Sunday, May 13, 2018

Fly by Night

As mentioned previously, one thing I love about Japan is the fact that it's possible to believe there's more out there.  I've always found reality to be a bit of a bore, and am sure that the addition of superpowers, other worlds, and magical creatures would be a vast improvement.  If I ever get the chance to create my own world, I guess we'll find out.

That said, the fact that Japan lends itself easily to the belief that there are otherworldly creatures hiding in the shadows means that night in Japan is creepier than night just about anywhere else. Japan is widely accepted to be safer than just about anywhere else, but then, I've never been all that scared of human threats.  Personally I think I can be as scary or scarier than anyone else lurking in the dark...but possibly not anything.  After all, who knows what the local population of demons is capable of?
That didn't stop me from going to the beach both of the last two nights I was in Toyama, hoping to see the hotaruika; there were plenty of other squid seekers hanging around and my AirBnB was only a couple of blocks away.  However, I did give the shrine at the edge of the beach a wide berth as I walked out to the shoreline.  Not even one more chance to drop a coin at Benzaiten's shrines in hopes of winning the competition at CLOUDS (which I didn't, and who knows?  Maybe that was why.  Then again, maybe it was the fact that the 400 "friends" I have on Facebook are so lame that I can't even rely on them to click a bloody link) could have lured me into those shadows.  By the time I got to Nagano, though, the idea of exploring its temple district after dark had a distinct appeal.  So once I got back from Matsumoto I made a quick stop at the Unicorn Hotel (yes, that is actually the name of the place I stayed) to drop of most of my crap, and then went hence to Zenko-ji.

Now.  Another thing I love dearly about Japan is that there are things open 24 hours (although not to the same extent as Korea).  However, when I got within a few blocks of the temple the streets were absolutely deserted.  The shops were closed, and the orange sodium streetlights either cast everything into high relief or shadow.  Caravaggio would have adored this night.  I, on the other hand, was at least a little on edge. The cool night air and lack of tourists was wonderful, but the contrast between the bright lights and the deep shadows meant it was hard to be sure what I was seeing.
I was about to walk out through the big gate when I looked back over my shoulder and saw a red glow set back a little further in the temple grounds.  If life were anime, I should have ran as fast as my feet would go.  Since it's not, I went to check it out, and found a Jizo statue enshrined with a couple of red lanterns.  Water trickled in a stream behind me.  Someone crunched along a gravel path to get to the parking lot.  It was not quite enough to break the spell.

I mentioned Benzaiten before.  I hadn't had much luck finding her shrines this trip, but in the dark of the Nagano night I came across banners for Bishamonten and Ebisu, so I figured there was a Shichifukujin meguri around, and when I looked it up back at the Unicorn hotel, I found that the shrine I was looking for not too far away on the shopping street.  The next morning I woke up and went looking for it, but was sad to see the gate closed and locked. 

I went around the corner, wondering if there was a side way in.  There was...sort of.  Most people don't realize that if you act as if you belong somewhere everyone will assume you do, but I wasn't quite willing to risk it.  Squeezing between the wall and fence that I was going to have to manage seems like the sort of thing that would either end in me being grievously injured, cursed, or both.  Instead, I decided that I would just enjoy the sunny, Children's Day morning.
The shopping street let out into the main boulevard up to the temple, which was set up with stalls for Children's Day.  I walked along it to see what there was to see.  Most of the stalls were still setting out their wares,  which was fine, since it's possible that my spending money met its end two nights previous in a rigged UFO catcher.  I came across my favorite bakery for melon pan, and while I was munching on my bread a band came marching up the street.  It was totally natsukashii, although it never ceases to strike me as odd when I see the crowd moving alongside the parade.  I followed it back up the hill, until I came to the arcade, where I found that, like some sort of key, the music had unlocked the gate, and I was able to go in and throw in my coin.  After all, I may have lost the current battle, but the war is far from over.

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