One Journey Ends, Another Begins

I awakened from my sleeping pill slumber as we were an hour out of LA.  Relief that the long flight was nearly over flooded my consciousness. Awareness dawned that I hadn’t eaten dinner or breakfast, falling asleep early in the flight and blessedly remaining asleep for most of it. Gratitude.  I’d eaten more than enough while in Japan to tide me over. I was returning to the land of my birth, the seemingly now crazy, angry and often chaotic place that I hardly recognize is my real home.  I am returning home to take the next steps in my new role as retiree.  I like it!

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After stumbling in and out of bed for two days, waking to help celebrate my granddaughter’ s 7th birthday, and then losing myself in slumber again, today I seem to have my wits about me. Small blessing!  Life can resume.

The Basquiat Show at the Mori Art Museum

Kyoto has truly become a second home to me.  Familiarity has bred comfort in this case.  I no longer walk around like other tourists I see, looking as if I’d landed on the moon unprepared. In fact, I generally now know where I’m going, secure in the fact that I’m not going to fall off the edge of the earth. Secure in the fact that people are kind in Kyoto and if a problem occurs, they’re only too happy to help me.  musing:  I wonder if Kyotoites identify me as simply “other” or as “other” with a quality of belonging somehow to their culture rather than just a passing tourist.

The Fun Loving Cats of Japan

Not as much seems surprising anymore. When I first came to Japan I couldn’t take more than three steps without stopping to gape at something that I’d never see at home. No longer.  I’ve upped the ante I guess and become more discriminating. The cutsey stuff has become cliché.  The bakeries and food quality remain at the top rung of the ladder. As do the temples and nature. The fear of being rejected when making a dinner reservation  has dimmed.  Of course the fact that my husband does this, is quite helpful.  Nothing much from fear of the unknown deters me anymore, except large crowds.

The Splendid Gardens of Kyoto

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We have a marital division of labor that works pretty well.  I run the washing machine and my husband does the scheduling, which I’ve not done well at (to put it mildly).  I find the intriguing places and events to track down, he finds the way to get us there. Generally good-naturedly.

The Spiritual Edge

So now I’m back, newly retired.  I’m loving the new found freedom to make it up as I go along.  I’m also loving that it’s a sure thing I’ll be back in Japan come Spring!

Japanese Landscape Dreams

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a sure sign of fall, berries demanding attention.
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After he rains, water is flowing in the run off ditches alongside the temple walls.

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osmanthus, should be scratch n sniff!

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fungi on downed tree

In review, I’m posting a few of my favorite things from this trip.  Thanks for coming along for the ride with me.

 

 

 

 

An Alternate Universe?

Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in an alternate universe here in Kyoto. It can be a little bit like the beginning of a “once upon a time” story.  Now I’m in the story.

After many years of coming here, I admit, most likely I am seeing Kyoto with rose colored glasses.  I like it this way.

The streets and sidewalks are immaculate.  There are few trash cans.  People take their trash with them if there is no where to dispose of it while out and about.  Storefront sidewalks are swept daily and washed frequently.

There is a  level of politeness and respect for others that is omnipresent.  It makes life very pleasant.  You are rarely ignored and always paid attention to in a store or restaurant. People seem to take their jobs seriously  and endeavor to do their best at them.  This attitude becomes contagious.

Continue reading “An Alternate Universe?”

Countryside Intoxication

It took me a few minutes to identify the intoxicating scent that was, frankly, intoxicating.  It was tea olive, or osmanthus, first encountered when we lived in Athens, Georgia.  It took me several days to figure out where it was coming from, because it’s an unremarkable shrub with a tiny flower with an extremely powerful fragrance.  The unexpected fall sweetness seems to say pay attention, soon the landscape will wither and you won’t be la dee da-ing through it.  You’re here for a special and brief time.

I rediscovered osmanthus while I was in Japan many autumns ago.  Here it was again, almost shouting that spring will come again and life is very sweet.

osmanthus

Yesterday, we strolled a small part of the oldest road in Japan.  Suddenly my nose was twitching again.  I soon discovered osmanthus, doing its thing, once again.  Now that I know what to look for, it wasn’t long before I found the source of the fragrance.  Bring it on!  Japan’s shrub has a yellow-orange flower rather than the white ones I originally discovered in Georgia.  The shrubs are more pervasive here as well, so that the scent can surround and seem to follow you.

