I knew my way, a big help, over to the Nara Koen, the walled park of the Todai-ji Temple. You enter through Nandai-mon, a huge rectangular gate over 62 feet high, dating from 1199, about the time Beowulf may have been composed. Beyond the monumental opening one looks across lawn to the even more monumental Diabutou-den, the largest wooden structure, it is claimed, in the world. It is also high with huge beams. The front door framed the dark body and face of the Daibutsu, a 53-foot bronze Buddha with his hand raised in the Fear Not mudra. Emperor Shomu commissioned him in 741. The casting of the statue was part of the Emperor’s attempt to unite Japan. Union requires symbols. A bronze casting of this size is an enormous engineering feat for a civilization.
There are a number of other statues, all on a grand scale inside the temple. Some stand, as do Tibetan deities on the bodies of animals or demons. One frowns at you, balanced on a beast with a brush in his right hand. His name is Koumokuten. I thought he must be one of the Four Heavenly Kings but they all have weapons, not a brush among them. But he is one of four statues.
I was suffering from iconographic dissolution. There was a gold Kannon to the Buddha’s left with gold rays about her. I spent a lot of time here, as it is a lofty interesting structure that absorbs people well. There were lots of Indian tourists, having a good time and photographing each other.
Many children of various nationalities were having a giggle wriggling through a hole in the base of a pillar, which, if you can wriggle to the other side, proves you are something or other.
I climbed up to Ni-garsu-do, uncrowded and pleasant but I missed nearby San-gatsu-do and its Kannon. If I hadn’t been traveling alone that wouldn’t have happened. The other person would have caught my slip; also as one person’s adventurousness flags, the other’s quickens, creating a balance.
I then went in search of Kaidan-in. But first I went to the small museum that has a fantastic Kannon, 9th century, many armed and gentle faced in wood. There was also a Bodhisattva with a Tang dynasty face. One could see it was a stranger among its fellows.
Then on to the Kaiden-in Temple, not easily found. My query was brushed irritably aside when I asked a deer-cracker seller for help. Then I tried a Frenchman, who tried his GPS, which had never heard of the Kaiden-in. I moved quickly on because I could see that his command of his GPS was going to become a masculinity issue. An issue of this sort can eat up a half hour. I did find the temple down a lane where there was a garden serving teas, houses with tile roofs peaking over their walls, that ended in a mossy, grass-sprouting stair. It climbed to the hall where ordinations used to occur. At the four corners are clay images of the Four Heavenly Kings.
Rather than going to the garden I went to a Starbucks for lunch—chicken-root-veg-wrap, potato chips, a serious chocolate something and a cappuccino. Then home having walked 11 kilometers.
Over breakfast I met a delightful couple, he Spanish, she Dutch with their six month old. I think people who travel with babies are outrageously courageous. We had a good talk before they went down to the supermarket because their baby likes that supermarket’s baby food best.
I spent the day walking. I was at first way off course. Stopping two English cyclists I asked, “Do you know where you are?”
“Yes,” they replied and showed me on their map. I now knew where I was.
I walked a while and then asked at a hostel also picking up their flyer. I was now close to where I wanted to be and stopped at a museum of a family’s house. It was airy with small gardens between rooms. I should think it would be cold in winter but lovely in summer.
I picked up a map and more instructions. I was now beginning to come across small shops. I bought some abalone buttons at one. Being unsure of my directions I stopped the next young man I came across who also turned out to be English. When I asked him, “Do you know where you are?” he replied, “I don’t think so.” So we huddled over the map and figured it out. I told him about the museum that was close adding, “ I think it would by nice to live in but if you lived in it you would have to live by the rules and I couldn’t do that.”
We parted company and not far away I found Kai, a complex of shops where I bought some exquisitely delicate, hand-blown glass beads. I put together a necklace and the girl strung them for me. I had lunch next door for 13 dollars, a pork cutlet, with a bit of omelet, black rice, a cup of soup and potato salad.
Then I hunted down Yu Nakagawa, which sells beautiful linens but is the sort of shop you have to visit every few weeks to see what they have. They had nothing for me. I asked about the linen fabric they were selling by the meter but she said it wasn’t suitable for wearing. They sent me to another shop but it wasn’t the hand printed blue and white fabric I was looking for.
While asking my way I found a Turkish woman, her baby stomach crawling about on the floor, selling things I’d seen in Istanbul.
That night I looked at my left eye, the one that was operated on over a year ago, because it felt irritated and found the white was wrapped in a sort of white blanket. I thought first I would find a doctor in Nara. Then I thought I would wait until Kobe where I might have a contact. Then I got a Skype from my friend V who worked with the top eye surgeons in NYC. She had a name for it, conjunctiva, not conjunctivitis, and said it was common.
I ran into the rules twice that day. While on line for my breakfast croissant at the Deli France I saw a young American woman with two new, canary yellow suitcases, whose partner was running back and forth between her and the store saying, “There are doughnuts, croissants, all kinds of Danish.” I said to her, “You can come in with the cases if you’re discrete.” She looked at me, shaking her head. “Have you been intimidated by the rule culture?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied with round eyes and a smile. They never did come in.
Still worried about my eye, despite V’s reassurances, I decided to call my NYC ophthalmologist. The elderly mind moves slowly. Dr. O. responded immediately, asking for a picture of my eye. Taking a picture of your eye with your I-Phone is not easy. Besides that I took, in my nervousness, a picture of the wrong eye. I was scared.
I was leaving for Kobe because with the rigidity of the Japanese I couldn’t face rearranging hotel reservations in Kobe and Nara. I went to the train station, took the train to Osaka and then changed for the train for Kobe. I took a taxi to my hotel where I left my bags. They weren’t going to let me into the room until 3 anyway. I had Goggled hospitals in Kobe and found the university hospital.
As I was in my sumptuous lobby trying to gather my wits, I heard an Australian woman, middle-aged, next to me say something about traveling alone. I turned to her, poor unsuspecting creature, and said, “I need to talk to someone. I am about to take a taxi to a hospital. This is what it’s about.” I explained. She and her friend were reassuring about Japanese health care. I got a taxi.
The university hospital, or at least the section I arrived at, was closed on Saturday and Sunday. I did find a reception desk with a man behind it. I had to be adhesively persistent, I even lassoed a passing young man in a navy blue suit into helping me—but at last the receptionist Xeroxed and then scissored out what looked like an ad with an address and phone number. I explained that I had no phone, a half-truth—so he called, gave them my name, even more difficult for the Japanese than for the Spanish. Accompanied by my suited young man I went out to a taxi. He saw me into it, explained things to the driver and said a formal goodbye. The driver dropped me at the foot of an alley where I could see a green cross above a door half way down the alley.
Inside the door was a room largely occupied by people with grey hair.
The young woman behind the desk bravely pronounced my name and was appropriately impressed by my birthdate. The doctor asked me to speak English slowly. I understand this problem. He took my pressure, the main factor if you have glaucoma, admired the result of my trabeculectomy performed at Barraquer Hospital in Barcelona. I love how doctors admire each other’s work. He handed me on to a younger man who did other tests and was much more sympathetic. The result of it all was that I was fine and I had a new bottle of drops for dry eye.
I flagged down a taxi, got to the hotel and was impatient with the bellboy who wanted me to admire my room’s view. I just wanted to collapse. When he left I did.