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    Sunday, August 24, 2008

    Kyoto & Nara - Day 1 - Mantoro

    That night was the Mantoro festival, "The Festival of Ten Thousand Lanterns". For about two weeks every August, various shrines and temples around Nara decorate their grounds with thousands of lit lanterns. This culminates on August 14-15th when all the major shrines and temples are lit up with tens of thousands of lanterns at night, and walking through the town from one to the other is a surreal experience.

    In the late afternoon, around 4 or 5, I began to see small lanterns with candles being set up around the city.

    Food and game stalls begin to open and lanterns are lit around sunset.

    Kasuga Shrine
    is the centerpiece of this festival. Its grounds are covered with the most ornate lanterns I saw.

    Kasuga Shrine hosts a lantern-lighting ceremony, in which hundreds of these elaborate iron lanterns are lined up in a long, twisting path through the temple grounds that I walked through.

    My photos came out a bit blurry from the first part of this night, so here's two videos to show the path of lanterns:

    From Kasuga I walked down to the open park grounds, where I had fed deer earlier in the day, and the entire field was covered with row after row of lanterns:

    The path to Todaiji was packed with food stalls.

    Including my favorite snack of the night, Grilled Squid!

    It was brushed with a sweet soy sauce and then grilled on this open iron grill. With a consistency similar to calamari and a subtle flavor it was a perfect match for the sauce. Chewy goodness!

    The path to Todaiji was lit with both lanterns and floodlights on the giant gates and halls, and Todaiji itself was as beautiful as during the day.

    The pond in front of Todaiji with the small island in the middle was lit up around the edges.

    On my way back out from Todaiji I had another delicious snack, giant rice crackers (senbei) wrapped in nori. The thing was the size of my entire hand.

    The path to Kasuga Shrine, earlier covered in deer, was lined with subdued lanterns in bamboo cups and lantern globes hung on bamboo scaffolds in artful patterns.

    The lanterns on this path lead up a hill and on the other side was a small lake, ringed with lanterns, and on which couples were cruising in rowboats.

    Kofuku-ji temple was lit up as well.

    As was the small lake by my inn,

    and a small neighborhood shrine by my inn.

    This is the inn I stayed at, Ryokan Matsumae, which offered a traditional ryokan experience inside but the staff spoke excellent English.

    The Next Morning

    On my way out of Nara I snapped a shot of the city's mascots,

    the manhole covers depicting the iconic deer of Nara,

    and my last glimpse of the city from the train platform.

    In my next update: my first day in Kyoto, including the world renowned Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji.