Monday, February 25, 2013

Down the Coast to Wakayama: Temples 2 and 3

To make the timeline clear: I left the area of Kyoto on August 22nd and made my way down the peninsula toward Wakayama. I stopped in to Soji-ji and Fujii-dera along the way, because they are kind of south of Osaka anyway. I spent the night with my wonderful host family, who saw me off at the train station the next morning (August 23rd) so I could go to two nearby temples, Kokawa-dera and Kimii-dera, numbers 3 and 2 respectively.

The impressive front gate is made entirely of zelkova!

The kawa in the name of the place, a nice place to stroll if it's not August and the sun is not blazing.

I saw 16 Arhats at one of the temples inside Kyoto city, so I liked this set too.

This tiger is famous. You can definitely read about it here

I love trees, and this camphor is thought to be over a thousand years old.

The most cluttered rock garden in Japan. Unique, definitely. 

I really liked the lotus-blossom purifying fountain. I didn't see one quite like this anywhere else.
Kokawa-dera was really nice, and it was a gorgeous, sunny day. There was holy-sounding music drifting around, and I sat for a little while in the hondo. But since my second temple of the day was to be Kimii-dera, I was also eager to get on my way and see that temple.

Kimii-dera is named for three wells or springs that are found on the grounds. But it was going to be meaningful for me because of the Maigo no Tegami monument and letterbox. I'm a pretty avid writer of letters most days, and while a statue of a letter was definitely going to be on my visit list anyway, this one as "maigo" or lost-children letters monument had special significance.

In June of the previous year, we lost Shannon Lawrence. A bit later on I was advised by a friend/counselor to write her a letter. He added that I should then actually do something with the letter, either burn it or bury it or put it in the mail and 'the post has a system for dealing with things like this.' But right after that, I was looking at the particulars of this pilgrimage and stumbled upon the fact that Kimii-dera actually has a ceremony periodically wherein they are (I think) charged with burning the lost-child letters given to them by Japan Post in a special Buddhist ceremony. It all sounded really nice and I knew as soon as I read it that my pilgrimage would require my putting that letter into the letterbox at the temple.

So the night before I went to this temple, while at the host-family house, I sat upstairs and write a second letter to go with the first one, which remained unsealed but unopened since I had penned it the year before. I wanted to put both letters in the keeping of this particular temple.

I knew the thing was on the grounds, though, so I took my sweet time exploring the rest of the area, as it was really beautiful. First came the stairs, for which there is a story (here) about how they are the stairs of fate or good fortune or something [edit: The Slope of Karmic Bonding!]. I took it to mean, remember that we are all traveling together.

I checked out a couple of the springs, and they seemed to flow cool air and a kindly cosmic energy along with providing a good excuse to stop climbing stairs for a bit.

And just look at that green.

Pretty sure that is a small statue of the goddess of good fortune there too.
From the upper stories of the mausoleum (a sort of surreally modern and ginormous Kannon statue found inside) there was a nice view of the Bay of Poetry.

Also some nice folks took my picture!
I saw this little trail and asked a guy walking nearby where it went. He said he didn't know and wasn't sure it was worth the climb. I decided to climb it anyway.

It led to a deserted and fairly uninteresting little shrine building where I sat on the steps and read over my two letters and cried for a while before resolving myself to go down and find that letterbox.

Instead I found this cool tree that looks to have been struck by lightning or something and half burned.
I wandered around and around and could not for the life of me find a letterbox, so I went back to the counter where the guy who did my calligraphy and stamp was so nice, and asked him in broken Japanese about it, and he and the other priests held out their hands and took my letters.

After that, I was pretty much done. I walked slowly back through the temple, taking pictures, and stopped at the third spring, which I had avoided on the way up so as to keep from the appearance of following around this guy who stopped to sit by it.

And then I walked down the steps, marveling at the beauty, at life, and everything, walked sweatily back through town, and got on a train bound for Kyoto. In retrospect, I probably kind of knew this was the end of my pilgrimage line, at least for the time being. I definitely was bent on getting to Kimii-dera before I left Japan, but by the time I did it, I was pretty burned out on my two temples a day travel style. I was exhausted from travel and emotionally drained from my day at Kimii-dera, and I knew the best thing to do was probably just to go home. I would crash with Miriam again, which was close as I could come to home at that point in my itinerant life.

On the way, there was a rainbow.

That evening, because I hadn't walked enough that day (good God, Lemmon), I took a walk along the river down in Kyoto, while waiting for Miriam and dinner time.

I was well aware that this was coming close to the end of my time, and might be my last, or at least close to my last visit to Kyoto for some time, so I tried to soak it all in.

The next day, August 24th, Miriam had responsibilities of her own, so I walked down to Shimogamo Shrine, not all that far from her apartment. It was overcast and actually rather chilly for August, but I walked around again trying to soak up and bask in the energy of the place. For all that I had been on a pilgrimage of temples, I'm not sure I don't still love shrines a little more. Shimogamo is also a shrine that reminds me of Nami, my Kyoto big-sister. I wrote her a letter from a bench in the long wooded approach to the shrine.

The love-tree at Shimogamo.

Where Nami took us to soak our feet last year.