Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Here There Be Dragons

(Subtitle: And Foxes) (Sub-subtitle: A Dragon of a Different Color)

While Kyoto may be the place to be in spring, one thing that was different this time when I started planning our trip was that there were almost no festivals going on (unless, you know...you counted the geisha dances, which are kind of a big deal).  I kind of remember reading six months ago that some places have more celebrations in the spring, but in Kansai the harvest is the thing, and that means fall festivals.  I was very pleased, though, that I could show Five one really cool festival-type thing: Seiryu-E at Kiyomizu Dera.  But we'll get to that in a minute.

I never really blogged about my first trip to Kyoto, but that's okay - I was only here three days back then, and anyways, I'm doing a lot of the same things this time.  That's probably because I felt that I'd gotten as much out of Kyoto as I could in 3 days.  During the five seconds that I thought I might be planning a trip here for my high schoolers, I imagined putting a lot of those things on the itinerary, as well as a few things I missed.  With Five, it was much the same, except that she's not interested in things like ninja training or making noren.  My absolute favorite part of that first trip was Fushimi-Inari-Taisha, and before I went there on the same day as Kiyomizu Dera, so for some reason I thought it made sense to do them together again.

Maybe it does, but my feet hate me right now.  Five and I decided to take it easy today instead of trying for Kuyo-No-Taki and seeing Arashiyama.  After all, we've got big plans for tomorrow...

The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most magical places I've ever been.  It was the only place I wanted to revisit when I was here six months ago, but when I came, it was so swamped with tourists that I turned around and left immediately.  So I told Five we were getting up early and heading there before everyone else.  This has always been a successful tactic for me in the past.  We got off the train a little before 8 and weren't part of a horde of people...until the next train arrived.  So we didn't have the place all to ourselves, but we early enough that we at least got a few photos without too many people in them.

It's one of the most photographed places in Kyoto for good reason.  The early light streaming through the trees sets the bright orange of the endless tunnels of torii on fire.  Inari is the god of rice and sake, and the last time I was there the altars were covered with offerings; this round there were none, but maybe it was too early in the day.  His messenger is the fox, and so throughout the shrine there are fox statues - guarding the entrances to pathways and at the sides of the altars.
As we will eventually be discussing, not only does Five have a high tolerance for dorkiness, we are also nerds of a feather.  Although she hung up her otaku hat long ago, she has a past with anime.  She also supports my dream of starting my own plush company, so she put up with me dragging one of my newest creations - Uka-no-Mitama from Inari Konkon, Koi Iroha - around with us at the shrine and taking photos of her.  She's part of the Inari group of deities, and the anime is actually set at this shrine, so when we decided to come here for spring break I started working on her (although it took til Friday night before I was finished...I maybe got a little distracted).

When we decided we'd had enough of mountain climbing, we left Fushimi-Inari-Taisha (via the gift shop!  Seriously, there is so much swag to be had - I got Uka her trademark fox - and the food stalls are like a festival every day) for Kiyomizu Dera...which, again, involved climbing a mountain.  This was also really crowded, but was also good people watching - I've never seen so many people wearing kimono.  We arrived well before the start of the ceremony, so we had time to find Malebranche (Five has a thing for macarons, although I liked their strawberry and cherry delicacies more than she did), a bite to eat for lunch (curry udon is the only kind of udon for me, although it's messy as hell), and wandering the temple grounds.  I showed her the Love Stone, which I have already failed and she had no interest in trying, although we did make offerings to Daikoku - and the irony of making "offerings"(ie, getting rid of our loose change) to the god of wealth wasn't entirely lost on me.  We saw Otowa-no-Taki, but decided neither of us needed health or good test results enough to wait in the long line to get a drink.  I'm a little sad that I forgot to show her Tainai Meguri, because that was really cool, but we were caught up in the procession by then, and there was no turning back at that point, womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu or not.
Now, as I mentioned before, the whole point of going to Kiyomizu Dera yesterday was to see the Seiryu-E.  I explained it to Five as a blue dragon dance procession thing, but that doesn't really tell you much.  Now that I'm sitting down, trying to relate it to you in a way that is somewhat coherent, the blue dragon is supposed to be the guardian of the east, and is a particular guardian of Kiyomizu Dera, thanks to the spring Five and I decided we didn't need to drink from.  Nothing in my sources told me the best place to be for it, so after we'd wandered around, we tried to figure it out, and ended up parking ourselves by the drummers.  There was a whole ensemble of them, and when they finally got started drumming, it was intense.  The beats literally thrum through your whole body.
 But that was after the procession started.  After a ceremony of some kind (we couldn't see from where we were camped out) the blue dragon...

Yeah.  If you're squinting at the picture thinking, "It sure doesn't look blue," you may be wondering, like Five did, if I actually knew what I was talking about.  Most of the articles I read about this event called it the blue dragon.  Props to Kansai Scene magazine for mentioning that green is often referred to as blue in Japanese.  When I read it, I kind of remembered hearing that somewhere, and that there are other points of disagreement when it comes to color between Japan and the States, but since I don't seem to be able to get a job here, I may never get to explore it more deeply.  #endbirdwalk
Anyways, the blue dragon set out from the inner sanctum of the temple, led and followed by his attendants.  First he went up through the area of the shrine, and then back through the temple and out the front.  Five and I were trying to struggle our way through the temple when he came back, so we followed in his wake (you could call us his groupies) as the procession made its way to the huge front gate of the temple.
When he got there, he coiled himself up, and his attendants made a sort of honor guard, each set taking it in turns to move though the gate.  Finally the last of them went through, and then he unwound himself and followed, streaming down the stairs and then winding back up them, displaying his full magnificence to the crowd gathered outside the temple grounds.
The procession continued down Sannenzaka, with the dragon occasionally rushing headlong into a shop along the way.  With such a fearsome expression, I'm sure he gets a lot of mixed reactions, but I imagine having him enter the shops is actually good luck for them.  As for me, I'm a dragon person, and I considered it good luck to be able to be present for this really cool ceremony; it was so different from all the others I've been to in Japan.  Maybe they're all unique - I'd die to find out.  Instead, we followed him along down the hill until he turned around to come home, at which point we made our way down to Gion to sit and have a drink at Starbucks.

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