When Traveling, Go With the Flow

You can set out with the best of intentions, while in Japan, thinking you know what you’re about to do.  Many times it works out that way, but often, things don’t go exactly the way you expected them.  I’ve learned to roll with the misunderstandings, because if you don’t it’s your loss.  There’s almost always something that redeems a plan gone wrong.

Waiting!

Kyoto celebrates its traditions.  The temples and shrines (over 2000 of them)have hundreds of special events throughout the year, some major, not-to-be-missed and others not so important or not so interesting to a foreigner. I usually attend one or two of the more interesting events while here.

Side view of Kitano shrine

Yesterday I read about the Zuiki Festival (matsuri) happening at and around the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.  It has been happening for over 1000 years to give gratitude for a successful harvest.  It goes on for several days.  When reading the schedule, I did not realize that most times given were approximate!  Not a minor detail when making plans. As you might expect, we got off to the festival just behind the beat.  It took us most of the afternoon to catch up.

It was a case of learning that we’d just missed the parade and it had moved on to other neighborhoods and shrines.  So began the chase. My husband Danny, was determined to catch up and intersect the celebrants who walk through local neighborhoods. We taxied to another shrine only to be told it had all ended there a little while earlier.  We were told to head to the railway station, but never found the station. Between our limited Japanese and others’ limited English I am sure something might have gotten lost in translation. Or, in the case of many when giving directions, they don’t know what they’re talking about, but don’t want to look uninformed!

Kitano shrine guardian dogs

Deciding that we should head back to our first stop at Kitano shrine, we taxied some more only to find we were hours too early for the procession to return.  Our thirsty eyes landed on an air conditioned Portuguese bakery/coffee shop and eagerly went in for cakee set time.  Iced tea and Portuguese pastry  cooled us down., Slightly restored,  my husband found someone who gave him new directions to find the parade. I suggested we walk through the shrine garden, small but attractive.  We passed many people who were waiting as we were, but no one was able to tell us when the procession might pass by.

The Main Float! vegetarian.
For good luck, the dragon will bite your finger.

We did intersect with one beautiful float decorated for the fall harvest, pulled by many tired young men who had to rally themselves to pull it up a small incline.  We then sat down in a little square, joining a few dozen locals who were waiting too. Suddenly Dan spotted signs of actiivity and I was motioned to join him across the intersection.  At last!

Sleepwalking?

It was a tired, and a bit bedraggled group we found, but interesting nevertheless.  Those on horseback were as erect as ever, those walking were wearing out.  The young children , attired in resplendent period costumes, were charming.  They still had a long ways to go.  I guess you have to build up the endurance necessary for these parades, not only to participate in them, but to find them as well!

Flea Market Thrills

As a born and bred New Englander, I come easily to the flea market bug.  The thrill of the hunt, the opportunity to learn a little history, and the satisfaction of a good deal, all join forces to raise my adrenalin and put me in high spirits.  There’s also some pleasure of imagining that there just might be a treasure  waiting for me to uncover at the next booth.  It’s what keeps me going usually far longer than common sense would dictate.

I  love a good flea market.  Kyoto scores highly in fulfilling that desire; there are at least two monthly shrine markets that always hit the mark.  Also, since the markets seem a bit exotic to the Western eye, it’s intriguing.  There are food vendors, plants, some temples or shrines to explore, lots of vintage textiles, some ceramics, some collectibles, some shmatas(look it up), some crafts, etc. etc.

Sunday was Tenjin San, always on the 25th of the month. It was oppressively hot, and with my somewhat impatient, but not yet balky, husband joining me, we moved through the aisles pretty quickly.  No spectacular finds, but still lots of goodies  to check out along the way.  There was even a performing monkey, which I found archaic and unpleasant, yet fascinating despite my disapproval.

Some of the hundreds, thousands? of vintage textiles for sale are staggering in their beauty.  Most are quite ordinary, if you can ever call a kimono ordinary, but when you hit a standout because of pattern and color, it’s like running into a sublime Monet or dazzling Kandinsky. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but you get my drift!  My mind always spins for a few minutes when I hit a patch of vintage kimono, but then I calm myself down and admire them for the moment, knowing  if I brought one home, I wouldn’t know what to do with it and would never have the heart to cut it up.  Rather than a source of pleasure, it could easily become an object triggering guilt that I’d put away on a high shelf.

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kimono pattern

IMG_4945A kid in a candy store.  All at just her height.

Boy lost in thought.

More textiles.

