Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Kyoto part VI

Loren didn't make Day Three. That was not a surprise; it is only for the top 8 players. He made 80-somethingth out of nearly 400, which is not bad for his first time playing at this level. We didn't do much this day, as Loren was not feeling well. We started out to check out a shrine in Southern Higashiyama, but by the time we got there Loren was feeling sick. We stopped in a very tasty soba restaurant on our way back to the hostel. Loren ordered a dish with 'thick broth' which neither of us much liked. It was like a typical broth that someone had then added a lot of corn starch or other thickener to, it was sickeningly thick and made the soba sticky so that it was hard to pry out of the bowl with chopsticks. We did nothing much the rest of the day. I enjoyed another bath in the hostel's luxurious tub.

Yasaka-Jinja shrine
Yaska-Jinja shrine in Southern Higashiyama (Gion district)

Yesterday Loren was feeling better. We picked a walking self-tour recommended by our guide book. It took us through some temples in Southern Higashiyama. At the first temple, the book recommended a strange side-attraction in the temple grounds, it was hard to find as there were no English signs. We were determined though as the book said it was 'one of the strangest attractions in Kyoto.' Inside a small temple, you pay a small fee and follow stairs down into darkness. Your left hand had hold of the railing; it is a series of large wooden orbs, like prayer beads, leading your way. It leads into the kind of complete darkness I have only experienced deep in the lava tubes of Hawaii. You turn right and left, your feet tentatively sliding along the slight unevenness of the age-worn rock slabs of the floor. Then you round a corner, and there hovering in front of you is a very large circular stone, somewhat flat on top. It has a Japanese symbol carved into the top. Though I can see one slender hand placed on the stone, It appears disembodied; the lighting is illuminating the stone and nothing else. The hand of the person in front of me disappears into the darkness, and it's my turn. Holding the large wood beads with my left hand, I place my right on the stone and move it around the edge as I was directed to before descending. Slowly, silently, the stone begins to rotate under my hand, as if it were floating on something.

We followed a narrow street lined with restaurants, and shops of all kinds - selling sweets, Japanese fans, and so on. We noticed a few large raindrops starting to fall here and there. We stopped at a stand selling fresh steamed buns. Loren got one with beef inside, I got one with sweet bean paste and green tea mochi.

We walked to another shrine, it had a huge statue of Buddha sitting on top of it. Loren didn't feel like going in, so I left him to wander the grounds outside. I paid my 100 yen (that's about two Kiwi dollars) at the gate. The lady lit a fat stick of incense, handed it too me, and conveyed through gesture that I was to place it in the large incense burner in front of the shrine. Turns out the whole shrine was some sort of memorial for the unknown soldiers who died in World War Two. I strolled past a peaceful pond toward the shrine steps. The place was basically empty; I ventured up the steps alone, clutching my purple stick of incense, watching the smoke curl into the chill air. In the incense burner someone had made a swirling pattern in what looked like years of ash; I sunk my stick down into the ash in the company of several others. Just then the rain started up again, and as I looked up, I had the sudden realisation that it was not rain. I was experiencing a snow flurry! It melted the moment it hit the earth, but I opened my gloved hand and caught a snowflake. It had been snow all along.

Ryozen Kwanon 3
Ryozen Kwanon

incense holder at Ryozen Kwanon
Incense burner at Ryozen Kwanon

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