Entry #5

Today we went to the Heian Shrine, passed by Shoren-in, spent some time at Chion-in, saw Muriama Park, and walked through Gion, the geisha district. Oh, and it was the first day of class, too. I’d have to say this was one of the busiest days we’ve had so far, at least according to my aching feet. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The Heian Shrine, while beautiful (#,) was a little more touristy than my idea of a shrine should be. I liked exploring it, and was amused by the Japanese schoolkids who asked for pictures with some of our group, but I wasn’t upset to leave it when we headed out. The amusing thing about Shoren-in was that I didn’t even know what it was when I snapped this picture: (#,) I just thought it was a pretty tree. Apparently this tree is over 800 years old, so much respect to it.
After that wondrous experience, the shrine closed and we were herded to the exit by polite, white-gloved guards. Unfortunately, a few of us were out of earshot or didn’t understand the closing announcement, so I found myself missing my Kyle. After a few moments of panicing, we learned that anyone stuck in the temple’s mountain paths would exit through Muriama Park, which was conveniently on our way to Gion, the geisha district. We met back up with our lost companions and headed through Gion’s quaint, traditional streets. (#) We saw a couple of real-life geisha from a distance, then took the hike back to Kyoto train station. Walking along the river, I saw some wonderful buildings like this: (#.) What a fantastic place to be!
After all that walking (my estimate is about 7 miles over the course of the day, many of it involving slopes or stairs) I was exhausted, and worked briefly on a class project before wishing my boyfriend a happy anniversary (nine months, but it’s not the first anniversary we’ve spent apart) I went to bed and slept soundly for four hours.
Entry #6
19:59 Otsu time, hotel room
Listening to: Angels & Airwaves, “Young London”
Today Kyle and I did our class presentation, which was interesting because we only got the topic yesterday, and didn’t rehearse before going in front of the class. It was on Ishiyama-dera, the Buddhist temple we were going to visit in the afternoon. I found it fascinating because of its’ place in the bigger picture: many of the authors we’re reading for class visited the temple, and it’s part of a famous pilgrimage many Japanese Buddhists undertake. Since my ‘religious experience’ at Chion-in, I’ve been more in touch with the spiritual vibe here, which is an unexpected perk of this adventure. I will admit I didn’t expect religion playing such a major role in our class and site visits, but I’m certainly not complaining!
Oh, speaking of the class, I suppose I should prove that I’m actually doing the reading. Because my body woke me up at 4:30 this morning (I don’t know if I should call that jetlag or my system just being weird, probably a little of both) I read more than the assigned sections of Sei Shonoagon’s The Pillow Book. I LOVE it. It’s a lot better than Gossamer Years, which just felt like reading an emo kid circa 2006’s livejournal. Shonagon at least has a sense of humor about things, and my short attention span is well-adjusted to her writing style. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Pillow Book, each section is a paragraph or two on a different topic. A few of them, the ones that I really enjoyed, are lists: “Infuriating things: A guest who arrives when you have something urgent to do, and stays talking for ages… A very ordinary person, who beams inanely as she prattles on and on… I also really hate when people go about envying others, bemoaning their own lot in life, demanding to be let in on every trivial little thing….” I think that Shonagon and I would get along.
After class, we broke for lunch (I found amazing fried tofu and rice in the grocery store, 5 for around 100 yen, delicious!) and when we reconvened for our temple trip, it was raining pretty violently. It calmed down and we got on the train to Ishiyama.
Ishiyama-dera (#) was stunning, even/especially in the persistant drizzle. I am lucky I had my umbrella, though, because I would have been a pretty unhappy camper without it. Again, I was very inspired by the scenery (# and #) Kyle and I wandered up a path on a mountain and felt like we were the only people for miles. (Well, I felt this way, I’m just assuming Kyle did as well.) We passed dozens of little statues of bodhisattvas, but one that was set a little off the path called out to me. I’d had such a wonderful experience from following my instinct yesterday, so I said to Kyle, “Let’s say hi to that guy.” (#) We knelt on a little stone platform in front of the statue and had a few moments of silence. I was thanking God for letting me have this experience, and everything around me, including the mosquitos- again, mindfulness meditation.
After coming down from the mountain and our spiritual high, Kyle and I checked out a few little stores by the temple. The proprietor of one of the stores, an adorable old lady who couldn’t have been taller than four feet, showed me a unique set of Buddhist prayer beads, where by looking into one of the beads you could see a hidden image. They reminded me of a friend of mine who used Buddhist prayer beads in her practice of a unique mix of spiritualities, so I purchased them. I think they are my first ‘souvenir’ that’s not overly cute or cartoony. Technically, they’re not completely traditional, being made of synthetic pearls instead of wood, but I’m not completely traditional either.
I feel happy here. I’ve noticed I’m standing taller and smiling more often. I hope I can keep this up.

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