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?
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.
Yikes! This really exists! (for full affect, do watch the videos.)
Part of what endears Japan to me is the seemingly never-ending discoveries to be made at both ends of the spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous. A few days ago we travelled out of Kyoto to attend a performance of The Takarazuka Revue. I’d known about Takarazuka for years, but this year I got reservations as soon as we got to Japan. It didn’t disappoint.
from NY Times, July 14, 2016
YOKOHAMA, Japan — On any given night outside a theater in central Tokyo, hundreds of women can be found waiting in neat phalanxes, dressed in matching T-shirts or sporting identical colored handkerchiefs — the uniform of what may be the most rabidly loyal fans in Japanese entertainment.
The stars they’re hoping to glimpse are women, too, actresses who play both male and female roles in the 102-year-old Takarazuka Revue, an enduringly successful theater company.
Founded in 1914 by a railway company that hoped to lure travelers to a struggling hot spring resort outside Osaka, the group began with a handful of teenage singers and dancers and staged its first performances in a converted swimming pool. A century later, Takarazuka operates five sub-troupes and puts on 900 shows a year, in company-owned theaters in Tokyo and its original western Japanese base. Most of the shows sell out.
Cross-dressing, single-gender theater groups have a long history in Japan.
Takarazuka could not be more Japanese. Training is rigorous and the troupes are strictly hierarchical, with designated “top stars” and ranks of junior performers. Rules are strict and extend beyond the stage: Members are not allowed to marry and often “retire” in their late 20s or early 30s. The most popular make the transition to mainstream acting or singing careers.
By putting women in male roles, Takarazuka is aiming less for transgression or social rebellion than for an added level of escapist fantasy. Its members’ duty, Ms. Mine said, is to be “fairies selling dreams,” onstage or off. “You can’t have the smell of a real life about you.”
Despite its Western trappings, Takarazuka draws on “ideas of purity that are very primitively Japanese,” Akio Miki, a veteran Takarazuka director, said. They show up in its productions and in the way the company — whose official motto is “modesty, fairness, grace” — regulates its performers’ private lives.
“It’s an idealized male image, seen through women’s eyes: The heroes are more romantic, more divine,” he said. “They don’t tend to lie or cheat. It’s what the audience would like from men but doesn’t usually get in reality
Before I moved to CA where the sun shines most of the time (Neil Diamond circa 1971) and the ground is green for a brief few months a year, I generally thought of rain as a spoiler. I grew up with the children’s refrain “rain rain go away,” and never found a lot to appreciate in a rainy day. Until I moved to CA where the arrival of rain became a reason to celebrate.
How times change. Now in CA the hills are euphemistically called golden, but are in reality a dull brown. So if I travel and encounter rain, the usual nemesis of the tourist, I no longer gripe, but watch it in wonder and with pleasure. I’ve equipped myself with a colorful umbrella and a sturdy pair of waterproof sneakers so that I can easily navigate the puddles and the overflow I encounter. I breathe in deeply enjoying all those reputed negative ions.
The remnants of a typhoon are passing over Kyoto today. The skies are steel grey and a steady rain is falling. Yesterday, I bought autumnal flowers from my favorite flower store for our apartment and happily arranged them in what I determined were artistically satisfying arrangements now gracing our living space. Our interior is warm and pleasant although outdoors it’s a major contrast. Continue reading “rain dance”→
Who’s to say why I feel such a deep connection to Japanese places of worship, be they temples or shrines? Is it the setting? The architecture? The gardens? The rituals? The air of mystery surrounding something I don’t understand very well?
I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that I am consistently pulled in their direction. I spend a fair amount of time when in Kyoto, revisiting places of the spirit and discovering new places of the spirit. Kyoto has over 2000 shrines, temples and gardens, so there’s literally a lifetime left of exploration.
The description in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide to the over one thousand-year-old Shinto Yasurai Festival on the 2nd Sunday in April got my attention. It was described as one of the three biggest and most unique festivals in Kyoto, performed to gain protection from illnesses. After a few months of recent illnesses, I thought a little protection might be just what I needed. It certainly couldn’t hurt!
My husband and I arrived at the Imamiya Shrine on a cool spring day. We had no idea what we were doing but went along with the flow. We soon spotted some young shrine maidens sitting behind a table. With a welcoming smile, they instructed us to write our health wishes on a small piece of paper hidden within a small red-orange paper kimono which they handed to us. Writing completed, we then presented our wish to another shrine maiden who blessed us and put the paper wish in a large round basket with those of other participants. We kept the paper kimono itself. It now hangs in my office.
Within a short time, the crowds thickened and a parade of costumed worshippers of all ages made their way through the grounds of the shrine. They played a repetitive tune on flutes, hit drums and chanted in front of those of us assembled. A few wore bright red wigs, representing demons. It was quite a sight. The knowledge that this ritual or something like it has been repeated and performed for almost a thousand years, is impressive.
Following the performance in front of the main building of the shrine, we were all blessed by the head priest. I felt a strong sense of community in receiving that blessing even though I could not understand the words. I was happy to be in the crowd and receive the blessings.
It’s a mystery, but since leaving the Yasurai Festival, I have felt more energy and fewer asthma symptoms than I have had for many months. Amen.