Mountains and valleys Day 3

Day 3, 2nd November, to Kyoto

A very early start to catch the bullet train. Luggage space on these trains is very limited, so ours is transported by truck, taking most of the day to get to Kyoto, while we manage the journey in a fast, comfortable 3 hours. One of our number, an obnoxious Colonel Blimp look-alike loudmouth who wears shorts throughout the trip, is sitting beside me. At one point I doze off, and wake up to find he’s helped himself to my map of Japan. We pass through many small villages and much agricultural land – small rice paddies, vegetables, tea bushes, intensive cultivation with no livestock. Smouldering piles of stubble at the side of the fields, rice ‘stooks’ drying. Rivers are either dry or very low. Hills are steep and forested, with every scrap of ground in between being farmed. Check in to the ‘New Miyako’ hotel, and discover that as well as the Gideon Bible we’ve got a copy of ‘Teachings of the Buddha’ in our room.

Kyoto tour starts after a bento box lunch bought in the Tenkatsu Mall across the road from the hotel, and, on our son’s recommendation, a can of Pocari Sweat – a drink I become very fond of.

Our new guide asks us to call her Sue. Our first stop is the Sanjusangen-do temple dedicated to the Buddha Kannon. The hall, the longest wooden building in the world, contains 1001 gilded wooden statues of the Buddha, guarded by deities which are nearly all avatars of the Hindu pantheon – it’s astonishing how they’ve all been adapted to Buddhism. As I approach the central Buddha, which is much larger, I am overwhelmed by feelings of compassion and reverence.

On to the Heian (Shinto) Shrine, a very beautiful garden containing trees, streams and ponds. Like many temple gardens in Japan, it aims to contain features which suggest nature and evoke feelings of contemplation and relaxation. I come across a patch of iris growing at the water’s edge, with a single flower in bloom. We also see a heron attempting to catch koi carp which are far too big for it.

Finally today, the Kinkaku-ji Zen temple and grounds. By the side of an artificial lake the Golden Temple rises. In the lake, artificial islands, shaped like turtles, each feature groups of pine trees. The garden is just superb, serene and surprising. It contains a dry garden with raked grey sand, and a 600-year old trained pine tree. I manage to buy a bamboo tea scoop here, with the intention of conducting a tea ceremony when we get home. I still need a ladle, tea jar and a bowl.


Three temple day

I. Sanjusangen-do

We park our shoes
in the reserved spaces
and slide over the squeaky floor.
Pillars divide the long hall
in thirty-three compartments.
In all save one, three ranks
of ten gilded statues stand.
Before each group a guardian –
Krsna, Siva, Devi – Vedic avatars
transformed to protective spirits.
In the centre, huge, stepped back,
Kannon sits, thousand armed,
bestowing mercy, being mercy.
Behind their backs
a long corridor, where
archers compete each year.

II. Heian Shrine

A walk in the Paradise Garden
passes streams and ponds
where herons wade
in search of careless carp.

We move under trees
thinned by approaching winter.
Maples flame against the sky
but cherries are already bare.
The tall spires of ginkgos
glow gold and green.

A line of stepping stones
would be a magnet
for hopscotching children
anywhere else, but here
only one stupid tourist
breaks the spell.

III. Kinkaku-ji

Deep in the lake
a golden roof ripples
thatched by falling leaves.

In the evening we visit the Isaten Department Store behind Kyoto Station. Restaurants are all full, with queues outside. The basement is full of counters offering an amazing array of food. We go back to the restaurant and have a rather disappointing yakitori meal, followed by coffee and surprisingly good donuts in ‘Mister Donut’. Very tired all day.  We enjoy looking at the other customers, and we love the subtle way they observe us.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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