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.

 

oh! oy? christmas

I never feel ready for it. I am often baffled by it. I am uncomfortable with certain aspects of it. I am also fascinated by it. It? Christmas.

In Key West this year, Christmas manifests itself with over the top displays of lights, displayed on the unquestioned assumption that more is better, particularly if it’s a zany hodgepodge of Christmas clichés. Happy tourists walk the shopping streets wearing exaggerated Santa hats and necklaces of glowing Christmas lights Our neighbor’s holiday lights give our small street an aura of nostalgia and warmth. I briefly get caught up in the spirit and consider doing a few strings of white lights across our front porch, but then catch myself and decide it’s not at all necessary. The admonitions of childhood are hard to escape.

It’s a relief to see nary a crèche in sight on public land fought about and argued over. I no longer feel it necessary to explain to well-meaning strangers who wish me Merry Christmas that I don’t celebrate it, at least in their whole -hearted traditional way. Their shocked and saddened faces put an end to that little experiment years ago. It’s much easier and nicer to wish them Merry Christmas too, even if it sticks a bit in my throat on its way to being expresed.

The only piece of Christmas I missed the year was hearing my favorite carol sung by Johnny Mathis, Oh, Holy Night!. Of course, I can play it anytime I want with today’s technology, but that feels like cheating and doesn’t bring the thrill of hearing it suddenly come on the radio or of catching it on the sound system in a store.

And, whatever happened to shimmery tinsel and the magic of spray on artificial snow? I used to love that stuff, although it was always easier to find something to spray the snow on rather than drape in tinsel.

These days, I can go along for the Christmas ride more easily. I’m not sitting inside the car with the deliriously happy passengers, more like riding/clinging on the hood, observing and often enjoying it, but forever on the outside looking in.

Less than Two Miles in 4.5 Hours

When Danny suggested that we walk to an antique store we like to visit here on the opposite side of town, it seemed like a fine idea.  The weather was mild, the mid-November sun warm and inviting.  And we both could use the excercise.

Taking an A to B walk in Kyoto is hypothetically an easy thing to do.  The city is laid out on an simple grid, the terrain within the city is flat.  That does NOT factor in all the distractions along the way.

So it was that a walk that could have taken us less than an hour, not pushing it, took almost 4.5 hours to complete.  One way.

Let me take you along the route. We headed west towards the lovely Kamogawa River.

We passed a small shop selling the most prized of seasonal vegetables:  the Mazsutake mushroom. Continue reading “Less than Two Miles in 4.5 Hours”

Serendipity Strikes Again

A small blurb in a local magazine caught my eye and I  thought it would be worth checking out:

Autumn Book Fair is held by the Used Book Society of Kyoto which consists of many of Kyoto’s used booksellers at Chion-ji Temple in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city. Throughout the event, the usually quiet temple compound is transformed into the likes of a giant bookstore and crowded with many people.

I’ve always been fascinated with paper ephemera from earlier times and this sale, along with its valuable books, had stacks and stacks of of old travel pamphlets, catalogues, magazines, advertising brochures, etc.  I love the old graphics, the weird and disturbing references to a formerly militaristic Japan during wartime, the early manga drawings, etc.

As promised, stalls lined the temple compound.  Prices were reasonable.  My pulse raced when I found two exquisite bound catalogues of vintage kimono patterns.  I’d only read that they existed, and here they were, affordable and in my eager hands. Continue reading “Serendipity Strikes Again”

Morning Blessings Received Years Ago, Not Forgotten

(This is a recently found account of a tour to a morning service at a Zen temple in Kyoto.)

It was still a dark and cold early spring morning when we arrived a bit nervously at the impressive Zen temple in Kyoto. A young monk greeted us pleasantly. His obvious assignment was to instruct us on the proper way to walk, sit and light incense during our planned participation in the upcoming morning service. A more important but less obvious charge was to make certain that we did not exhibit any offensive behavior and that no one in our tourist group strayed to parts unknown. We were not allowed to disgrace ourselves.

We were quickly taught and mastered three hand positions for use during the service.

  1. Palms together, fingertips as high as the nose, elbows out from our sides and hands about a fist’s distance from the face. To be used when walking to light incense. I liked this position best.
  2. Fold left thumb inwards and loosely wrap the fingers of the left hand over the thumb. Cover left fist with right hand. To be used when walking into the service. This position hurt my arthritic thumb. I did not complain.
  3. While sitting in zazen, make cup shape with left hand on lap. Line up fingers of right hand under fingers of left hand. Tips of thumbs should be touching, creating an oval shape. Imagine the light of Buddha in this space. This is the classic,” I not only feel holy, but look holy too”position.

With those instructions under our belts, a loud reverberating gong resonated through every cell in my body, announcing the time for the service to begin. A solemn procession of 200 shaved headed monks filed into the temple, two by two. The senior monks, wearing slightly more elaborate robes, were at the front of line with the novitiates at the end. They took places, in perfect rows on either side of the altar. Continue reading “Morning Blessings Received Years Ago, Not Forgotten”