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.
Note: If this blog looks familiar, it’s because I originally wrote it more than three years ago. It still holds true. Parentheses added for additional thoughts now. The order of these reasons has no significance!
13 reasons I’ll be going back!
1. CIVILITY. Everyone is NICE ! Customers are always cordially welcomed and greeted when they enter a store or restaurant. They are always thanked for coming as they leave. Politeness simply makes the world a nicer place. (So true. Makes me nicer too.)
Saying goodbye at Abeke House in Omori-cho.
2. TEATIME. The abundance of cool cafes and charming teashops demand attention and always call for a mid-afternoon break that makes for a better day. (I’ve had to put limits on this enjoyable habit. The cakes all come with too steep a price not mentioned. In a new list I might be forced to omit the teatimes, for obvious reasons. I did love them dearly.)
3. TEMPLES AND SHRINES. I am magnetically drawn to the architecture, the gardens, the exotism, the mystery and the imagery of these places of worship. With approximately 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto alone, there’s a lifetime left for exploration! (Still going strong and still discovering fascinating temples I hadn’t seen before. This Spring, the Obai-in Temple got my award as most unforgettable.)
4. GARDENS. Japanese gardens reveal their wonders to me season by season, place by place, turn by turn. They are places of refuge, dreams and restoration. The sights and sounds of water, stone, gravel and sculptured plants as manipulated in a Japanese garden can be revelatory. (After pulling up my backyard lawn, I’m now in the process of trying to put a Japanese influenced garden in its place. You’re right to laugh!)
5. SERENDIPITY. You just never know what will cross your path in the course of a day in seemingly the most unexpected places and moments.
6. ATTENTION TO DETAIL. Few aspects of the visual world is are overlooked. Sophisticated packaging, graphic design, and presentation constantly delight and astonish. (I’m awed by the way the Japanese aesthetic raises the bar for graphic design.)
7. Beer and Sake and Udon and Soba and Tofu and Tempura and Confections and Sushi and Ramen and Tonkatsu and Milk Pudding and Toast Sets and Cake Sets. All in one day?! (Gastronomic delights truly never end.)
8. FRIENDS. There’s nothing better than reconnecting with friends whom I’ve met through my travels to Japan. They not only enrich and enliven my visits, their patience, generosity and kindness enrich my life as a whole.
Robert Yellin, of Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery
Sculptor, Matsuzaki Katsuyoshi and Personal Tour Guide Yamanaka Harumi. Missing, her husband, Yamanaka Akihiko. Also missing and missed, Steve Beimel of Esprit Travel!
9. SAFETY. Never a worry. Great drivers, immaculate taxis, theft practically unheard of! (Forget your purse in the middle of a department store? No problemo! Your camera? Your glasses? I have a 100% rate of return, and those of you who know me know that if it’s not attached, I’ll lose it.)
10. ESCAPE FROM THE NEWS. The language barrier provides a perfect opportunity to tune out. (More important than ever.)
11. SHOPPING OPPORTUNITIES. Constant over-stimulation. Tiny shops! Department stores with entire floors devoted to food and art? Textiles? The world’s best Ceramics? Clothing that’s actually comfortable? Regional folk art? Entire department store basements of all kinds of high-quality food? (I’ve actually come to understand “enough. ” Also, the object of my attention that first appears as irresistible, ultimately can become trite or cheesy. Ex: the first time I visited Japan, I was fixated on their covers for kleenex boxes that were in soft velour made to look like kittens!)
12. EVERYTHING DONE WELL. Never an attitude of “I’m too sexy for this job.” ( Every kind of work is respected. So much so that everyone seems to take pride in their work and does it as well as possible, be it cleaning person, server, salesperson, ticket taker, bank teller, etc. It’s in the dna, I think.)
14. NATURE CELEBRATED. Unfortunately, lots of the untouched natural beauty of Japan has disappeared to development, particularly in the cities. However, the Japanese inherent reverence for nature permeates all aspects of the culture, from design to food to art. Great trees are enshrined. Cherry and maple trees are illuminated and celebrated at the height of their beauty, and even as their beauty fades. Seasonally fresh flowers and branches can be found sitting in traditional shop windows and on front doors at the holidays. There’s never a question about rushing a season. Each is paid its proper tribute.
(A local flower shop receives fresh flowers that change by the day. From buds to entire branches. It’s pure pleasure.)
Just realized that I could almost sum it up in one word: “INSPIRATION!”
(Living part-time in Kyoto is an experiment that’s worked out better than I could have imagined. I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land, although there’s enough contrast to my everyday life in CA that I never tire of the experiences presented. I’m making another attempt to learn the language, for my fifth or sixth time, ever hopeful that a breakthrough lies just around the corner. )
One of the best parts of living part-time in Kyoto, is that when it comes time to leave, I know I will return again. The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since I was a bit long-winded in my last blog, I decided to cut to the chase today. As I mentioned in my last blog, one reason I’m in Japan now is to celebrate spring in Japanese fashion. The arrival of the cherry blossom season here is feverishly anticipated for weeks before the actual blooms appear. Forecasts for every part of the country tell the Japanese public exactly where and when to go to the sights with the most bang for the buck. I pay attention to these forecast and follow the festive crowds, or more pleasurably find an off the beaten path spot to witness the extravaganza.
It’s a wonderful tradition and everyone gets swept up in it. Year after year.
Pink is a combination of the color red and white, a hue that can be described as a tint. It can range from berry (blue-based) pinks to salmon (orange-based) pinks. Its symbolism is complex and its popularity is subject to so many influences.
We can begin an analysis of pink by looking at natural and contemporary sources of this delicate color. First, regardless of your skin color, some part of your body is pink. So are sunsets, watermelons and Pepto Bismal. Depending on your age and culture, you may remember pink Cadillacs, pink flamingos (once considered in bad taste in American culture but now retro-chic), Pink Floyd, the Pink Panther, and the pink triangles of the Third Reich (which were used to identify male homosexuals). colormatters.com
Today I took photos of only things that were pink. I hope these photos give you a taste of my pink drenched day. The blooms for the weeping cherries are mostly peaking, many other later varieties to follow over the next week.
Pink Encounters: From first to last
Easter bunny in bakery counter of Daimaru Dep’t store
You think you have trouble remembering names? Just try remembering the names of a few dozen of the 1600 temples that are here in Kyoto!
After dozens of years of visits, I’m still often in a state of confusion when it comes to identifying which temples I’ve visited. It frequently happens that I don’t think I’ve been to a specific temple, only to arrive and become aware that it’s VERY familiar. The images stick, but the names vanish. Don’t look at me to temple name drop.
Anyone who calls Kyoto “home” is able to rattle off their names; Tofukji, Myoshonji, Kyomisaderu,Nanzenji, Sanjusangendo, Ryoanji, Honen-in, Daituokuji,Kinkakuji,Ginkakuji. These are a few of the very famous ones. But what was the name of temple that had the killer view of the pond garden from indoors and where was it we had that amazing dinner? Where did we go for the special healing ceremony last spring? Which temple had that drop dead autumn illumination that made me feel as if I’d dropped through the rabbit hole?