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Nara City and the Kasuga Shrine

We took what should have been an idyllic train journey to and from Nara, the city near Kyoto which once became the effective seat of power and has a deer park with some of the oldest wooden buildings in Japan in the form of Todai-ji dating back to 728 AD, containing the Daibutsu-den supposed to be the largest wooden building on the planet, with giant bronze Buddhas (Daibutsu) and accompanying temples with panoramic views over the town and the nearby Kasuga Shinto Shrine dating back to 768 AD.

However there are pitfalls in the nicest train journey. On the return journey to get from Nara to Kyoto, you have to make a change on the local train at an intermediate station. To make matters completely confusing, the train drew into the platform and opened its doors on both sides. Getting out initially on, I think the central platform, I realized the other train was heading back to Nara, so raced through the carriage to link to the connecting train on the other platform calling to Christine to follow me.

She paused a fraction too long and as she was trying to exit, the carriage doors closed on her day pack trapping her on the side of the carriage, now hanging upside down, screaming as the train began to move out. Fortunately something, or someone, set off the alarm bells and the train lurched to a stop and deposited Christine crying and shouting at me on the platform, commiserated over by a bunch of helpful people.

This chapter covers our brief transit through the town and our visit to the

Nara was before Kyoto the capital and its priests became very powerful before being eclipsed by Kyoto, which in turn gave way to the economic power of Tokyo as capital in 1868 marking the start of the Meiji period. Nijo castle in Kyoto records the council in which the Shogun was compelled finally to utter a decree transferring power back to the emperor in the state room in a set of mannequins.

Posters of an exhibition at the museum

The first time we came to Nara in 1969, it was the Japanese national holiday and we had had to cram in the bullet Shinkanzen train so packed that my infant daughter had to be handed down the carriage over everyone's heads so she could be breast fed. We spent half the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto standing facing our seats because there was too little room to turn around and lift up the carry cot.

When we eventually arrived at Nara station, the station master decided to put us up at his home because he knew all the hotels were booked up and we wouldn't be able to find a place to stay, exemplary of extreme Japanese generosity. We did out best to fulfill the cultural engagement, eating raw fish sushi for the first time, hideouly putting soap in the Japanese bathtub they offered us first turn in, freaking out the grandmother when I emerged naked and didn't know how to close the paper doors and we were barely able to keep a straight face when the station master engaged us in a very intense spontaneous performance of a Noh play with devastating seriousness for which he was an actor. But then again when it was time to breast feed our six-month old daughter the whole family sat around to watch the performance. We met him again for coffee when Arwen was a teenager on the way to Germany in 1984, when we equally foolishly went and ate biscuits we bought which were meant to be used to feed the deer in the park.

Arwen at six months at the Station-master's House 1969 with the grandfather.

Saying goodbye 1969

Votive offering outside the Kasuga Shrine

Kasuga Shrine

Blessing an infant

Scenes from Nara on the way back through town.

Pounding dough for rice cakes.

Scenes from the nightmarish return journey

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