Udaji Ouda michi no eki is an early riser. Piped, tinkly music starts just before 7am.
I am not sorry to leave, as we head off into Nara city. This is a pleasant drive along R. 370 and R. 80 that turns suddenly exciting.
It becomes very narrow indeed for a very long stretch. So much so that, I was relieved to meet something coming the other way. Even though reversing was necessary to pass each other, at least it was reassuring to know there was a way out. Once in Nara, we wander through the deer, admiring the temples and traces of Koyo (colourful autumn leaves). The leaves seem to be a poor show everywhere this year. Probably a combination of severe typhoons and unseasonably warm weather. Today, however, it is cold and damp.
Shin-Yakushi Temple 新薬師寺
First, we went to view the magnificent image of the Medicine Buddha housed at Shin-Yakushi-ji. This Buddha is guarded by the 12 heavenly generals who double as the 12 birth year signs. I am not sure how that works but it is probably an example of intertwining new religion and old folk belief, like mistletoe at Christmas.
These 12 generals are ceramic, not the more usual carved wood like Jion-ji in Yamagata, and date from the 8th. Century. As does everything else. This temple is a little off the main tourist track but worth the effort.
＊Shin-Yakushi-ji ; 600 yen / adult
Todaiji Nandaimon and Nigatsu-do 東大神南大門、二月堂
From Shin Yakushi-ji we make for Nara Park and wander down to Kofukuji temple which has a beautiful five-storied pagoda. This temple is more than 1300 years old but Chu-kondo, one of the main buildings, was recently rebuilt. It is large, very conspicuous in its newness and there was a long queue of people waiting to enter so we didn’t.
Of the more major sites, the superb Nio-sama at Todaiji temple Nandaimon were on our list. The Niosama on the left is ‘A-gyo’. A-gyo has an open mouth and expresses the beginning of universe. On the right is ‘Un-gyo’, with a closed mouth, expressing the end of universe.
Walking on we spent time at Nigatsudo, which is an interesting place. This temple holds a very dramatic fire festival (Shuni-e) in February. The charred bamboo poles lying around, evidence of this.
Sangatsu-do (Hokke-do) 三月堂（法華堂）
Todaiji Sangatsu-do was also fascinating. This is the oldest building in the Todaiji complex. The collection of figures housed here are well worth seeing, 10 big statues which made in 8th.century in the middle of main building and it is not as crowded as more popular temples.
From there we walked to Kasuga Taisha Shrine and back down through the park, full of deer, in the dusk. D. thought it tacktless to sell the deer’s horns in the souvenir shops right in front of deer.
Lots of school trip kids were still feeding the deer crispy crackers in the dark.
＊Sangatsu-do ; 600 yen / adult
Once back at the car we crawl through the rush hour traffic to Resuty Karako・Kagi michi no eki. Another catchy moniker. As the signage was poor, we drove past this very new michi no eki. It might have been fatigue of course.
After a U-turn at a convenient convenience store, we drove into the car park that was strictly delineated.
It is an open space so feels rather exposed, but it is flat has an excellent toilet and they provide rubbish bins. It has my vote.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.