Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kyoto Light, Kyoto Night

As I began typing this, I had one day left in Japan, and I found myself wondering if it was a mistake to come.  Not because it was a bad experience, but the opposite - it has been a fantastic week.  Even if I haven't been here that long, I have a feeling of belonging.  It is not all jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and temples.  Taking the bus to Roketsu to make my noren, I had to admit that the buildings squashed in side by side were not the most aesthetically pleasing thing I'd ever seen...and yet, I love them, too, love the feeling that you could wander down a different cramped alley every day for a year and see something unique every time.  And if you wanna stick with temples and shrines, there are more than enough to keep you going for a good long while.  As we were walking through Sanjo my second day here, we passed two or three moderately large shrines.  Right in the middle of a shopping area!  It seems like most of them have some sort of festival at some point.  That afternoon when I'd gotten back to the house, my host Taka-san heard drums, and had me come to the window in the second floor of the house to watch a procession walk past.  That is the sort of sight I think I could watch all the time and never get bored.  In Kyoto, I'd have the chance to find out.

Take, for example, the Funaoka Matsuri.  Northward and west of the imperial palace is the Kenkun Shrine, which is where Oda Nobunaga is enshrined.  Oda Nobunaga is the warlord who essentially united Japan, bringing the Warring States period to an end.  I'm not much on history, although with several thousand years of it, I find Japan's much more interesting than America's.  However, I've been watching an anime about swords that have been turned into young men (yes, I know it makes pretty much no sense, but they're cute sword boys and I've watched enough anime at this point to be able to overlook most of the homoerotic overtones).  Their purpose is to protect the time stream from being changed, and in one episode they go back in time to make sure Nobunaga's assassination actually takes place.  When they were reminiscing about him, they didn't seem particularly fond, but at the end of the episode they were all kind of nostalgic.  I'm telling you this to give you some sort of background...if you really want some hard facts, you can wikipedia it.  Suffice it to say that he's kind of a hero.
So it's fitting that there's a celebration of his accomplishments and contributions to modern Japan.  It wasn't as crowded as the other two festivals I made it to - a little more solemn, too.  The whole thing was in Japanese, so I only had a vague idea of what was going on, but it was very interesting.  The ceremony started with music on traditional instruments, their cries sounding like heartbreak.  There were prayers - fortunately I go to church often enough to recognize an invitation to stand and bow your head, whether I understand the language or not - and various offerings where brought into the shrine by the officiators.  Then there were the performances.
There were four performances this year.  The first was a singing/dancing performance which - if I understood it correctly, was a variety of Noh, followed by a masked dancer performing bugaku (my knowledge of Japanese culture is not so extensive as to pull that out of nowhere...I used Discover Kyoto's website for my crib sheet).  The third was - I think - a geisha dance.  It was a graceful series of movements set to music by a lady - albeit an older one - in a gorgeous kimono, at any rate.  When she finished, branches were presented to VIP audience members, who presented them at the shrine, at which point the ceremonial part of it seemed to be over, although we had one final show - swordsmanship, with wooden swords.  The "winner" of the bout demonstrated his real sword on a rolled tatami mat, which lay before the shrine in three neat pieces when I got up to take a look.  And that seems fitting for a warrior's shrine.

Nights are generally downtime or shopping time when I travel.  It's been nice catching up with the Kawaii Kid on some of those nights, and at first when he told me he'd have to cut our Friday night meet-up short, I wasn't exactly thrilled, but we had a good chat and I was seeing him the next day...and then I realized that now that I was free, I could go up to Kodai-Ji and see the autumn illumination.  I really, really love the Japanese sense of aesthetics.  Sit under cherry trees watching the moon through their petals?  Sounds like fun to me.  In the fall, they kind of do the same thing, except with the changing colors of the leaves, and they call it momiji.  I may be missing the best part of it (again, WHY do I have to go home???), but Friday night the first temple on the schedule lit up their grounds, which they will continue to do til the end of November.

I love visiting temples at night.  They just have a different ambiance than during the day, as if the youkai are out to play.  Kodai-Ji was no exception, even with everyone wandering up and down the paths.  Even with the light show in the Zen rock garden....
Actually, I'm pretty sure I spied a few demons in the actual light show.  I'm not much of a fan of them, but I've got to say, this one was very well done...at one point, the light transformed the sand in the garden into rippling water, and the gate turned to gold.  It was genius.
The most magical part, though, was the reflections of the trees on the water.  More than anything I wanted to see it in a week or two, when all the trees would be on fire and the air just a bit chillier, but the words of Frost echoed in my head: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,  And miles to go before I sleep."  There is still a lot to do before I bid my current school goodbye.

However, it is possible that my subconscious is neither a fan of Frost or else just didn't care, because it may have tried to sabotage me into actually staying this morning.  When I finally went to bed last night, I set my alarm for 6:30.  For some reason, the last time I looked at the flight schedule I scrawled into my travel journal, I locked onto my arrival time in Incheon (11:20), thinking it was my departure from Osaka.  When my alarm when off, I asked myself if I was feeling too lazy for one more walk - I never made it onto the Philosopher's Path, or got further into Fushimi-Inari-Taisha than the first knot of tourists.  And then I looked up my e-ticket, just in case...only to realize that my flight left at 9:30.  From Osaka.  Which was an hour and a half away.

From thence proceeded a string of profanities that probably woke up everyone in the house as I stripped and redressed in a panic, shoving my pajamas into my soon (I hoped) to be checked luggage - but I'm calling it payback for the snoring from the next room.  Blondie was right when she said that you can hear everything through traditional Japanese walls.  I clomped down the stairs, threw on my shoes and socks, locked the door and dropped the keys in the mail slot, as Taka-san requested, finally walking around the corner and on my way.  And then I realized I'd left my iPad on the counter.  For one moment, I thought, "Forget it - I don't like the darn thing anyways!" but that seems wasteful, even for me.  I got back to the door and was wondering how loud I would have to get to wake someone up when I realized that I was able to get the keys back - they hadn't slid all the way into the mail slot, and retrieved my technology.  A quick walk out to the street and a moment of panic ensued when I wondered if there were even any taxis on the streets at 6:50 on a Sunday morning, since that was my plan...spend a gajillion yen on a taxi, rather than miss my flight.  Fortunately the very kind driver who picked me up a minute or two later convinced me to take the airport limousine bus, and even though it seemed to be the slowest thing on the road, somehow I made it with just enough time to check in, get through security with the help of the very kind Korean air agent, and get to the gate before boarding.

Considering the number of mishaps I've had this week, you may be thinking, "Wow, what a gong show!  No way I'd travel with you!"  (Unless you're my dad, in which case you are probably thinking - for neither the first nor the last time - "Get your head out of your ass!")  But for the record...well, you're not entirely wrong.  I'm not usually quite this bad, though, and at least now you know that it's possible to get from Kyoto to Osaka and on your flight in less than three hours.

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