This Sunday was our first field trip for our Art in the Kansai Area class to Horyuu-ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. It houses many culturally important artifacts that we looked at in class so it was a great opportunity to see them in real life. The temple complex was big with a classic layout of an early Buddhist temple including a pagoda, a golden hall (kondou) where the main worshipping events take place, and a koudou (lecture hall), which has now become a museum. For me, going to the temple and seeing it as it is now, it doesn’t hit me that the complex has been around for about 1,000 years. This also shows how deeply Buddhism, along with other religions, is deeply rooted in Japanese society. It is also culturally valuable that these temples are often rebuilt to reflect the rich history as well as art that I often found lacking in such a young country as the United States.
After the class trip ended, we were free to go about the area as we wished, so a friend and I decided to check out Nara because we heard that a fire ceremony that was happening throughout the week at night at Todai-ji, another big temple. One of the main attractions at Nara is of course the deers. However, since it was quite late in the evening when we got there, all the deer seemed full and didn’t come chasing after us like some of our friends had warned us. Nevertheless, we were able to feed some and it was the first time that I was able to touch a deer even though there are plenty of them in Oregon. Then we headed for Todai-ji. Even though we weren’t sure of the exact place the festival was happening, the mass of people all going toward a direction gave us a hint. The ceremony is called Shuni-e where giant torches made of pine are lit on fire and walked along the balcony of the main building where the ashes could fall on the viewers on the ground below. Those who are hit by the ashes are considered to be blessed and despite the freezing cold, a lot of Japanese showed up for the festival. This was the first time I’ve seen so many Japanese gathered in a place, it reminded of the Fourth of July firework show back at home, and I felt glad that I was able to be a part of such a special tradition in Japan.