During the “Silver Week” holidays my wife, めぐみ and I visited Nara 奈良市, which is now very convenient for us as there are trains every 20 minutes from Nishinomiya Hanshin Station 西宮駅 direct to Nara. We did make a visit to a temple our first stop. This was Gangō-ji 元興寺, a very ancient temple located in Naramachi, dating back to the early days of Buddhism in Japan (started in 718 AD). Many of the earlier halls of this temple have been destroyed by fire, so the existing complex is on quite a small scale. Much of the open ground between the buildings is occupied by numerous small statues, mostly of the Buddha, and beautiful flowers.
On previous visits we had always concentrated on visiting the usual tourist sites of temples such as Todai-ji 東大寺 and Kōfuku-ji 興福寺 as well as Heijō Palace 平城宮. However, this time we decided to visit Naramachi 奈良町, where most of the attractions are on a much smaller scale, but no less interesting nonetheless. Naramachi is the old merchant district of Nara, and many of the original houses and warehouses still stand, giving the area a very special charm. Strolling through the narrow streets one expects to see a merchant and his wife, or maybe his two shy daughters, emerge from one of the beautiful Machiya (traditional houses that also provided space for the merchant to carry out his business), clad in 18th Century kimonos 着物.
After spending some time (and taking quite a few photos) at Gangō-ji, we wandered around to Imanishi Shoin 今西家書院 a very beuatiful house dating back to the 15th Century, and preserved in the style of that period. This is a very elegant structure designed for the reception of dignatories. Imanishi Shoin is beautifully maintained and with many details making it very interesting. One of the ladies who work there gave us a tour first, explaining many things that we had not noticed before; then we were free to explore inside, as well as the lovely garden, at our leisure. The house belongs to a sake brewery who have their showroom next door. We went to taste some of their product, but unfortunately it was very crowded, so we made our way to our next destination:
Naramachi Koshi no ie is another delight. A machiya, designed to be a home as well as a place of business, this small house features a beautiful inner garden 中庭 as well as a Box Staircase 箱階段 which serves the dual purpose of being a staircase to the upper floor as well as a piece of storage furniture. We were also given a present of a piece of Japanese calligraphy at this house.
Smith’s School of English, Kawanishi