Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
This morning we woke to the daily sound of our neighbours filling their buckets in the tiny alleyway that we share and having a jovial chat. We considered the unfortunate weather forecast and made a quick change of plans. Together we headed as early as we could manage to Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine in Fushimi-ku in the southeast of Kyoto.
Begun over 1200 years ago, the Inari shrine complex has over 4 km of paths lined by thousands of torii gates leading, by meandering routes, to the summit of Mount Inari. Most tourists thronged to the lower slopes where the main temples are and the further that we climbed the less tourists we encountered.
On the walk down the mountain my daughter befriended an Italian girl and they walked most of the way down hand in hand. At the base I was delighted to sample some squid balls which are toasted, in a batter on an iron, and are delicious with soy sauce and mayonnaise.
Next we walked all of the way to Toji temple complex which has a very tall pagoda and a garden and several temples. We passed the least picturesque part of Kyoto that we’ve seen and one could only really describe it as a dormitory without character or charm.
Our purpose was to browse the Kobo San Flea Market but we have already bought so many lovely things that I couldn’t find the motivation to buy anything else, the only thing that really tempted me were 2nd hand obi but I haven’t seen enough of them to make a good decision and couldn’t figure out how to display one so I left them there. Normally we are very circumspect about purchases through our strategic consumption manifesto but our main exception is during travel. Considering that we travel light and with only carry-on luggage we will need to do some careful packing to fit everything, especially the 2nd hand tea set that my husband bought yesterday!
Considering the long walk that we’d already done and the fact that we ate lunch as we walked we were pretty keen to sit down and finally found somewhere in a secluded part of the temple complex that did not contain any market stalls and was in active use by Buddhist monks. I had read in Riding The Trains In Japan by Patrick Holland that it’s difficult to find somewhere to sit in Japan, especially Kyoto and I agree with that. We watched many Japanese people around us filling small bowls from a tea urn and I decided to investigate. I made a donation into the box and while a middle aged woman indicated that I was doing the wrong thing by dramatically crossing her arms in the shape of a big X (a common occurrence in Japan) the woman working there filled 3 bowls for me with tea.
As we rested our weary feet and sipped our green tea we heard a monk chanting and followed the sound to one of the temples. Our children and I removed our shoes and entered and joined the others in kneeling prayer. It was a tranquil experience.
We continued onward grateful to escape more rain and walked along Oike – Dori, sampling matcha tea ice cream along the way, to Ippo-do tea shop. It was bustling with customers buying special teas and also contains a tea room. We waited and were lucky to be assigned a table before closing time. My husband and I tried different types of matcha tea (powdered green tea that’s whisked until frothy) and our daughter tried sencha, all served with a special treat to guard the stomach against the strength of the tea. Predictably enough considering the amount of walking we had done our children were unable to contain themselves which rather spoilt the occasion but it was still somewhat enjoyable.
We chose a nearby Japanese kaiseki restaurant for dinner and on the way in there a woman told us it was Japanese and tried to lead us to the neighboring Indian restaurant but we assured her that we were heading to the Japanese restaurant after all. She was somewhat bemused but led us there and we were shown to a tatami mat room with sliding rice paper walls and a sunken floor under the table. We chose 6 dishes and had a delicious but fairly light meal. The staff entered on their knees each time they brought new dishes with fresh side plates for us and were solicitous. The first woman returned with a gift of a brocade woven calendar as a gift which is gorgeous and will look great in our children’s room. One of the chef’s came and played hide n seek with our children and gave them special wafer biscuits with the impression of a deer in them for free as we were leaving.
It was a short walk home from there and drew to a close another good day in Japan. As on previous days I was amazed by the abilities of our children to walk (although my husband carried our 5 year old son some of the time each day) and also to enjoy what is offered to them.
For a good explanation of the fox symbolism at Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine I suggest that you go to this blog.