June 27, 2011

Edible Art in Nara

 A strong mid-summer sun is over Nara.

 Strolling around Naramachi, you can enjoy tasting the atmosphere of the good old Nara .
 But, today, it is scorching!!

I take a rest at a small and cozy Wagashi ( traditional Japanese confections) shop "なかにしNakanishi" in Naramachi. Wagshi  are symbolical, edible art objects which actually please our five senses; the eye, the palate, the nose, the touch and the ear.  The ear? Because  each Wagashi has a beautiful poetic name. Each name sounds pleasant to the ear. Wagashi represents the seasonal  scenery, events or features of the year, usually  a little bit in advance. I'd like to introduce what I enjoyed here this month, June.

" 雨の音 Sound of Rain"
Can you guess what this sweet depicts? 
The ripples on the water represent quietly falling rain.   One-month-long rainy season will be over soon.

 This is my image of rainy season.

 ”雨あがり After Rain"
A baby snail is resting on a leaf with a drop of rain.

"軒わたり From Eaves to Eaves"
June is the month when swallows migrate to Japan and raise babies.
The swallow-shaped sweet jelly  is on  the Wagashi.  
Swallow babies. To be a mother of five chicks is tough, but to survive as  one of five chicks is also tough.(The 5th one is behind four chicks.)

"紫陽花 Hydrangea” 
At the beginning,  all of the flowers are white, 
 and gradually turn blue, pink, purple or more.
I admire this aesthetic sense of a Wagashi confectioner.

”杜若 Iris"

”青梅 Green Plum"
The rainy season is called 梅雨(Plum or Apricot Rain)
 as fruits of  Japanese apricot start to get ripened
 during the rainy season.

"縁日の帰り Coming Back From Summer Festival" 
 Fish are from goldfish scooping.

"庚申さん, Koshin Deity" (You can enjoy this all year around.)
This Wagashi represents a red and white stuffed monkey
 which is called a substitute monkey.
 It is a charm to protect people, 
 which accepts  misfortune, disease and disasters instead of people.
 The monkeys are the messengers of Koshin Deity.

Wagashi  is said  to be originated in Nara. Near Kintetsu Nara Station, there is a small shrine dedicated to Mr. Rin  who came to Japan from China in the 14th century, started to make the prototype for Wagashi in Nara.
To consume too much sugar surely harms our health. But relatively, Wagashi are healthy food as almost all ingredients are made from plants and are rich in fiber, high quality protein, vitamins, and minerals while on the contrary, western style cakes contains animal fat and are high in calories. 

Which one do you want to try?

Buds of lotus flowers are still tightened.

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June 21, 2011

Glory and Tragedy

Who knows this temple's glorious history? Who knows its tragic events?  Even people in  Nara know little about them.

It is Gango-ji Temple in Naramachi, Nara City. This lovely  temple always welcomes us with seasonal flowers. Now, Harushagiku or coreopsis are in full bloom.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan through Korea in 538 or 552. Over whether Buddhism would be accepted or not, the leading noble clans were divided into two parties; pro-Buddhist and anti-Buddhist. They fought against each other for decades. At last, pro-Buddhist party led by the Soga clan won the war. In 588,  the Soga family built the first Buddhist temple in Asuka (then Capital of Japan) and named it Hoko-ji Temple which is the forerunner of Gango-ji Temple. When Nara became the capital of Japan, the temple was moved to Nara in 718, renamed as Gango-ji Temple and flourished as one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara.
Stone carvings of Jizo Bodhisattva( guardian deity of children and travelers)
and stone memorial  tablets 

When I read "Japan" published by "lonely planet" which  is  the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world , I was startled at the explanation about Gango-ji Temple.
"A small temple that is listed as one of Nara's UNESCO World Heritage sites. Despite its World Heritage listing, it's not particularly interesting and probably only merits a quick glace from outside." Oh, No!! (This book is the 10th edition in 2007. So if the latest edition amended its evaluation of this temple, I am awfully sorry.)
Stone carvings of Jizo Bodhisattva and  small  stone pagodas

Once upon a time, Gango-ji Temple  held  huge precincts and was as magnificent as Kofuku-ji Temple or Todai-ji Temple.

The temple had experienced the rise and fall.  The temple had suffered unfavorable issues and repeated fires. Especially, in 1451, the conflagration caused by an  uprising burned many temple buildings including the main hall. The temple did not have enough strength to rebuild the lost structures. People started to occupy  the land of ruins of the temple. They built  their houses, planted vegetables and made paths in the precincts of the temple. This is how Naramachi was formed. The size of the temple was badly diminished. But the temple holds the oldest history among the all Buddhist temples in Japan.