Finding the trail, enjoying the scent.

After three hours of train rides and walks we finally found what we were looking for: The Yamanobe no michi trail !  Once again we had misjudged the amount of time it would take for us to find it.  I never could have found it on my own. My husband is generally undaunted by such challenges.

The online description was accurate in that the trail seemed far removed from the 21st century, but getting to it, was a bit complicated. Once we found it, the setting was dreamy, complete with scented air.

The rice harvest is now about half complete. Being out in the country in autumn, we were surrounded by rice fields and many persimmon orchards.  The recent rains have made the countryside lush and very green.

 

The entrance gate to Chokakuji Temple, established 824AD

We investigated the  ancient Chokakuji Temple just off the trail. The pathway up to the temple was lined with late blooming wild flowers.  A smiling monk ushered us into the small temple garden, and I gasped at the profusion and abundance in this small enchanting space.  It was unlike any other temple garden I’ve seen.  Deliberate design or a result of some neglect, I’m not sure, but you had to praise Mother Earth for her lush abundance, breathe deeply and attempt to take it all in.

Nature left to its own devices is  breathtaking in its vitality!

 

 

As usual, I slow to a snail’s pace when an environment in Japan catches my attention.  My husband breezes through these spaces at a more vigorous space, urging me to hurry up, because we “don’t have much time.”  I vacillate between wanting to tell him to get lost and awareness that he speaks the truth!  I reluctantly pick up the pace.

The countryside idyll

The trail leading from the temple became a dirt path flanked by rice fields and pomegranie orchards.  I pictured myself living in this gentle paradise, probably in an old farmhouse, brought up to date, of course.  My reverie was interrupted as the path incline grew steeper.  I reminded myself that approaching age 80 with chronic asthma meant that some daydreams were just plain ridiculous.  My immediate goal was to get to the top of the moderate sized hill, so I could then easily coast down the other side.

What Goes UP, Must….

 

The hike from Kurama to Kibune is described in some guidebooks as “easy.” In a few others as “steep.”  There were just enough “easy “descriptions to tip the scales for me, thinking “I can do this!”

Time: 2 to 3 hours
Distance: 3.9km
Difficulty: easy
Start point: Kurama Station on the Eizan Train Line
Finish point: Kibune-guchi Station on the Eizan Train Line

Kurama and Kibune are two picturesque little villages in the Kitayama Mountains, a 30-minute scenic train trip out of Kyoto. On this hike, you walk from Kurama to Kibune via Kurama-dera Temple, a temple located atop the mountain between the two villages. If you want to get out of the city for a while and enjoy some beautiful hiking in the woods, this is the perfect trip.

The ease of getting to/from the hike is one of its main attractions. To get to the start of the hike, take the Eizan Line train that leaves from Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto (which is, in turn, at the northern end of the Keihan Line, the line that runs along the Kamo-gawa River in Kyoto). Be sure to get on a Kurama-bound train and ride it all the way to the last stop, Kurama. At the end of the hike, you’ll board the same train line at Kibune-guchi Station and take it back to Demachiyanagi Station. Easy, peasy. Inside Kyoto

I did do it, but counted down the last five final steps as if I were on my way to the execution chamber.  In this case though, it meant I’d survived, hadn’t twisted my ankle, and would survive for another day.  My thighs told me, on a steep downhill step, that they were no longer willing or able to promise me any support.  The walking stick, given to me by a kind hiker who obviously decided I needed it more than she did,  was a life saver going downhill, but my shoulder pain from leaning on the stick, told me it wouldn’t do much more.

We passed many people on the trail, all doing better than I did, of course.  One jovial blonde woman, who looked as if she could take on Mt. Everest, cheerfully admitted to me she was from Austria.

This time we researched our route thoroughly before setting out.  We did not get lost, nor could we have.  We just had to walk up up up and then down down down, the uneven stone steps through the mountains to get to Kuruma.

Autumn has not arrived here.  The weather is now warm and humid enough to break a sweat quite easily.

