Privilege. I was swimming in this feeling as I walked around the ancient rooms of Nanzenji on Wednesday afternoon. My mind tripped on the fact that a few weeks ago, I was teaching English to overheated junior high school students in Toyama City. I was also basking in the disbelief that three years ago, I could only dream of spending a Wednesday afternoon indulging in Japanese Buddhist culture.
I dig Kyoto for the obvious reasons; it is a city, it is home to loads of temples, shrines and other Japanese cultural artifacts, and the people don`t stare at me too much. Therefore, I knew I had to visit Kyoto for a last time before I bid adieu to the land of the rising sun.
I arrived in Kyoto on Wednesday sleep deprived and emotionally drained from another round of goodbyes at the Toyama Japan-Rail station. However, the Kyoto zest swept over me as I left the train station. The urban air and sun charged my lifeless body for a little sightseeing after I settled into my hostel. I decided that I needed to visit the Buddhist temples in Eastern Kyoto, like I needed air to breathe.
I have an off and on passion for Buddhism. I like the religion because it seems uncoupled with all the historical baggage (the enslavement of Africans in the U.S., etc.) that Christianity has in the West. However, the fact that Buddhism is a world away from my Midwest roots may also be a reason that I`m so intrigued with it.
The first temple I visited was Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion). Unfortunately, Ginkakuji doesn`t glisten like it`s cousin, Kinkakuji. Everyone raves about the Kinkakuji for obvious reasons- it is the bling bling of Japanese Buddhist temples. But Ginkakuji has one saving grace- the garden. I`m not a garden person per se but I can enjoy Japanese horticulture with the best of them. The Japanese rock garden heading into the temple area seduces you into a zen mind frame. I could feel myself calming down after the mini-hike to the temple.
The second temple I saw was Nanzenji. Why did I go to Nanzenji? Boston Spice recommended it to me and it was on the way to the money-shot of Kyoto temples (in my view), Kiyomizu-dera. Nanzenji didn`t disappoint me but it did befuddle me. Nanzenji isn`t just a temple- the grounds hold a number of smaller temples.
I was walking through the main building, Seiryo-den, marveling over the murals from the Kano School artists when the weight of my life smacked me in the face. Here I was a former girl-child from Parktown who spent summers reading travel guides because my family didn`t have the means to travel beyond the American borders. Here I was a former working class girl spending a work day sauntering around the temples of Kyoto and eating too much ice cream after basking in the sizzling sun. The tears I had prepared to cry in sadness slid down my face as I was overcome with joy about my life. How did I get here? Why was I so blessed?
After crying, I regained my composure. I also decided it was time to depart Nanzenji for my heart`s desire, Kiyomizu-dera. I was walking towards the exit when I caught a glance of a waterfall in a room on the other side of the exit. I decided to take spy a look into the secret room where Japanese traditional tea was being served in front of a waterfall! I had to join this party, so I paid another 500yen for a tea ceremony ticket. Japanese tea ceremony is high culture that it now practiced by many elderly women and my crazy Cousin Ryumi. I dabbled in Japanese tea ceremony at one of my junior high schools. I developed a fondness for drinking the foamy green stuff which cultured Japanese people call tea.
I sat down Indian style since I don`t have the body to sit Japanese (sitting on your feet) style. I concentrated on the beauty and smell of water cascading down a private waterfall for my pleasure. I kept thinking that I really need to be like water-go with the flow. A woman served me tea traditional style. She seemed a little surprised that I knew how to hold the cup, enjoy it`s beauty, and savor the tea in three swallows. I sat the tea bowl down and marveled at my life and departed the room.
I got lost trying to find the bus stop near Nanzen-ji but I eventually made it to Kiyomizu-dera. My students at N. Junior High School put me on to the hotness that is Kiyomizu-dera. Why is it so hot, Ms. World? Two words- Jishu Shrine and that balcony! The temple`s main hall juts out over the greenery of Kyoto. It is a very beautiful sight. I could write African-American Japanese romance novellas and set the last scene on the balcony. It is a place that beckons the romantic in me.
Of course, there is a price to pay before reaching the land of desire and to reach the romance land of Kiyomizu-dera, I had to walk up a steep hill under a hellish sun. However, once I reached the main temple hall, the memory of my climb melted into the Kyoto forest.
Please note the best photos I took on this day can`t be displayed because they are upside down. I`m still figuring out how to do the photo thing on the road.