Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shrines and Temples Abound

9 October 2014

One of the interesting things about dates - in most places around the world, the date (the number of the day) is written first, then the month, then the year.  In the USA, of course, we have the month and then the date and finally the year.  

But in Japan, the year is written first.  Totally confuses us every time we see it!  Somehow, it just doesn't look like a date.

Anyway, we've been exploring.  Sunday turned out to be grey and rather rainy, so we didn't go far, just to the temple down the road.  Monday was fairly overcast and off-and-on-drizzling, but nice enough to go out.  (That's the day things were at their worst in Tokyo.)  And Tuesday was beautiful, so we went exploring a bit farther afield.  Yesterday, Wednesday, was nice as well, but that's a different blog.

So I'll merge Monday and Tuesday, since I went to the same general area.

Our little apartment is on Rokkaku Dori - Rokkakudu being the name of the hexagonal temple, dori meaning street.  We walked past the temple toward the eastern end of our street, trying to get to the Kamo River.  Never quite got there, because I was sidetracked.

At the eastern end of Rokkaku Dori, at the cross street of Teramachi Dori, there's an odd covered shopping area, full of fun little shops, some in old original buildings that most likely were houses, some in more modern buildings that were designed to hold stores and other businesses. 

But tossed in amongst all the stores, shops, stalls, and other vendors are all kinds of little shrines, temples, giant huge temple complexes, and housing for the monks or priests who take care of the shrines, temples, and such.

Definitely an odd but fascinating place to explore!  I spent two afternoons there, and I know I didn't see everything, nor wander down every lane.  Not to mention the cross streets and alleys, which I skipped trying to be reasonable about my wanderings.

There were little funny things, maybe to amuse children but with a tongue-in-cheek quality to them that I'm sure adults found amusing.  The safety cone with a little video game character telling people to stop.  The mini Godzilla holding up a barrier post.  The giant (and moving!) crab on top of a seafood restaurant.  Things like that make me stop and laugh.

And of course I'm easily distracted by signs, or anything with the magnificent fabrics or papers produced in Japan, all covered in beautiful patterns or pictures or telling stories.  

And then the fans.  Entire shops of fans.  Incredible, intricate fans with window displays that were works of art themselves.  SO gorgeous!

I even found one temple where the prayers, or wishes, or whatever they are considered, were written on fans and then tacked on a wall.  It probably is rather intrusive to take photos of these, since the prayers are between the person and their belief system, but I can't read Japanese and they just were interesting.  As well as being such an interesting concept, and a lovely composition.

Tucked inside one temple complex was a cemetery, with all the stone markers, tall stele like the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians used.  There were even some markers in wood, with the writing in ink rather than carved.  I'm not sure if these are the names, or information about the people, or what.  As I said, I don't read Japanese.

People were friendly and helpful, from the ladies visiting a temple who said it was okay to take a picture of the interior, to the other tourists who agreed that it was confusing to find all these temples amongst the market, and on to the friendly chestnut chef who gave out samples and posed for photos, even when I didn't buy anything from him.  Or the people who let me take the photo of their ad for kitty sushi (sushi nekko, nekko being the word for cat - one of my few words in Japanese).

Which brings me to the food market, the most crowded spot in the entire place, with the narrow aisle between vendors selling the most gigantic pears (as big as a babies head!), equally enormous nappa cabbage, and all kinds of pickles sold in either brine or salt paste, your choice.  Mushrooms nestled in baskets of ferns.  Or maybe you eat the ferns too.  Seaweed in every shape and color.  Preserved fish, baby octopus on a stick, sun-dried squid, you name it, it was there.  All under the roof with red yellow green glass making everything bright and cheerful despite the press of shoppers and gawking tourists.

I followed a few young women in kimonos and obis as they made their way through the crowd.  I couldn't get close enough to ask them if I could get their photo from the front - and besides, you see the obis better from the back.

The traditional wood shoes are still available, and people wear them whether they're in traditional or modern dress.  The wood makes a terrific clacking sound as people go walking along the tiled floors and concrete sidewalks!

I know, this blog might seem out of sequence.  Random photos of shops, goods, people, temples, shrines.  But that's really how the place was, and so I want to share that sense:  shop shop shop have a coffee visit a temple.  Shop browse look oh there's another temple.  Shop for fabric, look at papers, and ooooh, a shrine full of lanterns all lit up, how pretty.  Visit the cemetery, find a shop full of dolls.  It was one of those sort of schizophrenic places, just back and forth between the busy-ness of the market place and commerce, and then the serenity and tranquility of the temple spaces.  The meditative, contemplative mood of the shrines, and the silly advertising of the stores.  
It was all there, side by side, somehow working together to make modern Japan.  Old and traditional mixed with new and modern, the zen of Buddhism with the franchises of Starbucks, the temple gongs and the kimono-clad advertising for the next major must-have micro-electronic something.  Sort of reflecting the dichotomy that is Japan - there are two different worlds, maybe even two different persona to each person:  the inner life, the person you show only to your family and closest friends; and the person you portray to the outside world, whether it be navigating the streets or at work or wherever. 

I think the photo of the kimono-clad women says it best - this market and temple complex is just how Japanese people live.  The temples are part of the tradition, Buddhism is a way of life that is lived every day.  

There is a quiet depth to this nation, a sense of strong commitment to making it possible to live in the tenth most populated nation in the world, while living on the limited land space of a cluster of islands.  All while nature and the elements - ALL the elements, earth, fire, water, air - try to kill you with earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, tsunamis.  And yes, we've been here for three of the four. 

As I walked back to our place at dusk, I found a lovely little lantern-lit rock garden, so traditional, so peaceful.

Then the temple gong struck, just outside Rokkaku-du - GONGNGNGNGNGNG - reverberating through the air and probably heard for a five block radius.  And again, GONGNGNGNGNGNG 

I heard three gong hits.  Never did see who was sounding the gong, or why.  Didn't stay to see if they struck it five times, since it was 5:00 PM.  Not sure why they struck the gong, signifying it was time to pray?  Or that the temple was closing?  Or just signifying the time?

But, that's Kyoto.  Random temples, random Godzillas, and the occasional temple gong.

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