I’m here to Celebrate Spring

Is this what getting old is going to be about?  I had an all day/almost all night coughing jag yesterday that wore me and my poor husband out.  You’re going to have to do something about that, he told me grumpily.  No dah, I replied with irritation.

I stopped taking a prescribed cortisone inhaler today which I decided was triggering the coughing fits, so today I am coughing less.  But before I became too frisky, the pain from my hip bursitis turned back on this afternoon as I was starting out for a walk in my Kyoto neighborhood.  Needless to say, my stroll was curtailed.

Time to get out the advil before my walk and stop talking about my complaints.  What smarty pants said to me “You can’t afford a negative thought”?  I had a few too many these the last two days. I’m here to celebrate spring and beauty in the city that has made an art out of it!

This afternoon we rolled smoothly into Kyoto on the bullet train after spending two nights in Tokyo.  I am always struck by the contrast between the new capital and the ancient one of Kyoto. There’s the obvious difference of size, but more than that, it’s about scale.  Tokyo is reaching for the sky these days, covered with new high rises being built just about everywhere you look. In Kyoto, (almost) the entire environment seems integrated and grounded.

Earthquake concerns are somhow overcome by state of the art engineering.   The huge buildings are impersonal, mostly office space, sometimes housing hotels as well, but with no distinctiveness that I could identify or admire.  Tokyo can be slick, cutting edge and fun, but after a few days I am generally relieved to pull out of it and head south to Kyoto.  The big city doesn’t feed my spirit except for it’s preoccupation with good design.  Flash is fun and youthful but grows easily tiresome.

Ginza scene
A beautiful but likely useless article for travel.

I know Kyoto  quite well now, so there’s no element of surprise when I arrive here as there used to be.  Rather, it’s a sense of comfort I feel upon entering. The small pots of seasonal flowers placed carefully at the doorways remind me that time is taken to appreciate nature here.  Once again, I am sure that scale plays a large role.  The city is mostly built of two story buildings with a few buildings, like errant toddlers, escaping those boundaries, but not very many and not by dozens of stories.

There’s  a strong sense of place here with temples and shrines appearing around every corner. Their significance plays a constant role in the events of the city.  They are power centers, no doubt, reminding me immediately that I’m no longer in the USA.  Japanese are said not to be religious but when you enter a shrine it’s easy to see that the ancient gods are respected and play a role in their contemporary life.

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The Japanese  people have a strong sense of purpose.  There’s not a lot of lolling about or screwing around. They all seem devoted to their jobs and determined to do the best they can in them. They walk quickly.  They listen intently when you speak to them. They are considerate and kind.  They do seem to embody a kinder, gentler strain of humanity, at least in this time and place!  It’s a welcome change from the nastiness rampant on the home front.

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As always, our dear Japanese friend has prepared seasonal welcome flowers to greet us when we open the door of our apartment. It’s these moments that mean the most to me and speak stronger than any words.

 

Tourists Be Gone! Children Can Stay.

After almost four weeks here, we finally tore ourselves away from the allure of Kyoto  Several Kyoto friends seemed surprised that we had never been to Hiroshima and the close by ancient and celebrated shrine on the island of Miyajima. It was a relatively simple overnight trip that easily met our expectations,  once the crowds of other tourists had departed.

Most  experiences in Japan translate easily to other cultures.But every now and then, we come across something here that we just don’t “get.” We approach it eagerly and depart from it just a little bit baffled, telling each other, “you must have to grow up Japanese.”

When we set out to see one of the three all time great scenic sites in Japan, I was slightly apprehensive because years ago at another much-lauded scenic site, we left thinking maybe we hadn’t really been in the right place because we remained unmoved. That was Amanohashidate.

miyajima Torii gate at high tide

This time we headed for the nearby island of Miyajima, to see the ultra scenic site of the floating (at high tide) Torii gate. We’d done our homework and stayed overnight so we could see the shrine without the throngs of day visitors who finally depart the island when the last ferry leaves.
We initially saw the Torii as our ferry approached the island.Soon after landing and eager to see the icon at closer range, we walked over to check it out. We were not alone, but just two of many hundreds of like-minded tourists. We quickly determined to return when we had it more to our selfish selves. Continue reading “Tourists Be Gone! Children Can Stay.”

Amen.

Who’s to say why I feel such a deep connection to Japanese places of worship, be they temples or shrines?  Is it the setting?  The architecture?  The gardens?  The rituals?  The air of mystery surrounding something I don’t understand very well?

I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that I am consistently pulled in their direction.  I spend a fair amount of time when in Kyoto, revisiting places of the spirit and discovering new places of the spirit.  Kyoto has over 2000 shrines, temples and gardens, so there’s literally a lifetime left of exploration.

The description in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide to the over one thousand-year-old Shinto Yasurai Festival on the 2nd Sunday in April got my attention. It was described as one of the three biggest and most unique festivals in Kyoto, performed to gain protection from illnesses.  After a few months of recent illnesses, I thought a little protection might be just what I needed.  It certainly couldn’t hurt!

My husband and I arrived at the Imamiya Shrine on a cool spring day.  We had no idea what we were doing but went along with the flow.  We soon spotted some young shrine maidens sitting behind a table. With a welcoming smile, they instructed us to write our health wishes on a small piece of paper hidden within a small red-orange paper kimono which they handed to us.  Writing completed, we then presented our wish to another shrine maiden who blessed us and put the paper wish in a large round basket with those of other participants.  We kept the paper kimono itself.  It now hangs in my office.

Within a short time, the crowds thickened and a parade of costumed worshippers of all ages made their way through the grounds of the shrine.  They played a repetitive tune on flutes, hit drums and chanted in front of those of us assembled.  A few wore bright red wigs, representing demons.  It was quite a sight.  The knowledge that this ritual or something like it has been repeated and performed for almost a thousand years, is impressive.

Following the performance in front of the main building of the shrine, we were all blessed by the head priest.  I felt a strong sense of community in receiving that blessing even though I could not understand the words. I was happy to be in the crowd and receive the blessings.

It’s a mystery, but since leaving the Yasurai Festival, I have felt more energy and fewer asthma symptoms than I have had for many months.  Amen.