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.

 

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.

 

Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)

Today we merged with a few of the thousands of Chinese tourists who come to Kyoto to view the cherry blossoms. There are droves of Chinese tourists who flock here eager to shop and have fun. Young Chinese women dress up in brightly colored garish kimono, taking advantage of dozens of kimono rental businesses that have sprung up recently. These try-on opportunities are not regarded kindly by many Japanese, because,in their opinion, it cheapens and demeans the refined beauty of the kimono. I’ve noted that the women seem quite pleased with their transformation, snapping selfies and obviously oblivious to their host nation’s opinion of the practice. kimono rental Continue reading “Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)”

Almost Never Enough PINK

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 swatches

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

  1.  Easter bunny in bakery counter of Daimaru Dep’t store
  2.  Ema votive tablets wishes and prayers written by visitors at Kodaiji Temple.
  3. The magnificent weeping cherry tree in splendid solitude at Kodaiji in Kyoto.
  4. More delectables in pastry case
  5. Alstromeria pink
  6. Folk art yarn ball (temari)
  7. Do you need a new purse?
  8. 9.  Better not miss out on Easter

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I’m Sorry, What’s Your Name??

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?

The walkways lead onwards, never immediately revealing what they contain.

Continue reading “I’m Sorry, What’s Your Name??”