top of page
  • Shelley Dark

10. happy Easter from Kyoto

Hello buddies, happy Easter!

Let me tell you a little folk story I learned on the walk home today. Once upon a time, in 769, brave Lord Wake no Kiyomaro stopped an evil priest Yuge no Dokyo from usurping the imperial throne. The Dokyo was so angry that he banished the lord to a far prefecture. On the way, the lord was attacked by Dokyo's men, wounding him in the leg. It seemed that he would not survive the journey. But three hundred wild boars appeared and escorted him safely for 40 kilometres, to where his leg was miraculously healed.

This is Goo Shrine which celebrates this story.

Boars are now deeply venerated as symbols of recovery from illness and particularly leg injuries, safe journeys, and for a life free of accidents and mishaps. So if you have any problems in those departments, talk to the pig!

This hotel is a fairly generic upmarket hotel, a little lacking in soul. But we were lucky it had beds available for our late booking. The staff are very obliging, breakfasts and room service are good, the shower pressure is great, the bed is comfortable and the pillows are like concrete.

The accommodation is built in a square around a huge covered void which reaches up to the top of the six floors. There's a kitch Veuve Clicquot lounge bar at its centre, with VC cushions, VC lamps and VC paraphenalia such as the arrangement above. A glass costs about as much as a small car!

There were a group of people in the lift this morning going down to breakfast. At the ground floor an elegant-looking Japanese woman held the doors-open button for everyone to get out. John and I stood aside until everyone had gone and then indicated that she should go out before us. She smiled, bowed and indicated that we should go ahead of her. I shook my head, smiled and bowed and indicated again that she should go first. She laughed softly, and shook her head again. We all laughed. We gave up. She was delighted.

Kana was transformed today! She had her hair up and was dressed in a traditional cream and salmon kimono, as she does for about half the week. This one is about thirty years old, beautifully woven silk with a really stylish and wonderfully timeless pattern.

It doesn't matter how much sakura you see, you simply can't resist sighing. It's the palest ephemeral pinkness of it all, the petals drifting down with each puff of breeze, the poignancy of knowing how fleeting this beauty is.

We only had one request of Kana today: that we avoid the huge crowds we saw yesterday at Maruyama Park. She suggested that we go to see inside the Nanzenji Temple complex, and we were happy to agree. I thought we had seen the facade the other day, but it turns out we had only seen the front of a small Shinto shrine. Actually this huge structure is what they call the 'gate' forming the entrance. I feel a bit like Crocodile Dundee when he brought out his knife: now THAT'S a temple!

Inside the complex, there's a surprising Victorian-style brick aqueduct that passes straight through the the grounds. The visual and reverential pollution of one of the most important centres of buddhism in Japan caused a huge outcry when it was built in the late 1800's. It's part of a canal system constructed to carry water and goods between Kyoto and its water source, Lake Biwa.

Nanzenji was built by Emperor Kameyama as a retirement villa, but when he decided to become a buddhist priest, he converted it into a Zen temple. Some of the end roof tiles show the imperial chrysanthemum like this one, others are marked with the name Nanzenji.

The buildings were all destroyed during the civil wars from the 14th to the 16th centuries, so the oldest now date from about 1570-1600.

The Japanese maples are slowly unfurling their tiny leaves, the palest lime green, with the tiniest of pink flowers.

I fell in love with this huge bronze bowl used for sand for burning incense sticks. It's been shone by a million hands. The goblin feet are to frighten away evil spirits.

The very up-curving copper roof dragon seems to owe more to Chinese roof design than the Japanese, which usually has a gentler curve. Chinese influence is everywhere in Japan - it was regarded as the source of excellence and good taste for centuries, and now it's hard sometimes to tell where the Chinese ends and the Japanese begins.

Every time we turned a corner, another blossom-fest.

This is the meditation garden much loved by the emperor. A simple house with wide verandah overlooks it, and a stone memorial to him is hidden away in the grounds.

This is a decorative water chain hanging from the gutter. Kana said when it rains, it's very pretty, spouting flowers of water at each little pot.

The entry to the living quarters speaks the words of the founder of Zen buddhism. They get it so right don't they?

