Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(for babies and winning)

Temples 24 and 23, Nakayama-dera and Katsuo-ji

When we last left our pilgrim, she was driving away the good people of Kyoto with her odoriferous funk.

Let us briefly consider the temples visited on this glorious, if funkfied, day.

It was August 21st when I rolled out, armed with knowledge grated to me by the good grace of the folks at Rocky House, who looked up the Takarazuka local bus schedule for me (where on the internet is this stuff. Where?). I hopped the highway bus to Takarazuka, then managed to get a bus headed right for the Nakayamadera temple area.

Nakayamadera, it turns out, is really nice and pretty fancy. Their main deal is prayers for pregnancy and babies, so the main stairways are equipped with escalators. There is also a kofun on site, and not off on some other side of the mountain - this ancient tomb is tucked right up under part of the main front area.

Oh ancient tombs, I do love thee.

I found the sunny garden while I was looking for my real quest, which was the path to the okunoin. There was supposed to be a sacred spring up there, coming from a rock that cracked open when a sacred bird landed on it after flying out from a tomb lower down the mountain... or something like that.

Things like this along the path.
I was really thirsty by the time I got there. I was under a time limit and had booked it up the mountain in pretty good time. I was also totally disgusting, but I didn't meet too many other people on the path so it didn't seem like a problem. I was counting on refilling my water at the sacred spring, and was a little worried when I saw it all caged up and flanked with signs.

But then this lady started filling up bottle after bottle and I figured the signs just said "don't stick your face on the spring" and "don't use our buckets and cups to drink the water." Actually drinking of the water was a-OK. Mountain water tastes good anytime, but especially when you're that thirsty.

Back down the mountain, a brief rest, and on to Katsuo-ji, the temple of winner's luck. The bus schedule for this place was so limited that their website just says "take a cab." As our bus wound its way up the mountain, I was extremely grateful again to be on it, instead of trekking up the mountainside.

We want the blue column furthest to the right. Three buses a day? YES.

If you were walking the temples in order, this is the way you would have come in.
Despite its more remote location compared to Nakayama-dera, Katsuo-ji seemed like a well-funded temple in its own right. Seems like winners want to keep winning, so they make sure to give a little back. The temple is famously connected to Daruma dolls, those little wooden guys who always return to standing position no matter how many times you knock them over and onto which you paint one eye when you set a goal and the other eye when you achieve it.

Winner darumae
"Achievement" darumae are often dedicated at this temple. They also quite naturally sell the dolls in various sizes, to serve your various-sized goals.

The landscaping was immaculately kept, with the added oddity of there being little darumae in every nook in cranny, on every ledge, inside tree hollows, just everywhere! Many of them, I noticed, were just the ones that housed the omikuji, or fortune slips, you could buy, but their presence too made the place seem full of winning.

I did the 'wisdom stone walk' after seeing a father take his kid through it. It was a nice place on a nice day.

Follow the instructions to gain wisdom. Step one, walk in toward the center, following the spiral. Step two, spiral out. Step three, sit on that rock bench off to one side (I kid you not). 
As you may have already heard, I ended the day in Kyoto, catching one of the last city buses to Miriam's apartment. By then, in addition to smelling like gym socks, my phone had died.

I actually took this photo so I could then check and see the time stamp on it to know what time it was.

Still, the day was a win.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Maintain Personal Space

(even on a crowded bus)


In Japan, personal space is often at a premium. People are pretty polite about it, but they do spend a lot of time in your bubble, so here is one way I discovered, somewhat inadvertently, for dealing with it.

It starts with your clothes. Since you live in Japan, you know about the rainy season. You also know about the way that drying your clothes is done by hanging them outside. While clothes dry quickly in hot dry August and take a freezing forever in the depth of January, the combination of heat and humidity you experience throughout June creates the perfect condition for the production of a 'lying shirt.'

A lying shirt is one which, when dry, looks and smells just fine. It also smells just fine when it is still wet but fresh out of the washing machine, laden as it is at that time with the smells of detergent and softener. But get it wet under any other conditions, and it will give off a muted but pervasive funk that will make you wrinkle your nose and look around, wondering if it could possibly be you.

It takes a while to figure out if what you have on your hands is a lying shirt, but once you have one (and by June's end, you should, and after two Junes you definitely should), it will hold true for you even when dried under the August sun. Since August is the hottest, it is also the time when it's nicest to have personal space.

Now, make sure you have all day clear, and get your stuff together for a weekend or overnight trip. Carry all this stuff preferably in a backpack, so you get nice and sweaty. You can leave the backpack in a train locker for this next step.

Find a mountain. I used the hike from Nakayama-dera to its Okunoin, which was described as being a one-hour walk. If you use a one-hour walk, give yourself exactly two hours to complete the round trip and you should be good. This will impel you to book it up the mountain and also back down again. Do this at midday for maximum levels of disgusting; if there aren't white traces of salt on your shirt as it dries, you aren't really trying. Make sure, of course, to stay hydrated -- keep buying those water bottles and Pocari Sweats (I prefer Aquarius, but whatever).

After you return from this endeavor, you should be pretty soaked. Allow yourself to dry off as you move on to your next destination - I used Katsuo-ji in northern Osaka. You get extra points if you work up another sweat, but at this point it isn't really necessary, because your lying shirt should be doing the work for you.

By the time the temples all close at five and you are on your way to stay at a friend's house, you will actually have people moving out of the seat next to you on the bus into seats some distance away. Congratulations!

"Miriam, for the first time since I became homeless, I actually smell like I am." - not the most PC thing I ever said. (She laughed at me because I had thrown my clothes outside onto the balcony and leaped into the shower almost as soon as she opened the door.)

As a side note, I was really tempted to see if a run in a good old American household dryer would cure my shirt of its lyin' ways, but in the end I just couldn't take it anymore and stuffed it in a trashcan in a bathroom somewhere in Miyagi prefecture. True story. Sometimes I still miss it. But not its lies.