Thursday, April 17, 2008

Philosophical Meanerings - Exit

Nothing could have been more peaceful than the idealistic way our next stop could have been. Imagine, if you will, a small river winding it's way through the city. Both banks of the river are lined with bricks that drop down about two meters to the water. The top of the banks are lined with blossoming cherry trees. Walking along this path could be the highlight of the afternoon. Make no mistake about it, the area was simply stunning and massively beautiful. But as it usually happens the ideal is usually short of the reality. I will treasure my memory of the dream I had of strolling slowly along the river as long as I live. I will have to because the reality of the situation was entirely different than my dream. In reality there were lots of people who were also dreaming the same dream as me. The walkway along the tranquil little river was filled with people milling in both directions. We walked together as a family. Logan sat up on my shoulders and wanted to always walk on the path closest to the river. We tried to do our best to stay as close as we could, but all the people made it difficult to stay on that little pathway. Nothing could detract from the beauty of the blossoms however. The trees with their branches heavy with blossoms hung over the water and occasionally dropped petals softly into the water. It was even possible to, at times, ignore all of the people congregating around us and concentrate on the majesty of the natural world. It became very clear how the path got it's name, Tetsugaku-no-Michi, or Path of Philosophy.

The Tetsugaku-no-Michi lead us to the area around Ginkaku-ji. We reached the end of the path and were presented with two options. Should we turn left or right? We were excited to finally see the famous Silver Pavilion which would be found at the end of our journey. But which way to go? I knew that the answer would be found in following the crowd. We looked in both directions and realized that both ways seemed to be equally crowded. A quick check of the map led us to the conclusion that right was the direction to turn. We confirmed that we were headed in the correct direction when we saw the entrance.

We proceeded to hustle through the entrance and get into line. Yes this temple happens to be one of the three most famous temples in all of Kyoto; the fabled Silver Pavilion. We were not sure if we would be able to make it in and see the gardens and buildings because the line to get in was quite long and it was nearing closing time. The line leading to the entrance was long and winding. The entry way was enclosed on both sides by a tall row of hedges. We decided that we would try our luck. If we could not make it in today we could always come back a different day. And maybe, just maybe we could make it in and see the sights.

We did make it in, but we did not get to see the legendary silver building. We saw that the building that most people were there to see was under restoration. The building was in the middle of getting a new roof and other refurbishments. The outside of the building was surrounded by tall scaffolding that encircled three of the four sides and also covered the roof. All of this metal and tarp made it difficult to see the building itself. We really did not get to see the Silver Pavilion that day.

The Silver Pavilion is a bit of a misnomer as the building is not silver. It is a beautiful white. The building was supposed to have been covered in silver leaf, but that plan was never carried out. The beautiful white sides do almost take a silver shine to them when the sun shines on them. We bought postcards to prove it as the building was shaded and protected. We were left with no other choice but to tour the grounds and purchase postcards to remember the beauty that we did not get to see.

The grounds of the temple were magnificent and stunning. The first thing that we really saw on passing through the entrance was the raked sand piled into an elaborate shape. The first one we saw was almost like a wave preparing to break across the surface. The other was a large cone of gray white sand that stood about six feet tall. It was really cool to see. We continued along the assembly line of a tour. Stopping often to see a new sight rather than to add a new part. It was interesting how the temple had built the walkway to facilitate the movement of people and the best appreciation of the grand beauty. It was amazing to see the gardens and all their beauty. How each and every rock, plant, and pool was purposefully placed by the architect of the garden. My very favorite part of the garden was seeing the small box of the different mosses that grow in the garden. Most gardens here are carpeted with moss. The beauty of the lush green and soft velvety texture are a delight to the eyes. At one turn in the path there was a box containing the different species of mosses that grow. Each moss was labeled and they were ranked from most common to the rarest. The batch on the far right was labeled as “Very Important Moss.” Right under that sign there was another sign that read, “like VIP.” I thought that it was a great bit of humor in a place where I was not expecting. Who knew that Rinzai Zen Buddhist had a sense of humor?

After walking around the grounds it was time to head back to Kyoto station. Unfortunately we had to travel by my least favorite method of transportation, bus. I do not like taking the bus here. I find them difficult to manage. They are usually crowded to the point of being over packed and it is hard to get off at the desired stop. We decided to first walk down the street in hopes of finding a good restaurant for dinning, but there was not one we wanted to eat at. And with the line for the bus growing we decided to head to the bus stop and try our luck.

We stood in that line for quite a while wondering if a bus would come and pick us up and whether or not we would be able to squeeze our way on when it did come. We had been waiting for what seemed to me a long time. I was afraid that when the bus did come we would not fit and we would end up waiting twenty minutes for the next one. Imagine my delight when not one but two buses pulled around the corner. Now all that was left was to see if we would be one of the last to be packed onto the first bus, or would we be one of the first to board the second.

As fate would have it we were left to embark on the second of the two buses. We managed to take the bench like seat at the very back of the bus as the rest of the passengers were forced to cram themselves into the remaining space. The bus then began the long journey to Kyoto Station. The bus took us on a long journey through the streets of the city. We saw new neighborhoods and familiar ones. We were lucky because we had a seat to sit in. Not everyone was so fortunate. Most of the other passengers were forced to stand in the wide middle space and then pushed forward as new passengers got in from the back door. We sat in our seats quietly munching on snacks and mini M&Ms.

About an hour later we made it back to Kyoto Station hungry and a tad travel weary. We filed off the bus along with all the rest of the people. We then went down the stairs looking for a place to eat some dinner. We settled on a Chinese restaurant that makes the best little desert. Usually we are not a fan of the sticky gooey pounded rice, called mochi. This restaurant makes some little mochi balls that are filled with bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds then they are fried. Very delicious and a great way to end the day.

We may not have been alone on the Path of Philosophy. We might not have had a great view of the Silver Pavilion. We possibly got lost in the woods behind Nanzen-ji. We came close to being compacted into a tiny ball by the rest of the passengers on the bus. But it was fun damn it, and we like it that way.

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