Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 47: Nara and Horyu-Ji

Monday, August 10, 2009
Rode 30km (18 miles) from Nara to Horyu-Ji and back. Spent a second night in Nara in order to wait out a typhoon that was passing through.

The rain fell steadily outside, as Sho and I debated what to do today. A typhoon was barreling along the eastern coast of Japan, and we decided to stay a second night in Nara, rather than bike towards it on our planned route. We wanted to visit the World Heritage Site Horyu-Ji, an ancient temple complex and the oldest wooden structure in Japan. It would require riding about 30km (18 miles) in the driving rain, but we decided to go for it.
"We've been wet plenty of times on this trip. Might as well get wet one more time," Sho reasoned, as we rolled out into the mess.
We found our way to Horyu-Ji, where Sho played "see how far I can jump" from the top of the temple's broad entry steps. He also played "see how wet I can make my hair from this stream of water pouring off the temple roof," and I appreciated the fact that we could enjoy most of the sights from the outside. We were so thoroughly soaked that I would have been embarrassed to track wet footprints inside.
After we had our fill of temple touring, we dried off enough to have lunch in a nearby udon noodle restaurant. Sho folded the thin, rectangular paper chopsticks holder into a triangle, and we played "football" on our table until the food arrived. This is one of Sho's favorite ways to pass time in a restaurant, and he has become skilled at flicking the paper ball just to the edge of the table without falling off, and thus scoring a touchdown. His field goal kicking has also gotten quite good, but can be a problem when the ball flies into the lap of people sitting at an adjoining table...
On our ride back to Nara, I accidentally entered a bypass that transformed our annoying, but acceptably busy road into an alarming and unacceptably dangerous highway. I realized my mistake about 100 yards in, and we carefully waited for a break in the traffic zooming by, turned our bikes around and walked against traffic as close to the guard rail as we could.
"Whoops," I said, once we were safely off the bypass.
"That was not good, Daddy," Sho keenly observed.
We returned to Todai-Ji Temple in Nara to re-visit the deer Sho had courted the day before. The greedy, assertive beasts were pleased to see their generous friend return and chased Sho all over the temple grounds, gobbling up the pellets he dropped over his shoulder while running and giggling.
The towering Buddha inside Todai-Ji Temple is a wonder to behold, a gargantuan statue that is barely contained by the cavernous temple. 15 meters (45 feet) tall, it is Japan's largest bronze statue. The main hall holding it was built in the year 745 and, according to my guide book, is still the world's largest wooden building. Throngs of visitors surrounded me as I stared up at the Buddha's meditating form looming over us all. Its serene visage was mesmerizing, and I contemplated the passage of time, the absurd oddity of our existence, life's meaning and nothingness for about a minute before Sho pulled me over to "check out this awesome thing I found." One of the temple's attractions is a broad column with a relatively small square hole running through it. Those who can crawl through the tight space are said to enjoy good luck. Sho stood in line behind other kids and skinny adults, then made it through easily.
"Now I'm all set!" he rejoiced after passing this impressive Buddhist test.
The rain had tapered off by the time we rode back to our hotel, where we changed out of our damp clothes. As we did, I decided that I'd had enough of my beard and mustache. I hadn't shaved since we started riding on June 25 and had grown a full, if not particularly impressive, set of hair on my face. Early on, it had represented a kind of letting go from my professional identity, a celebration of the freedom to explore the world as an adventurer. But over time, I grew tired of the intrusive mess of hair, finding it less and less comfortable as the weather warmed. Today, I'd finally had enough.
I used a small pair of scissors from my medical kit to whittle down the tangled fuzz. After 30 minutes of work, it was short enough for me to apply shaving cream and start to work with a disposable razor I'd bought at a convenience store. I got a fair number of annoying cuts in the process, but it felt good to get rid of the rat's nest.
Sho had grown used to seeing me with a beard and mustache and gave a surprised shout when I emerged from the bathroom. After contemplating my new clean-shaven look, he concluded, "You look stupid and cool. 50% stupid. 50% cool."
We balanced out today's cultural experiences with visits to 2 game rooms after dinner. Sho observed that playing in the game rooms was "almost as fun as being chased by deer."


  1. pdescloux@optonline.netAugust 12, 2009 at 5:57 PM

    I was wondering about the typhoon which they're reporting on back in the states.

    Good luck,

    Paul D

  2. Thanks for the "before and after" photos! I agree with you, you're probably not a beard and mustache kind of guy (despite your dad)....

    I agree with half of Sho's assessment of your clean-shaven look (but will leave it up to you to guess which half I'm agreeing with!).