KImono sold by the bag full!
Pokemon’s friend
Autumn leaves and grape vine for autumn kimono

So, if you’re hanging out in Kyoto on the 21st or 25th of the month without much to do, get thee to a flea market for a day of discovery, and just plain fun.

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silk kimono sleeve

The Gamble

Let’s face it.  Much of travel can be a gamble.  Days that start out promising can quickly get a sour taste.  Finding a famous tourist attraction does not guarantee anything  more than it’s sure to be crowded. Online recommendations and even World Heritage Sites may or may not ring your own bells.

And so it goes.  I’ve learned to accept the fact that not every place visited will hit a home run.

Today we said goodbye to our house guest and decided to take a short train ride to a neighboring town that was, for a ten year period, the capital of Japan before it was moved to Kyoto. The town was recommended in a popular Kyoto periodical.

Continue reading “The Gamble”

Between Heaven and Earth

After recovering from three somewhat harrowing days driving a rental car on the road in Japan, we learned , despite the high points of the trip, not to do it again.  I also relearned that there is a very small margin of error between life and death on a snake like one lane curving  road where a head -on collision could catapult you from one world to the next and was possible at any time.

At Koyasan, while walking through the cryptomeria pathway lined with tombs of the dead, I learned again to value the time I have left, before I rest for eternity with the millions who have passed before us.

 

 

 

 

On the far too narrow one lane road leading us out of Koyasan, I learned that beauty can exist in unlikely circumstances. The road really should have been just a pathway along the small river, but it actually was chosen by Google maps as our way to get down the steep mountain.  It even had a route #!

Despite the knowledge that each curve or one wrong turn of the wheel could presage our final moments, I could not get over the thrill of being in this beautiful area.  The intense beauty overcame my fear. The foliage lining the river’s path was at its peak of fall color.  The river itself, about 25 feet beneath the road, was populated by beautiful boulders and rocks, the river, crystal clear, running a path between them. It invited me to linger, but my husband had a sense of urgency to get us to a wider and undoubtedly safer road. Some bikers rushed past us, but other than that, we’d meet one or two other motorists about every 20minutes, which is to say, we were mostly alone in this splendid landscape on this treacherous road.

the river below.

 

Then, suddenly this journey into an alternate universe was over.  We welcomed the first houses that appeared and celebrated escaping alive.  Maybe I’m being overly melodramatic, but I don’t think so!  Soon, the junk big box architecture that is too prevalent outside of most cities took over our visual field.  We’ve lost so much of the natural world.

The sacred place of Koyasan was meant to celebrate nature, as is Shintoism. I am grateful we got to participate in the celebration, somber as it could be at times.

Life is precarious and glorious.

Aging Gracefully Off the Beaten Path

Since I learned to drive, I’ve always had the urge to explore places off the beaten path.  I love to follow an unknown road deep into the countryside.  The same impulse still resides in me today.  Yesterday, it took me and my husband on a wonderful detour just on the city’s edge.

Following a recommendation in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide, we set out for the Oharano Shrine which is known to have maple trees that explode with fiery color in the fall.  Unfortunately, we were about a week too early to see the color as described, so we moved through the shrine rather quickly.  Pausing for tea in a small café, the owner knew a little English, just as I know a little Japanese.  We both enjoyed ourselves patching a conversation together that each mostly understood, or pretended to, if we didn’t.  The fruit hanging in the background is kaki (persimmons) going through the traditional process of drying, out-of-doors in the shade of eaves.

My instincts told me there was more to see beyond the shrine.  We followed a steep pathway, towards a promised temple we knew nothing about.

It was a haul for me, but after a quarter mile of huffing and puffing, we arrived at the ancient temple, Shojiji.  Danny led the way.

There were only one or two other visitors on the grounds.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale setting.  The beauty of the stones, buildings and grounds  were enriched by the eager plant life, which had taken over in places , encouraged by meandering streams.  Certain areas were almost hidden by the lush gloom, adding to the solemnity and mystery.

The history of Shoji-ji temple predates that of Kyoto itself. Founded in the year 686, it is known for its feeling of remoteness, as well as the hundreds of cherry and maple trees in the gardens, which are a photographer’s delight in both spring and autumn.  Bonson Lam, Japan travel

Shojiji wears her age well and proudly.  There are no attempts to hide her age.   Nature is allowed to encroach but hasn’t taken over.  The temple’s worn features are dignified and strong.  She played an important role in early Kyoto history that is still respected.  Yesterday, I became a fan.