Among gray roof tiles, there are reddish brown roof tiles which are the oldest roof tiles in Japan, dating back to the 6th century. They have been still protecting the temple structures from the elements.

I found the stone called  "Stop Stone" which means the owner of the land refuses us to go forward over the stone. The stone is placed in front of the path to the private section of the temple. I like the stone better than a notice board  saying "Off-limit". If you see this kind of  stone in a Japanese garden with a tea house,  it is to guide visitors along a prescribed route.

Strange enough, the guardian of this temple has been Thunder Deity,  but over the years people started to mix the images of  Thunder Deity and a demon. The guardian really looks like the demon.

Now the temple is loved  and supported by people. This great little temple with the tranquil and cozy atmosphere is my favorite. How soothing !
Can you see it raining?

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June 14, 2011

Nostalgic Scenery in Rainy Day

Now Japan is in the middle of one-month-long rainy season.  What I associate the most with the rainy season is this scenery where hydrangea flowers are in full bloom in rain and a snail is resting on the leave. Sorry, not the leave, but the stalk. I feel it nostalgic.

Hydrangea flowers are nurturing tiny creatures. 

A baby snail is peeking the world under a leave.

These Hydrangea flowers are in my naighbouring area. The flowers are everywhere and it tells us the flowers are deeply loved by Japanese people.


I happened to see one elderly gardener who was a kind man.  According to him, hydrangea flowers are originated in Japan. They were  introduced to western countries, developed there and reintroduced to Japan as Western Hydrangea or Hortensia.  The native hydrangea flowers in Japan are Big-leaved Hydrangea or  Hydrangea  macropylla.  It is said that the first introduction of Hydrangea  macropylla to Europe  was 1789 when J.Banks, English scholar,  brought them to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew of United Kingdom.
Big-leaved Hydrangea or  Hydrangea  macropylla.
 Western Hydrangea or Hortensia 

The old gardner also told me that at the beginning,  all of the flowers are white and gradually turn blue, pink, purple or more.
What color will you turn?

I'm turning pink!

I am turning purple! 

I was fascinated by their beauty and amazed to find varieties of hydrangea flowers. " All of them are Hydrangea!!"  It is said there are more than 200 different kinds of Hydrangea and I wonder how many I can encounter in my life.
This tiny hydrangea  is the one which Siebold, German physician,
 introduced in his book. He loved Japanese hydrangea
and said to have called them "Otakusa" naming  after his Japanese lover. 

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June 06, 2011

From Country of Deer

Now is the  birth season of the deer in Nara Park. Mothers, new born babies and the pregnant  have been kept in a deer pen of Kasuga Grand Shrine for a while. Sometime in July, these baby deer will debut in the park. Mothers identify their babies with smell, so do not touch but watch them warmly. If human smell transfers to them, mothers will leave them.

A tiny life is standing firm and sucking at the breast. New born babies weight about 3kgs. After 10 minutes to 2 hours, they stand up and start to suck at the breast. Around 20 days after birth, they  start to eat soft grass also.

Babies are sleepy  and grow while sleeping.

Walk five minutes or so from  Kintetsu Nara Station, you will  be in the middle of Nara Park and see the gentle deer roaming here and there. In the park, there are about 1100 deer which are not kept by anybody. They are wild animals. But, their habitat and the world of people are largely and complicatedly overlapped. It has caused many problems or troubles in both sides - people and the deer. So both of them have been giving grand each other little by little and managed to live side by side.

During deer cracker stalls or shops are open, many deer are waiting around them.They never shoplift but bow to visitors to  beg the crackers. Other deer are moving from one feeding ground to another.

Can you guess what  the deer  are doing? They are waiting for a good timing to cross a road. 

This is the most tense moment. I can not help keeping an eye on them until they finish crossing. 

Sadly enough, already the deer habitat has been divided by the roads.

Nara became the capital of Japan in 710. According to legend, the most powerful Shinto deity was invited to protect the new Capital. The deity came all the way from Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture riding on the back of a white deer and descended on the top of Mt. Mikasa. This deity has been enshrined in one of four main shrines in the sanctuary of Kasuga Grand Shrine. All deer in Nara Park are believed to be the descendants of this one white deer and to be the messengers of Kasuga god.
The first Torii gate of Kasuga Grand Shrine

The deity traveled on the back of a white deer to Nara.
(Photo taken from Google)

I love this scene where the deer are going home in early sunset. The most soothing moment for me.

It is said Nara Park is the only one precious  place in the world where the wild animals and people live closely and peacefully  overcoming various issues. That is why the deer in Nara Park have been  designated as a national natural treasure.

My world in Nara is always with the deer.

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