Nara, 11 August 1893

Today we started with a visit to the Imperial treasury which strangely is not located in Tokyo but here instead. The Mikado is said to usually keep the key to it in his own hands. What one might usually consider a treasure room, namely a fire and theft resistant room in which valuables, especially jewels and gems, are kept, nothing like this can be found here. We just see a wooden barn-like building standing on poles, that totally reminds me of the „hay barns“ in the wet meadows of Pinzgau and Pongau. Within this building whose purpose is more characteristic of a museum are objects of sometimes important historic and artistic value in closets. Here there are masks, brocade and silk dresses that were once used for ceremonies, furthermore swords, arrows, bows and gorgeous saddlery, then objects of daily life such as mirrors, spoons, full cutlery sets, finally jewels made out of nephrite, bringer of luck, and besides many other things, incredibly valuable Kakemonos.

Not far from the treasury is the greatest peculiarity of Nara, that is the colossal statue of Amitabha (Nara-no-daibutsu, that is the great Buddha) in the Todai-ji, zu sehen. This temple was built by Shomu-Tenno, the 46th Mikado, and completed in 750 but has a newer different form now after repeated destructions by fire. The exterior relations of the building we could not fully see as they were just making repairs for which they had erected scaffolds at the facade. The temple hall into which the visitor enters without having to remove the shoes contains the colossal statue of Buddha that surprises by its giant dimensions, an imposing proof of the Japanese skill in terms of metallurgy. The statue is the largest Buddha representation in the country at a height of 162 m and shows Buddha sitting on an open lotus flower that has been produced out of 500 t of copper-rich bronze at a width of about 2 cm. On the leaves one can still recognize the signs of engraved figures of gods. Behind the head that seems to be darker colored than the rest rises a glittering gilded wooden halo whose rays branch out far in all directions and on which six statues of Buddhist saints are balancing. To the right of the Buddha statue is one of a holy being, Kokuso Bosatsu, to the left one of the almighty Kwan-on, both 5,5 m high and nevertheless tiny in comparison to the huge Buddha. The latter had been strongly gilded too at the beginning but this decoration has been lost during its turbulent existence.

Lke the temple the Daibutsu itself owes its existence to Shomu-Tenno, who had the creation of the statue under his personal direction only undertaken after an oracle of the consulted sun goddess Amaterasu and a dream about this had calmed him that the other gods would not be jealous about the planned honoring of Buddha. In the year 749 the work was completed which is more remarkable for its height than its artistic value. About  a bit more than 100 years later the poor Buddha lost its head but received a new one a short time afterwards. A fire in 1180 melted the head and it was replaced again 15 years later only to perish once more in the fire of 1567. A private person then helped Buddha to replace his head again so that the god has since been in complete command of his more than 1100 year old body. The more than 300 year old head looks out into the world with a happy smile without having lost his good mood that he had been exposed to the full rigors of the weather for more than one and a half centuries after the last fire.

A thick dust layer covered the image which we pointed out to the senior priest who replied that this was due to the pilgrims that carried in the dust but at least declared that the god would be better kept clean in the future. This would improve all of the temple space in my view as the room was really completely deprived of its religious character.

In the temple there is a formal exhibition of the interesting objects that are presented in closets and constitute, in part, the treasure. All kinds of wooden images of the gods, valuable reliquaries, music instruments, weapons and armor, masks, ancient manuscripts and maps in scrolls etc. can be seen in a colorful variety. Merchants from Nara had assembled here in the safe presumption that I would be willing to buy various objects, so that under Buddha’s eyes a vivid trade soon developed that was continued on the exterior of the temple at the nearby shops that contained many artistic objects.

We did not miss to pay a visit to the huge bell that had been cast in 732 out of 36 t of metal that hangs in a massive tower and is a part of Todai-ji. The mammoth that is similar to the one in the Chion temple in Kyoto was beat in our honor with the bobbin and is distinguished by the purity of the deep clanging sound.

