Past perfect in Nara
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.
Lose yourse the unhurri of Nara