Past per­fect in Nara

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Des­ti­na­tion Ja­pan -

Ho­tel is a lovely two-storey wooden build­ing from the Meiji Pe­riod with a small shrine across from the front desk and a tall black safe be­hind it. In an old pho­to­graph, Ein­stein clanks away on the house pi­ano in the Nara Ho­tel.

You’ll find no Star­bucks out­lets along Nara’s main streets. There used to be an eight-screen cin­ema down­town, but it got pulled down.

To mark its 1300th an­niver­sary in 2010, the city set up a stylish mu­seum out­side To­daiji, to match the one next to Ko­fukuji; old tem­ples have been opened to the pub­lic, and signs and ex­pla­na­tions put up in English, Korean and Chi­nese. But where Ky­oto would have cel­e­brated the event as a once-ina-cen­tury ex­trav­a­ganza, Nara came up only with a weird mu­tant cherub for a mas­cot.

If you ram­ble around the evoca­tive, 19th-cen­tury streets of Nara-machi, you can find stores sell­ing brushes for sumi-e paint­ing and see stuffed mon­keys set up to ward off evil spir­its. Your tourist map bris­tles with signs for An­cient Burial Mounds and a Primeval For­est. Climb up to Ni­gat­sudo, the tem­ple above To­daiji, and you will see the whole city at your feet.

And in the cen­tral ar­cade down­town, if you want a taste of the larger world, you can en­joy fine Viet­namese food, ex­quis­ite French cakes or, at Cafe Mel­low, the cool ease of Cal­i­for­nia.

But for me it is the Lantern Festival in the swel­ter­ing days of early Au­gust that re­mind me of why I’m so proud to call the old Bud­dhist cap­i­tal my adopted home.

Whereas Ky­oto now has ‘‘Ligh­tups’’ in ev­ery sea­son (when tem­ples open af­ter dark or streets are lined with lanterns) and they are glit­tery, dra­matic af­fairs of­ten with a touch of Las Ve­gas to them, Nara’s festival is the op­po­site of sleek.

THINKSTOCK

Lose yourse the un­hurri of Nara

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