So sorry for the lack of updates over the last…uhh…week! Ron and Jason’s visit is just a few days away now, and I’ve been keeping quite busy with all of the preparations: producing the next version of Dean’s software (for which I added a small section on my projects page, if you care), dealing with the rule-happy Ritsumeikan Kokusaikan (international office), and of course, finishing up the kanji.
Unfortunately by the time I finish I will have missed my target time of four weeks – primarily because to I had to pull out 5 full days from my schedule to work on this software – but I’m up to 1,926 as of tonight, and I have no doubt that I’ll be able to finish by this Sunday, putting me within 5 weeks instead of 4. Ah well, at least I will have still learned them all by the time class starts 🙂
The other reason I fell a bit more behind is that another one of those last minute “opportunity of a lifetime” things popped up that I just couldn’t turn down:
“On the 12th night of Omizutori Matsuri, 11 specially chosen monks mount the steps to the Nigatsudo Hall in Nara with 11 burning fire brands. They march around the balcony, gradually picking up speed until they are running around the altar as fast as is humanly possible, while carrying a flaming torch eight meters in length and 80 kilos in weight. This Ritual of Circumnambulation (Hashiri no Gyoho) is an attempt to catch up with time in heaven. Meanwhile, other monks create a cacophony of noise as they chant, shake rattles, blow conch shells and wave rods and swords – all to ward off evil spirits. Behind a veil other monks pray continuously in a ritual of repentance, their shadows cast ominously against the wall behind them. At the climax of the ceremony the veil falls to reveal the praying monks and at this point the torch-bearing monks begin to swing the blazing torches around. Sparks and burning embers fly off in all directions, showering the crowds below the balcony. It is considered exceptionally good luck to be hit by the embers as they are believed to have power against evil; so rather than avoiding them, people try to catch as many as possible.”
What this fails to mention is that the big event takes place at 2:00am, meaning the only way to witness it is to miss the last train and stay in Nara until 5:00. But hey, you only live once, right?
Wait a minute…my buddy Dylan has already produced a whole post on HIS blog about this exact same night, so rather than re-type EVERYTHING I’m just going to take the lazy approach and copy his right over:
“Harrison, Stuart and I left I-House II at 3:30 in the afternoon. Now, it had been sunny and warm all day here in Kyoto, but the minute we stepped outside it started snowing. So we grabbed hats etc….to put under our hoodies. That will be important here in a minute, so stay with me.
We rode to pick up Justin, and proceeded to Kyoto Train Station. Then we spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where we could park without paying. The answer: in front of a “hygiene place.” Don’t ask. So we got on a train headed for Nara at about 4:45. Interesting side fact: one can in fact, travel from Kyoto to Nara for half-price by purchasing a children’s ticket and then going through the ticket gate with a large group…I’ve heard. I would not ever, EVER do something like that. Because it’s wrong. No matter how broke I am. Again, I have heard this. Never done it.
Anyway, we got to Nara where we met up with Miho, a friend of Justin’s who lives in Nara. She showed us around and we passed through the nigh impenetrable wall of deer (yes, deer) to reach Nara park. At this point it was starting to get dark, but we made it to the entrance of the temple. We got there at about 6:00 or so. After an hour and a half of waiting in line we got moving and were up to the temple in time to see the priests waving about the lucky embers. That part ended at about 8:30, so we had some time to kill until the big show at 1:30AM. Miho took us back into town and we ate a restaurant called Gusto. Nice family place, pretty cheap for Japan, drink bar without security cameras.
So then we headed back to Nara Park, got there about 10:45. OK, three hours to kill….We got to go wherever we wanted to at the main part of the temple because there was no one there. The fact that the hike up to the temple was all uphill (Travel Note: All good temples are built on hills or mountains) meant that we got a nice panoramic view of Nara. It was another of those times when I realized that I won’t be able to stay away from this country for long, and I wasn’t the only one. Stuart reaffirmed his commitment to getting home and graduating so that he can come back here for good.
Important point: It was very, very, very, very cold at this point. We stood wherever the wind seemed not to be blowing, buying hot drinks from vending machines to keep our hands from freezing off. Hats, gloves, and hoodies were nowhere near enough to keep us warm. We ended up going in the temple to watch some fantastic chanting and ritual purifications. It was awesome, and slightly warmer than outside. At about 3:15 the show really got started, and it was amazing, of course. If you ever get a chance to see it, do so.
We got back to the Nara train station at about 4:20 AM, and since Miho was seemingly dead on her feet we sent her on her way, with our thanks. We got on a train bound for home at 5:20, and made it back to the anagram-lover’s toKyo at 6:30 AM. Then we found our bikes and started the treacherous ride home.”
Thanks, Dylan! You sure saved me some time by typing that whole thing out for me 😉
Because I was still basking in the glory of having received my camcorder (and because using a flash would’ve been exceedingly rude) I actually didn’t take a single picture that night – instead I took about 15 minutes worth of video, including the incredibly soothing chants. However, due to time constraints I won’t be able to edit/post the video for some time. To populate this post with pictures I tapped into some of my older, unposted albums: some of these pictures are from Arashiyama, and others are just random shots taken during my kanji study breaks.
I guess that’s about all for now. This very well might be my last entry until around April 1st, at which point I should have a zillion new pictures from Tokyo, onsen in Niko, the Sumo tournament, Chiba, Yokohama, and who knows where else!
So, take care until then everyone 🙂