Horin-ji Temple is known as the Japanese Lacquer Temple (Urushidera) because Prince Koretaka promoted lacquerwork across Japan from this base. Originally the small temple was built by Gyoki at the request of Emperor Genmei in 713 and named Kazunoidera. As so often happened, the temple slowly fell into ruin, a forgotten structure hugging the shores of the Oi River. In 829 Dosho (a disciple of Kukai) started rennovation on the buildings . Completed in 874, the temple was renamed Horin-ji and flourished throughout the Heian Period (794-1192), mentioned in early passages of Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, which only helped to increase its fame.
The temple's main image, Kokuzo Bodhisattva, is known as Saga's Kokuzo-san. Boys and girls from around the country visit the temple at the age of 13 (calculated according to the Japanese traditional method). Known as Jusan-mairi, the pilgrimage is performed to gain wisdom, happiness and wealth. In the Heian Period, Emperor Seiwa built a hall (the Harido) for discarded needles. A requium is held annually for broken needles*.
Within the complex is also the Dendengusha Shrine, dedicated to protecting electricity and electromagnetic radiation. A memorial tablet to Edison flanks the gates of the temple, bamboozling until you recognise the shrine (which I didn't until getting home).
All along the banks of the River Oi are small, handwritten signs in English and Japanese. Arrows point to 'Great Views', 'Mt. Delights' and 'Water Laughs'. These cryptic messages lead to the typhoon smashed temple of Daihikaku-ji on the slopes of a mountain overlooking Arashiyama. Few tourists journey this far from the centre of the town. It was built in the early seventeenth century by Suminokura Ryoi (1554-1614), a noted and prosperous hydraulic engineer, scholar and merchant who was also authorized to trade with what is now Vietnam before the closing of Japan in 1635. The temple was constructed as a memorial to the workers who died in Suminokura's river control works. A statue of the great man can be seen in the small main hall. The prolific poet Basho wrote a haiku poem citing not only the temple's roofs but also its cherry blossoms.
With snow still lining the steep path, I took some photos. From the bell far above the river, the city was gone, hidden in the blindingly white snowfall. It was odd to look over the mountains and see nothing, as if the rest of the world had been erased. I stood until my fingers grew numb and happily went back to the bustle of the tourist shops and rishaw hawkers.
I was not quite quick enough to catch the heron sitting on the rocks. It took flight and I snapped. When I looked back, I thought I had missed the bird all together, it looks so camouflaged against the water.
The weather today was much like a Kyoto smile...frosty. The snow melted more quickly than I could manage to take photos and so I was left wandering along the banks of the River Oi, just me and the waterfowl. As the weir gives way to more rocky shores, the river bends and the path climbs over a small promontory. Before you walk down to the Hozu River, denoted by its wildness, you can look back down the length of the Oi, a large ryokan overlooking waters filled with rowing boats in the warmer months. The colour of the river changes from black to turquoise, the colours startling against the sombre coat of the shore. Not a soul did I see, only a couple of mandarin ducks.
The first time in four years that Nishida, Makibayashi, Ishii, Furikado and myself had been together since working at Tomogaoka High School. Only Ishii-san is still working there as a teacher. It was wonderful to see them. I would feel a little more sad and nostaligic, but I get the feeling I will be seeing them all again before leaving Japan.
Odd sitting in a faux-German restaurant, drinking beer a little after midday, snacking on tiny little crabs fried to a crisp. Rhod and I had skipped over Osaka to meet Nishida-san in Kobe. Though it was likely not our last meeting, he certainly drank as if it was. We spent hours sipping varieties of beer, then took a small break by taking the elevator up to the top floor of the City Hall. The views were clear and spectacular. From up there the city sure looked crammed in. Then it was off to the Sone Jazz Club, famous in the city (especially with old men!) for its live music.
The immense Sanmon Gate of Chion-in grew from the small Soan hut, where Honen once lived. It was constructed by the second Tokugawa shogun in 1621. The gate is 24 metres tall, 50 metres long, uses 70,000 roof tiles and is the largest wooden gate in the world. Inside the upper storey is a room decorated with priceless Buddhist statues and bright images of angels and dragons on the ceilings and pillars.
The White Coffin, one of Chion-in's seven mysteries*, lies safely in the gate. Contained within are the images of the man who was in charge of constructing the gate and his wife. Going over budget, both were said to have killed themselves in taking responsibility. The statues (carved before work on the gate began) were hidden within the ceiling of the gate, but later discovered and put on display.
The interior still boasts the original paint, little faded or flaked over the centuries. Every inch of wall, ceiling and pillars are painted, and if you look closely it is possible to see graffiti from the Meiji Era, visitors leaving their names.
