Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chajiko wa Shinsengumi no Hito ni Naritai or Something Like That, or Chajiko and the Giant Butt Splorch


I fell down a mountain today. 

No kidding. Not very far down, but down nonetheless.

That’s what I get for climbing a mountain after a 24 hour rain storm in shoes that are nearly bald because I can’t bear to get rid of them. (Hey, when you’ve finally found that perfect pair of tennis shoes it’s HARD to trash them, no matter how worn out they become!)
At any rate, I slipped on the downwards path and ended up butt-down in the mud, completely humiliated. I like to think of myself as sure footed, but...or butt, shall we say?

It WAS a really cool mountain, despite the whole slipping part. A path ran up behind a buhddist temple that is right near our ryokan into the beautiful ancient trees. There is no place like it at home for me. Sasaki said that it reminded her a great deal of the eastern united states, but as I have never had the pleasure to see that part of my own beautiful country, I can make no comparison.

At one point along the path we passed a single stone torii that was standing at the entrance of a fenced in enclosure, only half visible between the trees. The thing was, there was no shrine within the enclosure, and I get the strong feeling that we had run across a very old Shinto burial--my fingers fairly itched to get down there and see, but I managed to control myself. The mud was horrendous already, and there’s few things worse in the world I can think of than corpse mud.

Our path up the mountain was conveniently marked by little cement markers painted yellow and helpfully incised with the kanji “yama,” which simply means “mountian.”
Just in case we didn’t know where we were.
I saw a buhddist begging monk at Kiyomizudera, also known as the pure water temple. It was really amazing--he was dressed as monks have dressed for something around 1200 years, holding a begging bowl as the Buhdda did before him, wearing a kasaboshi (one of those awesome umbrella-straw-hats) pulled low over his face and chanting sutras. I was captivated by it.


It is always a pleasant surprise to me to see and meet people who take their religions seriously. Too many people that I have met are either “sunday christians” or even “Christmas and Easter Christians” or the equivalent in other faiths. They claim a faith as their own and follow the rules on the holy days, but don’t really let it interfere with their daily lives. 
I, as someone to whom religion is as important as eating or drinking, find this very puzzling despite the fact that it is the attitude seemingly adopted by most of the world. Anyway, I’m wandering off my point. It is so very neat to see someone like that--someone to whom also religion is food and drink. It gives me hope in an obscure way, though he and I could share nothing by way of common doctrine.

We met Sasaki-kun’s other host family whilst we were here--yet another st of amazing people. As we sat at their house on sunday evening and played games I was amazed to find that once again—the bonds of familial love transcend the lines of culture and language and take existence into a higher, more joyful plane. The spirit in that home of love and tolerance was so moving and was something of a shot in the arm to someone like me, who gets homesick after three days away from home.

That’s what happens when you have an amazing family with whom you can be the best of friends.

At any rate, the Shibas (name changed for the sake of privacy...) took us all about Kyoto in a rented car and bought us food and Omiyage (souveniers) and spoke to us in easy Japanese and were generally amazingly kind to two people so many miles away from home.
Kyoto is freezing. Seriously, Sasaki-kun s about to die (she’s acclimated to Arizona) and I’m even feeling he cold through my frost-bitten Utah exterior. It seems that Kyoto is experiencing an unseasonably cold week--bad luck for us, we didn’t pack ANY cold weather clothes! In fact, I almost didn’t bring a coat at all! Ah well, I’m sure we’ll survive.

Or not.


No more moving food for us, thank goodness, just some really weird Okonomiyake that was a little heavy on the leeks and unlike any I had eaten before. I have high hopes of finding some NORMAL okonomiyake (something like a Japanese pancake stuffed with meats and vegetables. YUM.) before we leave.

Though I will be very sad to have to once gain leave this country behind me, It’s probably a good thing. Not only am I so exhausted I can hardly move, but I am starting to run out of all the money I’ve saved--which is not something I recommend.




Kyoto is an amazing series of beautiful temples and gardens one right after another, and it is also the home of some of my favorite events in Japanese history. Google “Shinsengumi” and “Bakamatsu” and you’ll see some of what I am talking about. Aside from those recent things, though, Kyoto has been the seat of Imperial power for pretty much the whole time Japan has been a country. 

The nobles of the Heian Jidai (“Peaceful era” roughly 600-1200 AD) wrote positively heart-breaking Tonka and Choka (types of Japanese poetry that were the predecessors of the modern Haiku as we know it) about the capitol city in the spring, and how their hearts yearned to be there (usually these were written by exiled nobles who then either died of wasting fevers or chucked themselves into rivers in the approved Heian fashion).   And frankly...though I didn’t know what they were going on about at the time I read them, sitting in a classroom six thousand miles and 800 years removed as I was, I now think I can begin to understand.

The barrier of the long years is very thin here, and seems as though it might fade away as the kagerou in the light spring rain beneath a rising moon. There is a timelessness in the shape of the sakura, and a whisper in the onion grass that calls a soul beyond the limits of mortal thought into a twilight that has been dead for a thousand years—and yet must and will continue to exist.

It is echoed in the mournful sound of the flute and the austere strains of the koto and the stone lanterns seem to flicker with it as the sun goes down, beckoning...