one of the 8 great bodhisattvas.

We didn't really mean to get a picture of someone's butt .. however .. this is one of the supporting post in the Great Buddha hall. It has a hole in it that is supposedly the same size as one of the Daibutsu's nostrils. Legend has it that those who pass through it will be blessed with enlightenment in their next life. We watched a few who got through, but figured getting stuck would be a bad thing, so we won't be blessed with enlightenment in our next life.

This is Nyoirin-kannon, which is another statue.

Pindola Bharadvaja was one of four Arhats asked by the Buddha to remain in the world to propagate Buddhist law. In Japan, Pindola is called Binzuru, and this Binzuru statue sits outside of the Great Buddha hall.

There are quite a few buildings within the complex, and as you can see, tame deer as well.

Nigatsu-do or The Hall of the Second Month is one of the important structures of Todai-ji. It is located to the east of the Great Buddha Hall, on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa.

One of the guardians at the temple, made out of carved wood.

The Nandaimon or Great Southern Gate.

Walking out, there was a little store that put out water in a bucket for the deer.

Back to Kyoto and to dinner at Touzan. We started with the Sake Tasting menu, which had 4 different types of Sake.

Then we did a selection of Sushi and Tempura, as well as a couple main courses.