With the snow quickly melting, I hurried through the bamboo groves of Arashiyama to the small hut of Rakushisha and the foot-hill temple of Jojakko-in. The day was unusual, clearless blue skies giving way to blizzard like storms that departed as quickly as they had arrived. Many photographers were out, the lazier taking taxis (battling with frozen rickshaw drivers) that sped through the tiny roads, far too fast in this weather. My last visit to Jojakko-in had been during a torrential downpour, today was snow. The paths were flooded, but I skipped up the steps to a small pagoda. And at the top I could look back down at the snow covered roofs of the city, the ugliness wiped away and the winter scene warming my heart. Melodramatic I know, but true. The only way I seem to be able to appreciate the city is when I am removed from it, looking down on it from afar, alone.
I go on about snow a lot of the time. Finally I was having my fill. Although it was almost gone, I had seen enough to keep me happy until next year.
Snow dampens sound, that strange quality in winter that magnifies your breathing. It was so peaceful that it made me feel almost uncomfortable. Hiking back down to the train station, everything felt so Christmasy. An orange blur of train sped across the bridge, I could not hear it.
Settling down in the small hut beside the train tracks, I waited. And waited. And waited. Train after train went by, rattling across the bridge. Everytime, the metal beneath my feet shook and made me feel queasy. I am sure the bridge was safe, but what if it hated the ice and snow? Looking down, the waters were swollen and bright green, but not deep enough for any kind of dive.
Then a train was finally stopping and I was back in the musty warmth, watching the snow-globe world vanish again. The driver looked at me if I was mad, waiting in this frozen place for a train.
I was the only passenger to disembark at Hozukyo. I got a few funny looks, and the driver smiled, hesitating before leaving me alone on the bridge. Below, the river gushed, cutting through mountains made of white, the trees transformed into ice sculptures. Tiptoeing, I took some pictures and watched the train depart. The bridge is immense, the station hundreds of feet above the river, maybe one of the most unique stations in the world.
Cutting under the bridge I discovered barbed wire newly in place. The government clearly wasn't happy about people coming to swim in the summer, claiming the rapids too dangerous. I ignored the warnings and went to the tiny ticket machine to check the train times. Then it was up a winding road, across a bridge and onto the mountain track. Lazy whisps of snow tumbled down, seeming to float rather than fall. There were signs of cars, of deer and of people. But not once did I see another living thing. It was an odd sensation to have such a beautiful scene to myself, haunting. Everywhere the sound of dripping water.
At a tunnel through the mountain I stopped and looked back into the vast gorge. All man-made scars were covered up and if I ignored the bridge it was easy to imagine the land unchanged since samurai fought and shoguns ruled. The roadside was unprotected, a sheer drop hundreds of feet deep just beyond my feet, and with no cellphone signal I was a little more cautious, stepping closer to the middle of the road.
Saiin was originally the location of Emperor Junwa's villa, though it later became an open cemetery for laying out the dead children of the poor. Saiin-Kasuga Jinja became famed when a princess with smallpox recovered by resting on a sacred rock in the shrine. People still pray here for health, writing down their wishes and hopes on small stones.
Kyoto has five distinct colours throughout the year: the soft pinks of Spring blossoms, the bleached greens of Summer, Autumn's fiery trees, the cold grey of rainy season and Winter's sometimes-white. I know which I love, the rarest of all...a pure snowy day.
As I write this I am on a train to the Hozukyo gorge. The snow is starting once more and I am hoping for a snow-globe scene and mountains of white.
Snow in Kyoto is very much a blink-and-you-miss-it event. When I drew back the balcony door and saw the light dusting of snow, I threw on a bobble hat, picked up my camera and was out the door in a flash. As Nijo Castle was closest, I thought it best to catch the snow while the sun was still low in the sky. Ignoring the interior, with its nightingale floor, I slipped along a path-cum-quagmire and through the gardens. Everything was carpeted in untouched white, the snow so feathery and soft that it didn't feel cold at all. Wrapped up in scarf and gloves I fiddled with the camera, happy to be cold and a little sad Rhod was sat in his warm office, unable to enjoy the wintery day. I wanted to climb up on the wall to get a better view of the city, but it was closed. From the amount of signs, the city wasnt taking any chances on broken bones. Snow forgives a lot. The city would have looked exceptionally pretty.
Whilst carrying Gil about (albeit with him looking more like a snowman in his Winter gear than the creations emerging from the snow in the park) for his first taste of snow, Rhod, Dale, Andy and Kitty went about gathering up clumps of the cold white stuff to create minature snowmen. While Andy's appeared more mud than snow, Rhod helped Kitty make one to rival her dad's. And they must have done a good job, because Erina sent me pictures the following day and it was still almost alive (Dale and Andy's were long dead). It was fun to see Gil wrinkling his nose as the flakes landed on his nose. I can't imagine what snow must seem like to him.