Winter in Japan – day 8

Ever since this trip was booked there was one day I was looking forward to more than any of the others and it was today.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting Nara. I love the traditional gardens, the Buddhist Todai-ji temple and the Shinto Kasuga Taisha Shrine, but today was a special visit. 

February 3rd is Setsubun Mantoro, an 800 year old ceremony celebrated by Shinto and Buddhist temples across Japan to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring. As I’m here to try to capture something of the Japanese culture of the four seasons this was always going to be a special day for me.

I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed!

The day began around noon with a walk to Namba station and the train to Kintetsu-Nara. 

After a lunch of tempura and rice it was a pleasant stroll to the Kofukuji Temple and its five story Pagoda which was already set-up for the celebrations later in the day.

From Kofukuji, a short walk to the traditional gardens of Yoshikien allowed me to take some photos of this lovely garden in a new season. I’ve now managed to photograph the Water Garden, the Moss Garden and the Flower Garden of Yoshikien in summer, autumn and winter and I’m already looking forward to seeing this beautiful garden in spring. 

After Yoshikien it was another brief walk to Todai-ji Temple, once one of the Seven Great Powerful temples of Japan and home to the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutso.

There is a lot of work being done on the exterior of the temple at the moment, probably as it’s a relatively quiet season for visitors, so there was only limited opportunities for photos of the temple from a distance but I managed to grab a few inside the temple using a lens I didn’t have on my previous visits so I’m looking forward to having a look at those images when I get home. 

On the way in a family of Chinese tourists asked me to take a group photo of them in front of the temple. The small boy in this image asked me and then later thanked me in perfect English, which made me slightly embarrassed that the limit of my Chinese is yes, no, thank you and my name is John! :/ 

(Note to self: work on my Chinese when I get home!) 

After a walk around Todai-ji it was a short walk to Kasuga Taisha Shrine for a relaxed wander around the forest before the festival began at 6pm, just after sunset.

Around 5pm people began to gather around the main Shrine and as the sun set a Shinto ceremony began accompanied by drums and other traditional instruments. 

By this time all 3000 stone lanterns had been lit and the smell of incense filled the forest. 

The next hour or so was spent wandering around the forest photographing the lanterns and shrines.  It was cold and dark and should have felt miserable but it was such a privilege to experience this ceremony that I never noticed the cold. The photos on this blog were taken with my phone and don’t really do justice to the atmosphere of the place tonight but I’ll post some from my camera when I get back.

For the photographers out there, I shot the entire evening on an f1.8 lens so I’m hoping the final images will be quite atmospheric with a very shallow depth of field. Watch this space to find out! 

Tonight was great and on the walk back to Kintetsu-Nara for the train to Osaka I reflected on this whole project of recording Japan in all four seasons and the bigger goal of trying to link this in some way with my images of Scotlands four seasons. 

While it feels a bit too much to take on at times, I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to visit this fascinating country so many times and I really hope that the final collection of images does this amazing country justice.

Tomorrow is a new location, Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto followed by a repeat visit to Fushimi-inari… hope you can join me! 

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