WHO WAS THAT STRANGER?

We weren’t exactly lost, but neither did we know where to go. We were searching for a small, less well-known temple in NW Kyoto to visit that had been described in the Kyoto Visitor’s Guide as having a “lively pottery market.”

We’d already asked three people in the neighborhood how to find the Sendon-Shakado Temple.  We’d gotten three varying responses.  All of a sudden, from behind me, I heard a male voice speaking perfect American English asking, How can I help you?

I turned to face the voice.  Before me was an overweight, older man on a bicycle. He had a smiling face with twinkling eyes.  A ragged  straw hat covered his head. He wore shorts and a patterned short – sleeved shirt.  His blackened nails looked as if he’d been gardening for the last month.  He was an unlikely sight in Kyoto.

When we told him our destination, he told us with certainty how to get there.  Then he wanted to know, Why are you going there? When we told him we wanted to see the pottery market, he was dismissive, telling us there wouldn’t be much to see.

Do you like Buddhist art? he then inquired. Sure, I easily replied, although I’m far from an expert on it.  I know it covers a broad area, often deep with symbolism that I know nothing about.  Good answer, he told me.

Well, he continued, there’s a little visited museum on the grounds of the temple that you’d miss if you didn’t know about it.  It has an exceptional collection of Kannon statuary.  If you’re going to the temple, you should definitely find the museum. We thanked him for is help and he rode off.

Although he seemed a bit like Santa Claus, I felt as we’d been visited by some reincarnated deity from Buddhist theology. Maybe I’d been reading too many Buddhist myths.japanese myth

We found the temple easily. It is the oldest original temple building in Kyoto, dating from the 12th c.  It’s a relatively modest building by Japanese temple standards, but beautiful.temple

Sure enough, the pottery market held little interest.  But when we walked into the soaring space of the almost hidden museum to see the statuary, we gasped at the beauty before us. Along with other Buddhist art, exquisite, lIfe sized, hand carved wooden statues of the deity Kannon dating from the 1200’s, lined one side of the soaring room. On the opposite side, were ten statues, also from the 12th c of Buddhist disciples.   It was a remarkable find.

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There were other wonders to be found on the grounds as well.  A temple service began just as we left the museum.  A priest chanted the sutras as he drummed rhythms that I wanted to dance to.  It was the 15th anniversary of my Dad’s death, so it seemed like a fine time to remember him and light a candle in his memory.  All in all, it was one of my more memorable temple experiences.

For the remainder of the day, I kept thinking about the strange stranger who suddenly appeared to point us in the absolute right direction!  I would have liked to thank him again, but maybe he already knows that.

MY BLUE HEAVEN, aka A Flower orgy

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ~Basho

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There are two distinct  kinds of temple/shrine goers in Japan.  One type believes that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.  The other’s credo is that it is impossible to find a temple that doesn’t have something to admire.   I’m in the latter category.

There’s an affinity in temples and shrines for splendid gardens, sometimes grand, but often intimate.  For the temple addict, the beauty of the natural world is heightened by the artistry of the designed landscape.  The garden provides inspiration, while the temple or shrine set on site, provides the opportunity to give thanks.  It’s a perfect marriage.

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I gasped at the first sight of 10,000 hydrangeas simultaneously in bloom at the Mimurotoji Temple garden. I entered into a dream world of blueness, in delicious shades and tints of the blue spectrum.DSC03962

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An outdoor café sits in the center of the garden.  It’s a perfect place to indulge in a chilly green tea  shaved ice or a green tea parfait that helps to cool the summer heat.

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When I finally bid goodbye to the hydrangeas, I went to visit the temple.  I climbed three sets of very steep stone steps, discovering that this ancient structure was framed with hundreds of regal blooming lotus.  What a fine day!

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ZIP-A-DE-DO0-DAH

This ikebana arrangement exemplifies the expression of spring.

Only a very few days, at a certain time of the year, in a certain kind of place, at a certain time of day, qualify for exalted Zip-a-dee-doo-dah status.  Yesterday was one of “those” days.

zippadeeLeaving the city of Kyoto for a break in the Let’s Play House routine, we drove (make that we were driven) on a  single lane road, through small villages, one and a half hours north of the city, into the mountains and back in time.  I’d made a reservation for an overnight stay at the highly recommended ryokan, Miyamasou. It is situated along a winding stream, a short distance from a 900 year old temple. When built, it housed Buddhist monks.

When guests arrive at a ryokan, they surrender themselves to the impeccable and attentive care of the staff.  The only decisions required concern the time to eat and the time to bathe.

Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.
Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.

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Miyamasou is renowned for its mountain based cuisine. This is not faddish, but a path that’s been followed in the mountains for millennia.  They’ve just made high art out of the presentation and preparation of the ingredients.  We were up to the task of eating and appreciating the exquisite food put before us.

Please note river shrimp.  Our first course.
Please note river shrimp. Our first course.
Tempura mountain veggies.
Tempura mountain veggies.

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Our beautiful server at dinner, in rather formal attire!
Our server at dinner, in rather formal attire!

I really did break into song in the morning of the first day in May.  The day and the setting were perfection.  Daffodils huddled together on the banks of the stream. The  earth seemed to explode with the urgency of new life. Violets, ferns and mosses vied for space at the edge of the pathways, birdsong filled the clear mountain air, and the rushing stream provided constant background music to our ears.

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Inspired by the loveliness of the day, and by books I’d been reading about courageous people deciding to walk ancient Japanese pilgrim routes , I took, what to most hikers would be, a “baby step.”

Before we paid the fee at entrance to the temple grounds, the wisened temple caretaker looked doubtful that my husband and I could do it. She tried to tell us several times how steep the climb was. Before we set off, she shouted, “Gambatte!”  which means good luck.  Walking sticks in hand, we slowly climbed up 430 vertiginous stone steps to the ancient wooden temple.  We descended with aching thighs and weak knees,  but otherwise intact!

Climbing to the temple
Climbing to the temple

Sorry, no photos are allowed of the temple.  It’s a simple wooden structure on stilts, poised near the top of the mountain we’d climbed.  Needless to say, my husband and I both felt quite pleased with ourselves once we’d made it intact to the bottom.

Returning to our ryokan, there was only time to say goodbye to our gracious hosts, before our taxi wound its way back to the city to resume life in our newly adopted city.

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