Heijokyo Palace & Kofukuji Temple

Trip Start Apr 02, 2006
Trip End May 17, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel Toyo

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nara has just experienced 1300 years since the Japanese capital was relocated from Fujiwara Palace to Heijokyo Palace (aka Nara City later) and has 1300th anniversary this year. To be candid, I didn't expect much from this festival, because most of the events looked family-oriented to a solo traveller like me and the rebuilt palace looked very new and unattractive. 

I took a long distance train from Nagoya at 11:40 and transferred at Matsusaka and Yamato Yagi, arriving at Yakushiji Temple in Nishinokyo at 15:00. The temple was located on my way to Heijokyo Palace, so I dropped by the temple for a minute. The temple has two towers, the east tower and the west tower. The east tower is the only original building remaining in the temple, although it is scheduled to be refurbished this autumn. The west tower was burnt and rebuilt in 1981 with the "original colour and original height". The two towers were similar in colour and height, when they were originally built in 730, but they look very different now. You can feel the flux of time in comparing the two towers. Regrettably, I felt that the 800 yen admission ticket was a bit pricey, considering the very poor special exhibitions of the east tower and Genjo Sanzo Hall. It took only a few minutes to see the paintings of Ikuo Hirayama in the hall and one minute to see the inside of the east tower (you cannot even enter the east tower!). The only advantage was an funny talk of a monk in the main hall (only in Japanese). The main hall houses a Yakushi Nyorai statue and Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu statues. Buddhist statues fall into 4 categories, Nyorai, Bosatsu, Myouo, and Tembu in the order of class from highest to lowest. Yakushi Nyorai is the highest-ranking doctor and two Bosatsus are his assistants. According to the monk, Emperor Tenmu started building the temple to pray for his wife (aka Emperor Jito later) with a serious disease, but he had died before the construction was completed. Then his wife took over the throne and completed the temple complex.

JR Tokai Commercial Video - Yakushiji Temple
"Two ages coexist side by side here. One is the west tower, which came back to life from 1300 years ago. The other is the east tower, which has survived for 1300 years. I wonder how grand an upward view of the two towers at the same time is. Or rather, it is the wishes of the people for 1300 years that I am looking at. Now is the time to go back to Nara."
The second destination was Heijokyo Palace. I took a free shuttle bus from Yamato Saidaiji Station to the festival venue. Suzakumon Gate was close to the bus terminal and I luckily happened to see the guard close the gate, but the gate itself was like a display and we could't get close to and through the gate over the fence around it. The rebuilt gate was very clean and hard to admire as a historical monument. Still the gate lit up at dusk was awe-inspiring and worth taking a picture. Heijyokyo History Museum was close to the gate, but I once missed it and proceed for the Imperial Audience Hall (Daigyokuden Hall). The admission ticket for the museum cost ¥500 and it was all of my expenditure in the Palace. The museum seemed available only to Japanese or Japanese language speakers, because of the language limitation of the exhibitions. I saw some foreign visitors in the festival venue, but I believed they needed an audio guide (available for ¥500). In front of the museum, there was a replica of a diplomatic ship for envoys to Tang Dynasty, China. Japan sent some envoys in Nara Period to have a diplomatic relationship with China and imported different Chinese cultures. The feature of the museum is three short films on the Tang Envoys and Heijyokyo Palace in the large-scale theaters. The Imperial Audience Hall was massive, but it had been already closed when I arrived. Instead, I caught a glimpse of Tempyo Pagent in which people in the clothes of Nara Period proceeded in front of the hall. It was a pity that the procession was very short, finishing in five minutes. Most of the artworks displayed around the venue also seemed meaningless to me, although the sphere art in front of the Suzakumon Gate (See a pic) harmonized with the lit-up gate. The candles placed around the hall were beautiful, but not so impressive to me, because I experienced the same thing in the Nara Park a few years ago. Incidentally, the similar event can also be seen in the Osaka Castle. All in all, I was not much satisfied with the festival, but its popularity seemingly showed the success of the festival.

The 1300th Anniversary of Nara Heijyokyo Capital Video
The video is not about the festival, but introduction of all the attractions of Nara.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara Video
The main topic of the video is how the Giant Buddha of Todaiji Temple was built. It is sure that   the statue is the most historic Buddhist monument of Japan.
The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara JNTO Website
Some attractions of Nara were registered as a UNESCO's World Heritage Site in 1998. The sites include Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, Gangoji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Heijyokyu Palace Ruins, and Kasugayama Primeval Forest.
Anyway, after Heijokyo Palace, I headed for Tennohji, Osaka, where I had planned to stay. My hotel was Hotel Toyo located a few minutes' walk from Dobutsuen-Mae Station on Midosuji Line. The cheapest single room with a fan and TV cost only JPY1500, which was the most reasonable hotel I have ever stayed in Japan. The room was 3 tatami mats size without a bathroom, but clean and comfortable. The downside was limited availability of only one communal bathroom ( toilet is separated) and you may have to wait for your turn to take a bath. The hotel was very close to Spa World (a discount ticket is available at the hotel) and a Family Mart convenience store and there were some inexpensive hotels around there ranging from 1200 to 2000 yen nightly.        

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