Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
We started our last full day in Japan slowly, sorting, packing, and deliberately not rushing for once. Eventually we walked to Nanzen-ji temple and beyond that, past the aqueduct and up the steep hill to an artificial ‘waterfall’, and past some Shinto shrines. We left the last of the tourists behind at Nanzen-ji and as we climbed the steep track we could hear melodious chanting and found that one shrine had just been washed clean.
We continued over the top of the rise to the cemetery which contains numerous Christian graves. I was struck by the beauty of the Japanese forest with camellias everywhere in flower, towering cypress and cedar trees, flowering cherry trees, Japanese maples with new leaves in eye popping lime green and shades of red to purple and other trees with every shade of yellow to dark green leaves. I grew up in the eastern Australian forest with rainforest on my door step and I am deeply enamored with it but in Japan I have found a new and already deep love for the forest as well, deep enough to rival my sense of home (even though I no longer live in the forest, I am still deeply attached to it).
On the way down the other side of the mountain we were thrilled to watch a bronze snake make a rapid journey off the path and into the leaf litter, perfectly camouflaged. We emerged from the forest to discover a small temple and took a short rest there in the shade of flowering wisteria, prayed and then joined the Path of Philosophy alongside a canal that had lovely clear water and many small and large fish, overhanging flowering shrubs, trees and annuals, and many tourists.
We followed the flow of tourists but at the pace of our 5 year old son, stopping to look at some beautiful antique wood cut prints at a tiny gallery. We stopped at a play ground and while our children ran and played we sipped Kirin beer and chatted about the next chapter of our lives. We watched tourists pass by, a Japanese woman in a kimono being pulled by a man with bulging quadriceps in a human drawn carriage, and a western family arrive in a taxi (they must have taken out a loan because the flag fall alone is $6!). It was with great anticipation that we headed into the Honen-in temple complex (important for the Jodo sect of Zen Buddhism). We were thoroughly disappointed to find that the temple and gallery were closed… We wandered next door to find that shrine closed too.
A little despondently we rejoined the stream of tourists and took another divergence, this time to a lovely café (Yojiya Café Ginkakuji) offering matcha cappuccino, both hot and iced, served in a traditional tea house with a most gorgeous stroll garden to contemplate, while sipping our tea, through picture windows. Needless to say we loved it there. The staff spoke to us in Japanese and kindly pointed out our mistakes surrounding the shoe shelves (we did take them off before entering but it was more complex than that). After our drinks, while my husband and I lounged and chatted, our children took delight in exploring and hiding in the stroll garden. I am besotted by the complexity of Japanese gardens, hidden under the facade of simplicity. The ‘rooms’ created by rocks, trees, streams, shrubs, ponds, sculptures, and changes in elevation are masterful. The tea room was also achingly simple yet gorgeous with it’s alcove containing only a scroll and ikebana display, it’s tatami mats, delicately painted wall cupboard doors, discrete staff, and minimalist furnishings.
Our next stop was the tourist magnet, Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavillion), built in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the shogun that built Kinkakuji. We braced ourselves for the onslaught of tourists and subserviently shuffled along following the prescribed route through the gardens, stopping to capture a photo when the tide of tourists parted. As usual we were left feeling mildly disappointed by this commodified major attraction. The Zen raked sand had seedlings growing in it (as with all other Zen temples we’ve been to on this trip) but my understanding is that it’s a daily task to rake the gravel and if that was the case the seeds are unlikely to have time to germinate, take root and grow since that morning (at the equator maybe but not here surely). This evidence leads me to doubt whether these temples are actively used in the way they were intended but now are actually money making ventures for the sects.
We followed the advice of the Lonely Planet Guide and took our hungry and mildly weary selves down the road to a recommended restaurant, only to find that it had closed prematurely. Fortunately the convenience store across the road was open and so we bought some food and headed up another mountain to the top where we sat on rocks to eat our very late and meager lunch before playing at a nearby playground, and looking at the torii gates of Takenaka Inari shrine, before descending and to our relief finding ourselves in a familiar neighborhood only about 2 km from our home.
We bought some delicious street food on the way home, a lamentably uncommon find in Japan (we were spoilt by Malaysia and Indonesia but Japan more than makes up for it with its plentiful and well stocked convenience stores in the cities). My husband prepared a tasty meal for us and served our meal with a bottle of gold medal winning sake from a brewery opened in 1673, and a tiny tub of sweet potato ice cream (unusual for us because in our normal lives we avoid sugar). I’m going to miss Japan!