So if there’s one thing that everyone should try and achieve in life, it’s enlightenment. I mean, who doesn’t want to have the heavens opened up and finally have it all make sense? I am one of the lucky few, for you see, I am guaranteed to achieve enlightenment in my life. It all happened on my vacation in Nara. Kyoto was the capital of Japan before Tokyo. Nara was the capital before Kyoto. It’s a nice, small city in the heart of Japan’s Kansai region, and it’s home to the place where all are guaranteed to achieve enlightenment: Todai-ji. Todai-ji is a Buddhist temple, and home to the world’s largest Buddha. It’s Nara’s top tourist draw.
You could tell when you were coming up to the town’s #1 tourist draw, as the walkway was soon lined with booths selling all assortment of tacky souvenirs. I made the mistake of telling Akiko that I collect postcards, so she was now pointing out every place selling postcards. But that was OK. She was very eager to please. (Don’t think dirty, young men.)
Now, you’re probably wondering who Akiko is. Well, she was my tour guide. My guidebook had made mention of this. The Nara tourist association has volunteer tour guides to show you the sights and the history. The guidebook also mentioned that most of them are university students keen to practice their English. Since that was the case, I really didn’t want to be “on the clock” while I was trying to relax. Besides, I was just one guy. I really didn’t need a tour guide. And these were the arguments I was making to the clerk at the Nara Train Station Tourist Information Desk. “Are you sure you don’t want a guide?” she asked.
“I’m positive,” I said.
“Are you here alone?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, then, it’ll be more fun!”
“That’s really not….”
The clerk hung up the phone. “OK, the arrangements are made. Your guide’s name is Akiko. She’ll meet you at the main tourist information office three blocks down the street.” 10 minutes later, Akiko was introducing herself to me. A 20-year old university student, studying tourism appropriately enough. But I digress.
Now, Todai-ji really does tower over the landscape. It is one massive structure. And to think that it’s smaller than the original. Akiko was nice enough to point out the window that is opened up on special occasions, so the world’s largest Buddha can look out over the people.
We entered the structure and gazed up at the Buddha. What can I say? It was a big Buddha. I gazed up at it and said, “Wow. That’s a big Buddha.” Akiko pulled her cheat sheets out of her pocket and began going over some of the statistics, most of which she asked to confirm in my guidebook. Like any good tourist, I pulled out my camera and took a few pictures. Akiko asked if she could have my camera, and she took my picture as I stood in front of the Buddha.
We continued throughout the great hall, which circled around the Buddha. There were other deities enshrined in this temple, such as the bodhisattva of knowledge and learning. I turned to Akiko and jokingly said that she must pray here often. She laughed and said yup, she’s here every day. Hey, that’s as close as I get to flirting, people.
We kept on rounding the Buddha when we came to one of the things that makes Todai-ji famous. This being the world’s largest wooden building, it boasts some pretty massive support columns holding up the roof. At the base of one of the support columns is a hole, which is approximately the size of the world’s largest Buddha’s nostril. As the legend goes, those who can crawl through the hole will be guaranteed to achieve enlightenment in their lifetime. Naturally, there was a line-up of kids and skinny people, all crawling through for the delight of the crowd. As we were watching them, Akiko looked at me and asked, “Do you want to try it?” Of course, I said no. I mean, let’s face it. I’m not fat, but I’m certainly not skinny, either.
The group of kids and skinny people soon walked off, and a group of backpacking Americans walked up. How could I tell they were Americans? They just had that manner about them. (And it’s talk like that that offended my American co-workers.) There was this real tall one, probably about 6-foot-5, and he was really, really skinny. Just from looking at him, I knew he could probably squeeze through the hole. He asked his buddies to hold his bag, got down on his knees before the hole, and said, “Nope. I can’t do it.” Now, this guy just struck me as being stupid. Or a coward. Or a stupid coward. He could have done it. Hell, I could probably do it. That’s when Akiko turned to me again and asked, “Do you want to try it?” I looked it over and once again said, “No.” The Americans went on their way.
