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.

 

Knowing Love

Today, visiting my umpteenth Kyoto temple ( this time, Shoren-in )I thought how each time I reconnect with the places, things and people I love here, it’s like meeting an old friend after a long absence.  You can’t explain its satisfaction and happiness, but you sure know it and feel it.

The delicate maple leaves in the temple gardens  are certainly familiar as is the smile on a loved one’s face or the twinkle in their eye. The junction of wall and roofing always pleases too, not to mention the koi in the ponds, the stones, the quiet, the moss, the flowers, the mysteries hidden in the darkened sanctuaries.  How wonderful to be reunited!

 

People often ask me, how many times have you come here?  I truly don’t know, I stopped counting years ago.  It’s irrelevant anyway.  There’s always a First Time feeling to each visit.  I revere the integration of Nature in daily life.  The physical buildings of temples, generally hundreds of years old, are such a part of each temple landscape, looking as if they might have emerged from the earth itself. The carefully constructed gardens are often sublime.  It’s easy to feel a part of them as they have become a part of me.  As loved ones influence and mark our lives, so does this place for me.

 

 

Thirteen Reasons I’ll be Returning

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05/08/2013

The Cat and the Mouse

cat and mouse

I knew we were in for a visual fest when we received an invitation to join our friend Masa to visit a garden at the Daitoku-ji that is only open to the public for a short time in the spring and autumn.  I didn’t know that the visit would prompt a spontaneous game of cat and mouse.

graphic guide to Oubai-in
Japanese maples surrounding the bell tower at Oubai-in

It’s been a glorious few weeks. A streak of fine weather prolonged sakura season and the warmth prompted other spring flowers to swiftly come into bloom. I’m always awed by the urgency of spring. The Japanese maple trees were barren a few short weeks ago when we arrived. Now they all are displaying their bright green new leaves of spring. Pops of azalea blossoms and best- of- all -Chinese peonies are vie for attention too.

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The tiny blossoms of the maple cover an entrance gate of the temple.

 

 

Obaii-in was built in the 1500’s at the direction of a very wealthy family as a memorial to their deceased father.  It’s way  off the beaten tourist path so we had it almost all to ourselves with the exception of a few eagle eyed staff who roamed the grounds, knowing all too well, I’m certain, that people like me pose a real challenge to their rules.

 

I was dismayed to see a very visible “no photography” sign at the entrance of the temple. However, I was unable to restrain myself, nor did I try very hard when inspired, from taking photos of  the splendid buildings and gardens. An attentive  staff member spotted me and my i-phone at one point and walked over to politely but sternly admonish me.  From that point on we played a game of cat and mouse with each other.  She seemed to lurk around every one of the many corners, while I adeptly looked around to see if she was in sight, before quickly taking my photos and cooly slipping my i-phone into my jacket pocket.

I know not to take photos of sacred altars and certain works of art, but my bad-ass teen age self emerged in full power when restricted from taking a photo of the buildings or the gardens. I easily decided to disregard such an admonition and my sweet Japanese friend fortunately did not discourage me. The gardens were practically begging to be photographed. I heard them call to me. Each corner turned revealed a new vision of the spring life force as well as the simple beauty of Japanese design.

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As the Japanese do so well because of the influence of the tea ceremony, the layout of the grounds and gardens are  fashioned  to reveal only small parts of the entire scene at a time.  This slows down visitors and invites them to examine more closely what is immediate as well as to anticipate what surprises and delights might lie around the next bend in the pathway.

Obai-in contains a dry landscape garden covered with moss, designed by the most celebrated tea master Sen-no – Rikyu. The placement of the stones is symbolic.

Jikichu-Tei, dry landscape gatden designed by Den-no-Rikyu

What a wonderful visit. I felt my brain waves realign themselves while in that space. Playing my own little game of cat and mouse heightened my sense of adventure.

Kyoto offers an endless vault of these sort of unexpected experiences for which I will always be grateful. Despite the fact that I’m allergic to cats.