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.

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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.

 

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.

It’s Almost Like Being in Love

When I’m in Japan, people seem nicer, the landscape more beautiful, the mundane more interesting. The giggling groups of young women enjoying each other’s company help me to appreciate how fleeting youth is.  The laughs I share with new friends are more frequent. The reds are redder, the golds more golden.IMG_2794

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Respect for and tolerance of others are a commonly agreed upon bond that is shared by almost everyone. Kindness prevails. People seem to smile more often than at home. I awaken earlier.  Singing too!  Rereading this, it sounds like I’ve fallen in love! Continue reading “It’s Almost Like Being in Love”

In Search of Beauty

I awakened in Japan this morning to learn of the terrorist outrage in lower Manhattan.  It’s not the news any of us want to see wherever we are.  We live in times that can easily be called disheartening.  I have felt the encroaching darkness  for several months for reasons that don’t require illumination. Anyone with a functioning sensory mechanism has most likely felt a similar reaction to the political turmoil.

I looked forward to my Japanese visit as a way to reassure myself that there is still some semblance of decency and sanity remaining in the world.  One doesn’t need to come to Japan to find it, of course, but for me, it makes it easier.

Appreciation of nature’s  beauty is built into this culture and readily accessible. I am far from alone in my quest for distraction and sustenance.  In the popular gardens, hundreds of tourists armed with phones and cameras clog the pathways, searching for their own moments of inspiration.  Mostly, they seem preoccupied with taking selfies in front of a photogenic backdrop. I determine in the future  to avoid these congregations as much as possible and focus my attention on the less obvious, making a vow to avoid these over popular spots.

Yesterday, we went to Arashiyama, to show our house guest the Western foothills of Kyoto.  We visited Tenryuji, a world heritage site, and then wandered the bamboo forest, encountering some exuberant schoolgirls and many tourists along the way. Continue reading “In Search of Beauty”

Back in Business

There is something about coming back to Japan that resets my clock. Backwards. In a good way.

Each time I arrive here I have the same feeling I’d get as a child when I’d go to NYC. On high alert,  senses stimulated, fatigue banished.

I quickly transform from a place of “been there, done that” to a place of discovery.  My brain cells get scrambled just enough so that I recover my sense of wonder, exhilaration  and inspiration.

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The Mother of all sushi bars.

A sushi bar dinner becomes an exalted dining experience under the capable hands of highly trained sushi chefs who are dedicated to letting us know where each piece of fish is from as well as which part of the fish we are eating?  Feeling full?  Let me present you with a smaller size of sea urchin.   Continue reading “Back in Business”