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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The fatigue of the past days asks its toll today, and I am willing to concede a bit of rest to my body: I wake up around 10am. With three hours at disposal less than usual, it will be a day less packed than the other ones, but it's fine.

My first target is the the ruins of the Imperial Palace. Once in the middle of the city, it's now at the extreme western edge, and getting there is not a simple thing at all, especially considering that the public transportation in Nara is... sub-par... I'd say... with respect to the other cities I visited.

So, I get there walking, under the scorching sun of an end of September that hits harder than the August sun in most of Italy. It's about 40 minutes walk from my hotel, which is more or less at the far end of the road leading to the temples, the main road crossing the commercial center, but it's a nice walk and I am fresh.

I expected to see nothing, or at best a few faded landmark posters, but I am wrong. The Nara Prefecture is actually rebuilding the site with an attached cultural center and one museum. Those are still under construction, but the majestic main gate, the Throne Hall and vast sections of the wall are there waiting for me, so brand new they still smell of fresh paint.

Other than that, ther's also a two hundred meters long section of the main boulevard leading to the main gate, about 50 meters long, surrounded by willows and white roofed walls and paved with small shining white pebbles.


Even if the boulevard now ends running into a highway and into the buildings on the other side, the sight from the steps of the gate is still awesome and humbling, and gives a rough idea of what must have been Nara back in the epoch that gets its name. It was an Imperial Palace vast as a City, with the proper Imperial palace just crowning this jewel.

The gate itself is hopelessly breathtaking, with little to envy in size and richness to the gate of the Toudai temple, except, maybe, the age of the woods.


The rest of the palace is now occupied by corn fields and traversed by a local single track railway. However, the main court has been partially recovered, and it's almost completely surrounded by the less tick and tall walls used at the time to break up blocks into smaller portions.


The Throne Hall is simply amazing. It doesn't have the sheer size of the Toudai, but it's stunningly beautiful in its simplicity, and it's subtly rich in its detail.


The main piece of the hall is the throne, which is frankly an exceptional piece of art.


Also, it's a marker of a different culture: while western kings were sitting on stairs high above the court, the Japanese Emperor was kneeling in a palanquin tent. He wasn't meant as a supreme commander, but as a fragile living symbol of the State unity, to be sheltered and protected. Some emperor had more temporal power than others, but since after the Taika reform in 645 C.E., it was the aristocratic government to actually rule the Nation. It was an embriotic Constitutional Monarchy, based on the written Reform code, which in some sense was as advanced as the modern ones. One hint on the enlightenment of this model was the fact that the death penalty was abolished, and never practiced until the evnets in the Kamakura period brought the Shogun figure in a preminence so high to turn the Japan in a defacto absoulte plutarchy.

I have achieved my goal of seeing a piece of the ancient splendor this City had to offer, so I am pretty free for the rest of the day. The weather is getting cloudy and the temperature gets a bit more clement, so I find myself walking on the old northern border of the city, where three majestic tombs are aligned. One of them is the only other Kofun larger than the Chopsticks Tomb, except for the one of the emperor Suinin.

While walking back in that direction, I pass by a middle school that looks much better than any school I have ever seen. A large motto painted on the main hall captures my attention, while some girl getting out of the school at 1:30pm circa is lingering on the gate.


I don't want to give the impression I am there taking pictures of schoolgirls, so I take some steps forward and exclude them from the photo to make clear I am focusing on the building. Yet, when lower the camera, I see the girls all smiling, one of them having even put her finger in the iconic V shape, with a slightly disappointed "gakkari" expression as I din't take them. I smile back, bow and thank.


The Kofuns were worth the walk; their moat is so wide it has been surrounded by signs saying it's forbidden to introduce boats in them (other than swimming and fishing). Also, the walk leads me to a pleasant surprise: In a chain restaurant on the nearby highway I have the cheapest yet better meal I got since I am here.