The actual name of Nazenji is 'Auspicious Dragon Mountain Southern Zen Temple for the Promotion of Great Peace and the Prosperity of the Realm'. That's the short version. -:)

This calligraphy screen measures about two metres by one. Does it ever happen to you that something speaks to your soul so exquisitely, that without your even thinking about it, tears run down your cheeks? This did it for me. It was if I'd been struck dumb. The brush strokes. The power. The boldness of this artist with a giant paint brush. We saw it from inside the house, daylight illuminating it from behind as it stood in front of the entryway to the house. I'll never forget that moment. But to others around me, the second was the same as any other. They looked and moved on. It means 'auspicious dragon'.

It's modern furniture but in an old room, overlooking a garden, sliding screens providing soft light.

This is Hojo garden. It's a Zen karensansui (dry garden) which borrows scenery from the hills behind. Kyoto does not allow any development which might spoil an important view like this. Original hand-painted gold screens inside the house depict exotic tigers, unknown in Japan, but meant to intimidate the visitor who might wait for an audience. Sorry, no photos allowed.

John shows Kana a photo he's taken.

The craftsmanship of the woodwork - I just love it!

There are tea houses in the grounds which Kana explained to me. She's been studying to be a tea master for ten years. The principles involved in this or any protocol in Japan apply to the whole of life.

Up until the 12th century, the Japanese drank tea made from tea leaves. At the end of that century, green powdered matcha tea was brought from China, and embraced particularly by the samurai warrior class, who were considered inferior by the aristocracy. Eventually under the flamboyant leadership of samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 1500's, who invited the emperor to a lavish tea party to persuade him of the merits of matcha, it eventually became accepted by the imperial household, and so the aristocracy. In addition to being a time for social gatherings and peaceful negotiation, the tea ceremony took on a spiritual meaning as well.

Hideyoshi was very friendly with the tea master Sen no Rikyu, who had the greatest influence on chanoyu, the Japanese 'Way of Tea', favouring rustic simplicity, honesty, and directness of approach.

It became a competition to see who could resist taking the next flowering tree.

We ate lunch at a noodle restaurant called Gontaro. Kana and I had the Tori Namba (chicken and leek with soba noodles). Delicious!

You can imagine John's alarm when he saw his Oyako Donburi - this for a man who says you should never eat something you can't pronounce - it means rice topped with chicken and egg but he didn't realise the egg was raw!

I discovered I absolutely LOVE Japanese pepper, or sansho. It has the most intriguing taste with a strange sort of astringent ending. I think I'll bring some home if I remember. They are related to Sichuan peppercorns and are the berry of rutaceae zanthoxylum a deciduous shrub.

On our way to Chion-in we passed three 800-year-old camphor laurels. Imagine what they have seen.

We visited Chion-in because it is the centre of Jōdo Shū, the Pure Land Buddhist sect which is so dramatically different from Zen Buddhism. I'm not even going to try to explain the religious belief, except to say that the insides of the buildings are much more lavish with dazzling hanging gold chains and huge gold buddha, gold brocade, polished wood, lacquer ware and lots of gongs. I think it's because paradise or the pure land is just full of gold and extravagantly good things and this religion will help you get there. I would have loved to take a photo of the inside of the Buddha's building but no photos were allowed.

The founder's building is much much bigger than Buddha's building, which also says something. It's underneath that temporary modern looking building and is being refurbished. It won't be seen again for another five years or so....

The detailed pattern on the silk of Kana's kimono.

This shrine is dedicated to cutting off - cutting off the things we want to get rid of in life. Believers must first crawl through the opening, then put glue on the wish paper they've bought and written on, stick it on top of all the others on the stone, and then crawl back through the hole, symbolising the taking on of the new. If you believe that....

We said goodbye to Kana with sadness. She made our stay in Kyoto so enjoyable, so would you please say a prayer that she will soon find the man of her dreams. I'll leave you tonight with this very simple floral display in a stone bowl. It somehow symbolises the minimalism that is Japan.

Tomorrow we go to Kaga Onsen for 3 nights. For a little Zen time. Be ready to leave the hotel at 9am ok? Don't leave your passports in the safe.

In reality, you are having Easter and may not even have time to read the next couple of posts. Hope you have a safe happy time, and may the Easter bunny find you.

Until tomorrow, buddies, night night.

shelley dark, writer 

bottom of page