We weren’t exactly lost, but neither did we know where to go. We were searching for a small, less well-known temple in NW Kyoto to visit that had been described in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide as having a “lively pottery market.”
We’d already asked three people in the neighborhood how to find the Sendon-Shakado Temple. We’d gotten three varying responses. All of a sudden, from behind me, I heard a male voice speaking perfect American English asking, How can I help you?
I turned to face the voice. Before me was an overweight, older man on a bicycle. He had a smiling face with twinkling eyes. A ragged straw hat covered his head. He wore shorts and a patterned short – sleeved shirt. His blackened nails looked as if he’d been gardening for the last month. He was an unlikely sight in Kyoto.
When we told him our destination, he told us with certainty how to get there. Then he wanted to know, Why are you going there? When we told him we wanted to see the pottery market, he was dismissive, telling us there wouldn’t be much to see.
Do you like Buddhist art? he then inquired. Sure, I easily replied, although I’m far from an expert on it. I know it covers a broad area, often deep with symbolism that I know nothing about. Good answer, he told me.
Well, he continued, there’s a little visited museum on the grounds of the temple that you’d miss if you didn’t know about it. It has an exceptional collection of Kannon statuary. If you’re going to the temple, you should definitely find the museum. We thanked him for is help and he rode off.
Although he seemed a bit like Santa Claus, I felt as we’d been visited by some reincarnated deity from Buddhist theology. Maybe I’d been reading too many Buddhist myths.
We found the temple easily. It is the oldest original temple building in Kyoto, dating from the 12th c. It’s a relatively modest building by Japanese temple standards, but beautiful.
Sure enough, the pottery market held little interest. But when we walked into the soaring space of the almost hidden museum to see the statuary, we gasped at the beauty before us. Along with other Buddhist art, exquisite, lIfe sized, hand carved wooden statues of the deity Kannon dating from the 1200’s, lined one side of the soaring room. On the opposite side, were ten statues, also from the 12th c of Buddhist disciples. It was a remarkable find.
There were other wonders to be found on the grounds as well. A temple service began just as we left the museum. A priest chanted the sutras as he drummed rhythms that I wanted to dance to. It was the 15th anniversary of my Dad’s death, so it seemed like a fine time to remember him and light a candle in his memory. All in all, it was one of my more memorable temple experiences.
For the remainder of the day, I kept thinking about the strange stranger who suddenly appeared to point us in the absolute right direction! I would have liked to thank him again, but maybe he already knows that.
There ARE no strangers.
What a beautiful story to share. Thank you.