Thursday, April 17, 2008

Philosophical Meanderings - approach

Our walk was pleasant, pure, but mostly long. We walk a lot. We have no car, just our feet. Frankly we have no need for anything else. We walk to the train station, the grocery store, and everywhere we go. It is nice that most of the things we want or need are within walking distance. On this particular day we were planning on taking an urban hike through the city of Kyoto. The walk would bring us through the northwest section of the city on a meandering path. We would be walking the famous “Path of Philosophy”.

We had been saving this trip for a special season, and that season was upon us. All of Japan comes alive during the spring. The long winter is drawing to a close. The freezing temperatures are getting warmer, the spring thaw is happening. Best of all the flowers are beginning to bloom. And there is one blossom that is of special importance here. This is the cherry blossom, or Sakura. Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing is a national obsession in spring. The best parks are crowded with people picnicking and having a good time. It gives new meaning to the idea of stopping to smell the flowers when you see a group of young people who have camped out all weekend in the park in order to secure the best location to watch the flowers; and of course drink.

We began our trek by stepping off the subway and walking down a short hill. About halfway down the hill we passed through a tunnel under an aqueduct and began the approach to Nanzen-ji. Nanzen is a massive temple complex that is one of the most famous in Kyoto. It was not our first time to be at this temple, but it was our first time to actually explore and see different things. Our first time to Nanzen-ji the temple and gardens were closed in preparation for New Years. This time we would take the time to find some of the hidden gems and the more well know attractions.

We walked to the giant entry gate but we did not walk though. Instead we walked up. This particular portal allows visitors to ascend to the top and look out over the city central. We paid the fee and began the perilous trek up to the top and the viewing platform. The climb is so difficult because of the steep angle of the stairs. We have found that the pitch of the stairs in ancient buildings here is much more steep than we are used to. The steps in most very old buildings are more akin to ladders than they are to stairways. We made it to the top of the ladder and were blessed with a glorious view. We could look out over the whole city. We walked around the top observation platform and then climbed back down those treacherous stairs.

Once at the bottom we put back on out shoes and set forth to find what else was in this temple. I was attempting to find a small little shrine with a waterfall. Our guidebook stated that this area is an overlooked gem that is tucked back in the hills of the temple. The guidebook also stated that if we were lucky we might even be able to see someone bathing in the freezing cold water of the waterfall. The cascading water is believed to have a purifying affect on the body and soul. We followed the directions in the book and soon found ourselves off the beaten path. A path was all there was. We had not seen trail markers in some time and we were only following a narrow hiking trail that could have been a game trail for all we knew. Roots became our stairs as we climbed and struggled not to slip. Up and down the hills we followed that narrow dirt path, unsure of whether it would bring us where we wanted to be or lead us to some unknown destination. We hiked over a rotting bridge made of boards nailed to the bridge supports. It was a relief that the bridge was neither long nor was it high. We eventually made it to the small shrine we were hoping to find.

The shrine was a small area with old moss covered rocks and small offerings set into small caves carved into the rock. There was even a waterfall. It was somewhat less impressive than I had imagined it to be but it was still beautiful. I had envisioned a waterfall dropping down sixty feet into a small pool where pious monks would be meditating under the frigged water. What we found was a twenty foot waterfall that splashed on the rocks and trickled off to rejoin the stream. There were no monks standing under the waterfall's purifying power. In fact the entrance to the area was sealed off with a piece of plywood. No waterfall showering this day. We found it amazing the number of people who were also visiting the area. We had not been passed by that many people on our hike in and it soon became apparent that there must be an easier way to access the shrine.

We decided to take easy way out and went against the current of people who where entering the area. We passed an old but well maintained graveyard that was beautiful and serene. There was also a small temple that we walked through that was quite interesting. The hike in to the temple had been quite long and at times had been difficult for Logan's short little legs to make the journey. Now the trip out of the area was easy and Logan easily out paced both Jenny and I.

We found ourselves back in the main temple area and quite near the temple's garden. Once again we had to pay the entry fee to view the garden area. Once we were in we found a small tranquil garden centered with a pond and beautiful foliage. We rested on the edge of the deck that surrounds the garden building. It was not until after we started to walk again we notice the sign asking people not to sit there. In our defense we could not see the sign because the people sitting directly in front of it were blocking our view. We took a short stroll along the path that meanders through through the garden. It was a beautiful area that refreshed our weary souls. The sound of the breeze blowing through the trees, the clacking noise of the bamboo trees, water rushing down the tiny waterfall all made for a tranquil area. We recharged our batteries and headed off to the next destination.

We headed up to the visitors center where once again we paid money to tour the buildings. We walked around and saw all the beautiful rooms, sliding doors and small gardens that are located inside this area of the temple. Followed the red arrows that pointed the proper direction for us to walk. We looped around the buildings and eventually made our way back out where we ate our lunch sitting on some benches.

After lunch we decided that the time had come for us to move onward to the next destination. We would be walking up the street to Eikan-do Temple. The walk was not far and we soon found ourselves at the entrance to yet another temple. It was to be the second of three temples for the day. We paid the fee to get into the grounds and we started the tour. There were arrows and signs signaling which direction to proceed. We followed those arrows along the path and into the buildings. We had read that the architecture of this temple was particularly interesting because it was so varied. We were unable to see much of this as the major buildings were in the process of being restored. We did manage to see some excellent sights.

One of the most interesting things we saw was a statue of the Mikaeri Amida Buddha. This statue is unusual because it is facing backward. It is believed that the statue climbed down and urged a monk to move faster. The temple and building surrounding this work were impressive and I am sure that it would have been more so if the main buildings had not been covered with scaffolding and tarps. The temple was quite impressive but I think that the nicest part was the Sleeping Dragon Stair. We climbed a stairway up the side of a hill to a pagoda that overlooked the city. The covered stairway had a graceful and elegant curve to the beautiful wood tread. The stair is named as such because the shape is said to resemble the form of a sleeping dragon lying along the side of the hill. We completed a tour of the temple grounds and even managed to find a small grotto with a tiny waterfall and many Buddhist statues around the area. I found those statues to be very peaceful.

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