With my energy renewed, I continue walking to the Kasuga Shrine. This shrine was the private temple of the Fukuhara family, which during the Hei'an period became actually more powerful than the imperial family. Their power waned during the Kamakura epoch, and by the Meiji restoration this that was their private Buddhist chapel become a public shrine of the new Shinto faith.


Originally, the family worshipped the Uji of their clan, Koyane-no-Kasuga, the Kami of the "small covers", an euphemism for the Mikoshi and the little shrines usually held in the Honden or in public view where the shintai of the kami resides. In other words, their kami was the protector of the dwelling of the other kamis. As they converted to Buddhism, this Uji became identified with the Buddha Gongen. With the Meiji restoration and the creation of Emperor dependent Shinto shrines, this temple was reverted to its ancient faith.


I still have some time, so try and aim for the peak of the Wakakusa mount, about 500 meters high. I try the northern path, and the trail is beautiful.


But I took the city shoes with me, and the path is a bit impervious with those, moreover it's way longer than expected, and I compute that I would be too late when coming back, especially considering the sky is now iron-gray and seriously menacing.

Luckily, there's the south gate, giving access to this magnificent slope on the temple city.


As everything in Japan, you have to pay to enter, but I pay willingly. After some thirty minutes, at around 4:10pm, I am on the top, where I meet with a cute family: Granpa, Granma, a young couple and their little children, a son and a daughter. As they hail me with "Konnichiwa", and I hail them back with a richer "Konnichi wa, minnasama!", they understand I have some grasp on conversational Japanese, so we start talking a bit.


When I tell them I am Italian, the little girl, maybe 5 or less, that looked like casually listening and playing with the big placed on top of the hill, enters the conversation suddenly: "oh, there are a lot of good things to eat in Italy!". I laugh, thank and think that the girl has already learned the most important thing in life -- even if grandma, a little upset, tells her back that there are lots of good things to eat in Japan as well!


She insists asking his father to ask my name. I don't know why she is so curious about me, maybe because I have my head shaved and am currently all dressed in white I seem some sort of priest or something. However the father, asking forgiveance for his daughter with his gaze, asks my name and I reply Niccolai, Ni like the sun, Kou like light and Rai like future. This always work on the Japanese, and indeed all the family seem to like this name.


When the family leaves, the little girl stops everyone with "We can't go! I still didn't say my name to Niccolai-sama!"

Awwww so cute! Papa and mama push her away a little like saying not to bother me any longer, but the little girl insists and literally drags her mother back to me, telling her to tell me her name. Her mom tells her back that if she really wants to tell me her name, she should have the courage to say it! So, after a couple of tries, as she drags her mother while trying to hide behind her at the same time, she finally says in a whisper: "...haru."


"Koharu." specifies her mother. Little Springtime.

"Koharu! What a cute name! Well, pleased to meet you!" I tell her, and this makes her shynes definitively overwhelm her, as she, finally happy of having said her name to me, wholly hides behind her mom.

Wherever you are, Little Springtime, I wish you the brightest of lives. Here's the view from the top of the Wakakusa for you:

It's almost time to go back, but I stop halfway downhill, in the panoramic spot where you can dominate Nara, marked by a little shop.


As I sit and think at all the beautiful things I have seen in this travel, Shirakawa, Ise, Misugi, Mitsue, Hase and Asuka, as I think at all my wishes, all my longings finally fulfilled after so much time, as I remember climbing on the mount Miwa, I think that 18 - Daikichi oracle I got at Atsuta Jinja, while praying Amaterasu, was really true.

So, I murmur: "Thanks, Amaterasu. You, your land and your people have been very kind with me. I am profoundly grateful, and I won't forget it."

In that moment the sun breaks through the cloud right in front of me.


It shines on me alone; noone else is there in that moment, taking the gentle rays in which I bathe.

In a moment like this, I dare everyone not to think the Universe loves you, and not loving it back.


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