We entered a green world. A typhoon had passed through not long ago, uprooting giant cypress trees like matchsticks.  The ground was littered with the aftermath.  The trail had been cleared.  Most of the wildflowers were done blooming, but the air was fresh and hopes high as we started out. New growth, post typhoon , was firmly established.

fungi on downed tree

The operative word here was s l o w l y.  I know if I take it easy, pause to recover my breath, I can do it.  People with young children passed us by.  Family groups with grandparents along passed us by.  Teen aged young men flew past us, their feet barely touching the ground, and their attitude declaring they were indestructible.    Women would look at me and ask if I was ok?  I couldn’t tell if they had kindness or pity in their eyes.  Maybe a bit of both. I reassured several fellow hikers that I was OK.  “Daijobu!” (OK)I called out to them.  “Gambatte!” (take heart.)  they said to me in return.

The Crest!

I felt immediately relieved when we reached the crest.  Danny reminded me that it’s generally more difficult going downhill than up.  Correct again.

Would I do it again?  Probably.  I did feel a bit of pride at having completed the hike.  I refused an out to dinner request from my husband, just too  damn tired. I wanted nothing more than to lay down.  KIndly, he made a quick run to the food basement of our nearby dep’t store and returned with warm and very tasty gyoza, shu mai, pork buns, and a yummy strawberry pudding.  I wolfed it down, then at 7:30 pm went to bed for the night.

 

Now and Then

A few days ago, as I realized my packing for my upcoming travel to Japan was taking entirely too long to pull together, I began to think what it must have been like just a few generations ago to undergo travel across the country by wagon train. Now I realize that has nothing to do with travel to Japan .  In that era, it was practically impossible. However, that’s where my mind went. How the hell did they pack for a trans continental trip by covered wagon? A few cute prairie dresses and a pair of sturdy boots.  I guess you couldn’t bring prescription drugs along. Nor protein bars. No music to plug into.  No wifi either. NO podcasts to break the tedium or distract from the monotony.  No cell phone call along the way to assure loved ones, you’re still alive and kicking. No Departure Lounge to sate oneself on food and drink before hitting the road.

Heaven help me, if the dust and horse dander had  brought on an asthma attack. I’d have been buried by the side of the road, probably a mile out of our first town.

Those thoughts quickly put everything in perspective.  I wrapped my preparations up quickly, boarded a 787 and gratefully flew to Japan, glad that I”m living in the 21st century. I could be certain there’d be no gangs of marauding  angry Indians. What did one wear for that terrifying event?

As for now, my computer was safely tucked along in my carry – on luggage, as were my Bose headphones.  I was prepared as I could be and happy to be on the road to my favorite place.  All I hoped for was a smooth flight.

After an hour long taxi from the airport to Kyoto, I tore off my clothes in the entry way of our apartment and made a b line to my unmade bed. Who cared if there were sheets, as long as I could be horizontal, had a pillow for my head and could just let go to sleep. And sleep I did.

This morning, as we ventured out to find breakfast, I felt myself opening to my alternate world. Little moments, that I hadn’t experienced since leaving Kyoto last May, now were in my sight lines again.  The carefully tended flowering plants that stand in front of most buildings bring nature up close.  The antique machiya that still remain standing, testaments to the important role Kyoto played as the cultural heart of Japan for hundreds of years, never fail to catch my breath.  The smiles on most people’s faces in daily interactions warm my soul.  I feel sadness too at the loss of buildings taken in the rush to provide more hotel rooms here to meet the demand.   The smorgasbord of enticing baked goodies displayed  at the local coffee house/bakery where we like to have breakfast  is a strong source of temptation this morning, but displaying newly learned and probably fragile self control, I manage to overcome.  Just say no.

 

Crisp noren at entry of store. Note protective figure (almost hidden) above doorway.

 

Welcome flowers at the entrance of my favorite grocery emporium.

The weather is still warm here.  I won’t be needing the warmer clothes I brought along for a while.  The leaves are all green too.  We need a cold snap.

One hundred years from now, what would someone make of this blog?  No answers there, but surely time marches on.  My twelve hour  journey across the Pacific will probably seem primitive.