Akiko and I had a brief moment alone, as there was a gap between tour groups. This was a prime time to take some pictures. I knelt down, looked through the hole, and Akiko took a picture of me peeking through the hole. She gave me my camera back, and I took a picture of her peeking through the hole. As she got up, I took a second look at the hole. It was a square hole, maybe about 45cm on each side. I sized it up, and looked down at my own body. I started thinking, “Ya know, maybe if I went through diagonally….” Akiko asked one more time, “Do you want to try it?”
Now, being the 25-year old virgin that I was, I didn’t know much about women. But one thing I did learn was that you shouldn’t say “No” to one three times in a row. And besides, nothing motivates a man more than when a woman looks him over and says, “Oh, you can’t do it.” Akiko wasn’t saying it, but she had the look. So, I had developed a strategy, and felt the need to impress a woman who I had said “No” to far too many times. I stood up and got a grin on my face. I dramatically unzipped my jacket and thrust out my chest, something that would’ve looked really stupid if not for the fact I was wearing my Nightwing T-shirt. You can only get away with this move when wearing some kind of superhero logo, or if you have rock hard abs. I politely asked Akiko to hold my coat and hat. I was going in!
There was advice on how to do this in my guidebook. It said that the best way to do it was with both arms over your head. Of course, I had to do things my own way. I held my right arm above my head, and went into the hole dragging my left arm behind me. I put my right arm into the hole. Hey, this is easy! My arm went straight through, so I grabbed a hold of the other side and began pulling myself. I wriggled my body to give myself a little extra thrust and very soon my entire midsection was in the hole. My head and shoulders were out one side and legs sticking out the other. I was halfway there! My goal was to get my left arm out to the other side and then use both arms to pull myself through. I started wiggling to get my other arm out. But it seemed to be stuck. Oh, well. I’m right handed. I pulled with my right arm. Nothing was moving. I wiggled and wriggled my body some more. “Uh oh. I think I’m stuck.”
By now, the next tour group had approached. Akiko was watching me. “No, you’re not stuck,” she said. “Keep going! You can do it!” I couldn’t give up now. People were staring! A woman was cheering me on! I pulled harder. I wriggled my legs with all my might! Nothing. I was stuck. There was no going forward. Time to change my strategy.
I relaxed my body. Parts of me flopped to the ground. I tried to think things through logically. I flexed the fingers on left hand, pinned hopelessly against the roof of the hole. The tips of my fingers brushed against the cool air of space on the left side of my body. There was so much room over there…. Wait a minute. Over there! Of course! I would have so much more room if I went through diagonally! When I crawled in, I twisted myself into a vertical position! My new strategy was in hand. I focused my energy on rolling onto my side. I rolled, and I’m certain I heard a “pop.” Suddenly, things became a whole lot more comfortable as I reached a diagonal position.
A quick jerk of my right arm freed my left arm. With both arms free, I grasped each side of the hole and pushed hard. My entire upper body dropped out onto the floor and I looked up at the ceiling of the world’s largest wooden building. I sat up, pulled out my legs, and stood up. I was free! I was enlightened! The tour group burst into applause and I took a bow. I walked over to Akiko where I reclaimed my coat and hat. She handed over my camera with the depressing news: I came out at the wrong angle so she got a picture of my back coming out of the hole. But that was OK. I had achieved enlightenment.
The rest of the day had Akiko and I wandering the streets of Nara. Since this was purely a volunteer thing for her, I felt obligated to buy her lunch. She’d point out the odd shrine, and we’d feed the deer and turtles. If there’s one thing I learned that day, it’s that being guaranteed to achieve enlightenment doesn’t make approaching the opposite sex in a romantic sense any easier. But hey, I’m guaranteed to achieve enlightenment now. I’m sure when the day comes, when the heavens open up and I see it all, it’ll all make sense. But for now, we’re just walking the streets, feeding the deer and the turtles.