Saturday, August 27, 2011
Messengers of the Gods
The imperial capital of Japan has moved at least three times, from Nara to Kyoto to Tokyo. (The political capital, the seat of government, has moved several times more; for a while in the 13th century, Kamakura was the political capital.)
Nara was the imperial capital from 710 to 784. When, upon the death of the emperor, the capital was moved to Kyoto, Nara's imperial palace was simply abandoned and allowed to deteriorate over the centuries. Archeologists, however, identified the buildings' remains and several have now been reconstructed.
Nara has been a center of Buddhism almost from the time monks first arrived with the tenets from China via Korea. While the elements, fire, war, and simple neglect have taken their toll on Nara's historic temples and shrines, there are at least a dozen worth visiting, including the Kasuga Shrine, and the Todai-ji (housing the largest bronze Buddha in Japan), Kōfuku-ji (founded originally in 669), Yakushi-ji (founded in 680), and more.
At one time, the small Sika deer from the area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of the Kasuga Shinto shrine. He was said to have been invited and appeared on Mt. Mikasa riding a white deer. From that point, the deer were considered divine messengers of the gods and sacred by both Kasuga and Kofuku-ji. Today, the deer wander freely through the city's grounds and you can buy deer treats from vending machines to feed them. And, as my friend found in the picture above, the deer know it. Today they are more like beggars than messengers.