Serendipity Strikes Again

A small blurb in a local magazine caught my eye and I  thought it would be worth checking out:

Autumn Book Fair is held by the Used Book Society of Kyoto which consists of many of Kyoto’s used booksellers at Chion-ji Temple in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city. Throughout the event, the usually quiet temple compound is transformed into the likes of a giant bookstore and crowded with many people.

I’ve always been fascinated with paper ephemera from earlier times and this sale, along with its valuable books, had stacks and stacks of of old travel pamphlets, catalogues, magazines, advertising brochures, etc.  I love the old graphics, the weird and disturbing references to a formerly militaristic Japan during wartime, the early manga drawings, etc.

As promised, stalls lined the temple compound.  Prices were reasonable.  My pulse raced when I found two exquisite bound catalogues of vintage kimono patterns.  I’d only read that they existed, and here they were, affordable and in my eager hands.

old soap ad
vintage kimono pattern catalogue
vintage kimono patterns
vintage manga
vintage book

I lost Danny as I delved into the piles of paper, but figured we’d find each other when the time came.  Sure enough, within a half an hour, I heard my name being called.

“Come quickly, to see the service going on in the temple, “he urged me.   We both share a deep appreciation for Buddhist services, so I quickly followed his advice and left the book stalls.

at the front door of the Chion-ji temple in Kyoto. Note suspended wooden prayer beads.

We entered the gilded temple, took a place in the back of the hall on the floor. I tried to lower myself to the floor in an inconspicuous manner that just doesn’t work anymore with my aging knees. Most Japanese get to the floor and up again with a minimum of effort. I try not to be envious. Try is the operative word here.

Ten monks, dressed in silk brocade parrot green robes were slowly circling the hall, as they chanted a sutra together.  Their voices were augmented by an older monk whose voice rose above the others  throughout the service.

I closed my eyes and let the sounds wash over me.  I quickly became aware of the arrival and departure of each moment and each syllable of the chant. There was only now, now and now.  The service went on for about 45 minutes.  It might have been a funeral service, but I didn’t know enough to recognize it as such.

At the conclusion of the service, everyone at the service was invited to take a place on the floor in an elongated circle.  An enormous garland of wooden Buddhist prayer beads was brought down to rest in the hands of each person.  Each bead is about 5 inches in diameter.  The garland had to be at least an astonishing 100′ long.  Chanting began again by one of the head priests as the beads circled.  Another prayer that I didn’t understand.  There was something wonderful about the way this ritual connected the congregants and in my mind might have helped lessen the sorrow of a funeral.

I could not and did not take pictures of the service inside the temple, but once outside the temple captured this photo of the priests, while a small child clutching a teddy bear watched in wonder.

As is so often the case when I’m in Japan, an ordinary event, this time a  book fair,  became an unplanned and serendipitous spiritual experience.

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