Up until now I have written about a range of walks. However as I named this blog “A walk and a Lark” I thought I should add some more things that count as larks. 🙂 One of my favourite things about living in Japan was the amazing variety of matsuri (festivals). There are festivals in most small towns and villages. Cities, like the place I lived, Nara, often have a whole range of matsuri for each season. Tokae matsuri takes place from the 5th-14th August each year in Nara park. I moved to Japan as a Coordinator for International Relations on the JET Programme. We all arrived in Nara in early August, so this was one of the first matsuris that we got to see.
Basically Nara park and the surrounding area are covered with tens of thousands of candles during Tokae matsuri. You can pay to light a candle for yourself, and then the money you give will go towards paying for more candles the next year. Each time I have visited, the displays have been set out differently so you can never guess how everything will look. In 2007 my friend Kendra and I showed a group of newly arrived (and really lovely) Assistant Language Teachers around the festival. We all dressed up in yukata for the occasion. We even tied our own obi (those bows you wear around the yukata.)
One of the nicest places in Nara is Nigatsu-do. It is a beautiful building perched up a hill behind Todaiji temple’s main hall. It has stunning views over the whole city, so it a perfect place to watch the sunrise or sunset. During the Tokae matsuri it is also the perfect place to look down to Nara park at the thousands of candles. While we were up there, one of Kiwi blokes proposed to his girlfriend, and she said yes! It was so romantic and perfect!
The best time to visit, is the final two days of the festival on the 13th and 14th of August. Those evenings, from 7pm to 9pm the entrance fee to Todaiji Temple is suspended and the grounds are lit up with thousands of lamps. The windows of Todaiji’s Buddha Hall are also opened, so you can see the great Buddha’s face outside the hall. This only happens once or twice a year, so if you’re in Nara on the right day – definitely go and see this!!
On the days when Todaiji is lit up (14th-15th August), you can also walk up to the gorgeous Kasuga Taisha. This shrine holds the Mantoro event. The way up to the shrine is lined with hundreds of stone lanterns. This is one of the few days a year when all the lanterns are actually lit. Once you get inside the shrine, it is even more impressive. There are hundreds more bronze lamps that light up the bright red shrine beautifully. Mantoro means “ten-thousand lanterns.” I am not sure if there are actually 10,000, but there are enough for a pretty beautiful sight!
Lastly, no post about Nara would be complete without a few photos of the deer! If you have never heard of Nara, you should know that the Eastern half of the city is a very large park, where 10,000 deer live. Most people that visit the city come to make friends with some deer! There are lots of stalls selling shika senbei (rice crackers for deer, made from straw.) If you hold up a shika senbei to a deer, they will bow to you, persuading them to feed them. They also sometimes chase tourists if they decide bowing is too formal!!
I saw some deers tucking into some fallen toffee apples, can you imagine a deer with a sugar rush!? Eep!
Also on the way home I saw a cute little tanuki close to the cinema.
Please excuse my slightly rubbish photos! I took these back in 2007, when my camera was rubbish and unable to cope well with night shots! I did have some better photos, but I lost them when my external hard drive died. (sob)
If you like the sound of Tokae festival and want to find out more, the website for the festival is here (in Japanese) Or if you google “燈花会” You’ll be able to see lots more amazing images.
Do you like the idea of me adding some posts about Japanese matsuri’s? Please let me know if you think this is an interesting idea! I’d especially like to write about the naked man festival and the penis festival...but I thought I should start off with something a little less mad!