Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shrine Maiden, Part 2

(Alternate title: I'm Too Tired to Come Up With a New Witty Title Tonight)

When I went to Kyoto the first time, everything I did was secondary to Gion and its geiko.  Back then, I was a relatively simplistic traveler; I went to interesting sites and took pictures.   These days I try to be more diverse in my interests (in spite of what I said yesterday about having a theme).  If you'd held a gun to my head before this trip and asked me what I was most looking forward to, I'm not sure I could have told you*.   While I was planning it out, I sat down and wrote up a list of the things I saw, eleven years ago: Gion Corner, Yasaka Jinja, Kiyomizu Dera, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, Ryoan-Ji, Nijo Castle.  Only one of those places - the Inari shrine in Fushimi - was potentially on my list this time.  It wasn't that I didn't love the things I did's just that there is so much more to see.  I remember thinking, in the wayback, that three days was not enough.  Now I have a week, and I find it's still not enough.
"Self-Portrait with Bamboo"

One thing I didn't realize I was missing out on before was all the good stuff around Arashiyama.  I had since learned, thanks to the very visual nature of the internet.  Monkeys, bamboo, a kimono forest, and moss-covered statues were promised by my research...and then I found out that there's a...ritual?  Historical reenactment?  Little bit of both???  Whatever you call it - there's a thing that happens there every year, memorializing the days when noble families would send their daughters to become shrine maidens.  So I was down for the 16th.

And then I found this really cool waterfall shrine that is supposedly in the hills northwest of Arashiyama, and I decided that I had to go, even IF IT KILLS ME.  So I got up at the buttcrack of dawn, hightailed it out of my airBnB, and caught the very conveniently located bus to Arashiyama.  The 93 bus let me off very close to the Nonomiya shrine, which was awesome, because it was the starting point of the Saigu Procession as well as the starting point I gave Google Maps for my route to Kuya no-Taki.  Google told me it would take me one hour and ten minutes on foot, which meant that I would have plenty of time to get back before the procession started at noon.  I hopped off the bus and was ready to start hoofing it when the bus driver honked at me...I'd forgotten to put my wallet back in my backpack, and the couple getting off the bus behind me had turned it in.

Oops.  Well, at least I found out firsthand that this experiment really is indicative of Japanese honesty, and had a chance to practice my "Arigato!"

Anyways, I walked uphill.  And walked some more.  I "found" Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, which was one of the places I wanted to visit, halfway along my route, and decided I'd better see it after the waterfall, just in case I ran out of time.  And then I started walking DOWNhill, and through a tunnel.  This was not the most welcome change of pace, because I was really looking forward to having the return trip be easy.  I don't do well with uphills at the end, and my cousin wasn't here to rescue me again.  Fortunately, at the end of the tunnel I found the Kiyotaki bus stop, so I planned that I would take that back.  Which was good, because I'd already been hiking for an hour, and Google said there was still a long ways to go.

Two things Google may not have fully taken into account.  First, I'm fat.  When I hiked the Tiger's Nest in Bhutan, I trained for it.  And by trained for it, I mean that I hiked like twice in the months before I went.  This time, I hadn't hiked since the family reunion, and although I have been walking every morning, it's not exactly strenuous.  Secondly, the route is all uphill from Kiyotaki.  Now, in theory, Google knew this, because there are topo lines on the map, but I don't think he really took it into account.  At least, that's what I want to believe, because the alternative is that I'm even lazier than I think.

Either way, when I should have been at the waterfall 30 minutes ago, I began to wonder if maybe, maybeee I should head back.  But what if it was just around the corner?  That would haunt me forever.  So I asked one of the many, many hikers who was passing me if we were close to the waterfall.  "Waterfall?" he asked, puzzled.  I showed him the spot I had marked on Google maps - which was in Japanese, so the language barrier can suck it - and he consulted with his son.  And his phone.  As his consternation got worse, undoubtedly because he really, really wanted to help this stupid gaijin but had no idea what to say, I realized I must have made a horrible mistake.  Finally he said, very apologetically, that there wasn't a waterfall this way.  Maybe it was another trail.
"Umm.  Yeah.  I should be getting back to town anyway, I don't want to miss the procession.  Arigato!" says one of the bigger idiots in the world.  And sure enough, at the base of the trail, I realized where I'd made my mistake.  If I had followed Google's directions exactly, I probably wouldn't have missed my actual turn off, but someone just had to walk across the pretty bridge and see the river flowing underneath.  To be entirely fair to myself, it was a pretty spectacular view, even if I haven't done it justice (it has been an awkward week.  I have come to the realization that I am not contributing equally to my relationship...with my camera.  It does all the work and I never push its buttons).
I made it back to Kiyotaki bus stop just in time for the 10 am bus to Arashiyama.  I looked at the route and thought it might stop by Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, but I wasn't entirely sure - the names didn't quite match.  What the hell, I thought, I'd see if it was the same, and if not, I'd chill out in Arashiyama until the procession started.  The bus pulled up to a very narrow tunnel through the mountain, which it turns out would have cut at least a half hour off my walk, but luckily I didn't know that so I got to save up my stupid decision making for last night's burst of idiocy.  On the other side...voila!  Nenbutsu-Ji and it's thousand (not exaggerating - it's actually 1,200), moss-covered Rakan statues.  This is a temple that was built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, most recently between 1981 and 1991.  Rakan are Buddha's disciples, and all of these were carved by worshippers who supported the restoration (if that little string of factoids sounds uncharacteristically factual, it's because I'm paraphrasing the pamphlet that they gave me when I paid my admission fee).  The thing that I really loved was how each Rakan had a very different, unique personality.  The amount of expression carved into each statue was brilliant - take these three, for example.  You can totally tell they are sleepy, happy, and dopey.
After leaving there, I tried to make it back to the Nonomiya Shrine relatively quickly.  It was hard, because there were a lot of little shops along the way selling stuff that was really cute and it's hard to say no to cute in Japan...they do it really well.  However, I didn't want to be that poor, unfortunate soul who can't see anything or even move because they got to the party too late.  The procession thing was supposed to start at 12, and it was around 11:30  by then.  I started down the path between the bamboo groves, and figured out pretty quickly that I was almost at the shrine by all the participants in their very cool costumes.
With all the anime I have watched in the last two years, I have seen a lot of the different kinds of clothing, but it was very cool to see it in real life.  There was a ritual portion of the program happening inside the shrine, but thanks to the moron in front of me (who has yet to realize that your camera is steadier when you tuck in your elbows...I can at least do that for my Big Gun) I couldn't really see, so I moved a little forward so that I'd at least be able to see people as they walked past.  The two ladies in front of me were both quite short, so that worked out well, and I enjoyed watching everybody making last-minute fixes as they prepared for the procession.
Finally, all the chanting and bowing and everything else inside the shrine finished up, and the princess came out in her fancy pants kimono to get inside the palanquin.  The carriers hoisted her up and pointed her in different directions, I'm guessing so that everyone could get a good look.  And then everyone set off, parade style.  They walked through the bamboo groves and along the street I arrived on, til they got to the river, where she was scheduled to perform a cleansing ritual.  I, however, was dead tired, and the bus was coming up the street.  I figured the monkeys and kimono forest and the onsen and anything else appealing about Arashiyama could wait for another day...or another trip.

*Lies!  All lies!  I was most looking forward to a shopping trip in Osaka with my favorite former student.  It is NOT a good thing that we are getting paid tomorrow.

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