In the holy grove that has made Nara in part famous rises in the shadow of ancient Japanese cedars and cypresses one temple after the next with extended associated buildings. A pleasing silence reigns in the area of the dignified tree giants but that is not due to the earnestness of the matching style in the grove but instead it exudes an air of friendliness and hilarity.  As everywhere the light colors of the temples pierces the leaves. The temples are the opposite of dark houses of prayer. The rare understanding of the building artists for the correct location of their works is proved by the charming views upon the lovely landscape.

Shedding many drops of sweat we climbed countless steps of a long stone star to a temple situated at the highest level called Ni-gwatsu-do or temple of the second month that seems to stick to the hill on which it had been built as it seems to rise out on its poles from the hill. Built already in 751, the current building dates only back 200 years and contains an image of wonder of the goddess Kwan-on, which is said to have exuded warmth like a living body when it was found. A confusing number of metal votive lanterns hang in front of the temple and produces a strange attraction to the building.

Now we wandered in the avenues of the varied small votive temples that border the path under high dark trees and arrived at the Shinto sanctuary in red and white color called San-gwatsu-do or temple of the third month whose priests always clad in white greeted us. Currently quite desolate, this temple is remarkable by a row of original small side temples dedicated to Inari. As a quality that deserves to be mentioned is that in this holy grove priests of various cults act peacefully side by side sot that they imitate the very good understanding in which numerous gods live together in harmony.

We quickly used a break during the visit of the temple to buy sword guards whose fabrications once was very famous and had produced many master pieces of invaluable quality.

Thousands of votive pillars encase the path that the djinn rickshaws took to the other temples. The pillars resemble one another almost completely Due to their age they are mostly covered in moss and hold the name of the donor on the base and contain space in the upper part under a stone roof for the placement of a lantern. Often these marks of faith are grouped in four to five rows one behind the other and only rarely alternate with a beautiful bronze figure one of which especially caught my eye as it showed a water-spewing deer at natural size and in a very elegantly formed lines.

At a Shinto sanctuary called Kasuga-no-mija we stopped. This building rises in noble proportions and produces a very vivid effect by its gleaming red bizarrely formed metal votive lanterns whose numbers nobody has yet counted and that are in a captivating contrast to the calm green of the majestic Japanese cedars. Impressive is the rich temple treasure assembled over centuries as this Kami hall reaches back to the distant past as it is said to have been built already in 767. It is dedicated to the ancestor of the house of Fujiwara, the Shinto god Ama-no-kojane and his wife as well as two mythical creatures.

At the end of an avenue bordered by more than 3000 stone and bronze lanterns lies the Waka temple dedicated to the son of Ama-no-kojane in which an ancient dance called Kagura was performed in our honor by three priests with flutes and drums, supported by a matron who played a Koto while lying down, who produced the orchestral music. The youthful female dancers who had been especially educated for these ritual performances wore wide red pants, white overcoats and gaze-like coats. The black hair hung freely down the back , only loosely held together by a golden thread, a crest of artificial flowers decorated the front, the face was defaced by thick paint in white, the lips were glittering in a flashy red. The dance consisted of  rhythmic steps forwards and backwards. The girls accompanied this graceful swaying soon with tree twigs soon by small bells or fans but still made an impression of mechanically moving figures.

During the dinner in the clubhouse a highly skilled juggler put on a performance which ended with some clown sketches enacted in conjunction with some companions in which the Japanese version of the „dumb Auguste“ was not missing.

In the afternoon we started our return trip to Kyoto. In Osaka the nearly one hour journey from the station at Minatoku to that of Umeda offered plenty of opportunities for the huge crowds that were intent of seeing the Western strangers.

At 8 o’clock in the evening we returned to Kyoto and found our long path to our journey blocked by a densely packed crowd and festively illuminated by lampions as during our first arrival in the city.

Links

  • Location: Kyoto, Japan
  • ANNO – on 11.08.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera „Die Hugenotten“.

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