Category Archives: Walks

A Trip to Uji on Inside Kyoto

A window onto Uji... Kosho-ji Temple's Chinese style gate looking out onto Koto-zaka or "harp hill".

A window onto Uji… Kosho-ji Temple’s Chinese style gate looking out onto Koto-zaka or “harp hill”.

My article, A Trip to Uji, is now up on Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto site. In it I describe a complete circuit of all of Uji’s major sites. Uji is a remarkably well preserved town with several shrines and temples of historical interest, including two World Heritage Sites, and all set within  a beautiful natural landscape. Many locations there are associated with the Tale of Genji and so there is a Tale of Genji of Museum there too.  In my article I visit all of these locations and manage to fit in a special river-side lunchtime recommendation, and matcha ice cream at Japan’s oldest tea shop! Check out the article at the link: A Trip to Uji.

A Trip to Uji

Click to read the full article.

Here are some pictures from Kosho-ji Temple which didn’t make it into the final article.

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The garden at Kosho-ji

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A colorful image of Daitokuten. One of the Seven Lucky Gods, Daitokuten is a god of wealth and a plentiful family kitchen. He is easily recognized by his magic money making mallet, and the fact that he stands on bales of rice.

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Timbers from a dismantled Fushimi Castle were used in the temple’s construction. It is said that there are blood stains from the castle siege on the ceiling of the main sanctuary, but it was too dark for me to make them out.

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This is a pleasant temple to visit in all seasons, but especially in the fall for its maples, and in spring for its azaleas.

Exploring Fushimi on Inside Kyoto

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My latest article for Inside Kyoto is an exploration of the backstreets and waterways of Fushimi – Kyoto’s famed sake making district. Included in the article are places to taste sake, a boating cruise, a visit to the Teradaya Inn (where Sakamoto Ryoma narrowly escaped assassination), and a Buddhist temple dedicated to a Hindu river deity that happens to have a Hidden Christian lantern!

Here’s a taste,

Fushimi. Say it aloud and the very sound of those soft syllables seems refreshing. This is not inappropriate. The name originally meant “underground water”, and Fushimi is famous for its springs. The water from these underground sources is soft, mellow and is held to be particularly delicious – perfect for sake production. Many sake breweries thrive in this area and Fushimi sake is renowned as the perfect complement for Kyoto cuisine. Historically the waters of Fushimi also made this area an important hub of transport and trade. Here the confluence of three rivers, the Uji, Katsura and Kamo, and an intricate network of canals were put to good use, sending rice, sake and other goods between the cities of Kyoto and Osaka…

Read more here: Exploring Fushimi – Kyoto’s Sake District

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See also:
Kabuki At Kyoto’s Minamiza Theater
Walking In Gion
Kyoto Samurai
Toka Ebisu

Regarding the Cherry Blossoms in Okazaki, Kyoto

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Just over a year ago I took a walk in Okazaki just before the cherry blossoms bloomed, and recorded my thoughts for the book Deep Kyoto: Walks. I was primarily focused on the architecture of the area, a lot of which dates from the Meiji era. Throughout my walk though I was very conscious of those cherry blossom buds which were “just about to pop”. So a week later I went back and took some pictures of the same area with the trees in full bloom. Here is a short excerpt from that original walk and some of those later photographs. At this point, I have just departed from the the Lake Biwa Canal Museum…

Excerpt from Red Brick and Sakura by Michael Lambe

I head west along the Shirakawa canal, which carries water not from Lake Biwa but from Kyoto’s eastern hills. Pink banners wave in the breeze advertising sakura viewing boat trips, though the sakura itself has yet to bloom. Of this I am glad for I’m sure the area will be packed with tourists once the blossoms are out…

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The Shirakawa canal.

…Turning right I cross a bridge, pausing to look back down the canal towards the eastern hills. Yes, another day or so and the cherry trees along these banks will be spectacular. People will come from all over Japan to see them, and rightfully so. Even though much of old Kyoto has been lost, it is still the best city to view the cherry blossom. Somebody said that in a documentary once. I think it might have been famed movie director Nagisa Oshima, but this was way back in the early 90s and I wasn’t taking notes. The point is, that was when the idea of Kyoto, as a city of sakura, first entered my mind. It made a big impression on me. How wonderful it would be, I thought, to see that for myself. Imagine my delight when I first visited this city and the sakura chose the very day of my arrival to bloom. Such a blessing, and yet I still wasn’t satisfied. One can never be satisfied by cherry blossom. Legendary haiku poet Matsuo Bashō famously wrote “Even in Kyoto… I yearn for Kyoto”. I might add, even when I see the cherry blossom, I yearn for cherry blossom. So beautiful, yet flowering so briefly, even as we enjoy their splendor we are conscious of their imminent loss. The joy of their flowering contains a hidden seed of grief. But you cannot grasp it. To stand beneath a cherry tree and gaze into the billowing clouds of sakura above is to feel your soul being pulled out of you by the infinite regression of those heavenly petals. I wonder it does not drive people mad.

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Looking back towards the Lake Biwa Canal Museum.

I move on, north past the giant red tori gate on Jingū-michi… …where the great shrine of Heian Jingū sits like a proud bird. This red and white structure with its green tiled roofs appears to be a typical example of traditional Kyoto architecture, but actually it too is a Meiji era building. As part of the general drive to revitalize the city, it was decided in 1894 to build this shrine as a smaller scale reconstruction of the Chōdōin, part of the Imperial palace in Heian times (794 to 1185). It would be a proud symbol of the city’s Imperial heritage, a declaration to the world that even as Kyoto moved forward into the modern age it yet kept one eye on its past. I step through the entrance into the shrine’s vast grounds. No matter how many times I visit it stuns me to think that this is but a fraction of the scale of the Heian era original. I walk across the grounds to the main hall, wash my hands, throw a coin and say a prayer – this time for the continued prosperity of my adopted city. On my way out I notice some pink sakura-colored omikuji fortune slips tied to some trees to the left. I briefly toy with the idea of buying one, but no. I’ll write my own fortune and with my own words.

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The entrance to Heian Jingū.

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Text and photographs by Michael Lambe. To read the rest of Michael Lambe’s Red Brick and Sakura, download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Michael Lambe
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Michael Lambe is from Middlesbrough in the North East of England. He moved to Japan in 1997 and has lived, worked and studied in Fukushima, Saitama, Tokyo and Kyoto. He has been writing the Deep Kyoto blog since 2007 and doing odd jobs for Kyoto Journal since 2009. He is the Chief Editor of the Deep Kyoto: Walks anthology and has written articles for Japan Today, Morning Calm, and Simple Things magazine.

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See also:
ABOUT THE BOOK
EXTRACTS
INTERVIEWS

Cherry Blossoms on Shimbashi, Kyoto

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To the south of Shinmonzen, running east to west is Shimbashi-dori Street, probably the prettiest street in all of Gion. This flagstoned strolling area bordered with traditional buildings and willow trees follows the course of the Shirakawa canal. At its best in the cherry blossom season, it is still a delightful area in any season for a daytime stroll or an evening promenade.

– From Walking in Gion, my article for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto.

These were some of the cherry blossoms on Shimbashi today.

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The stone monument to poet, Isamu Yoshii

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The Tatsumi Daimyojin Shrine

Read more about these locations at: http://www.insidekyoto.com/walking-in-gion

Gion Walking on Inside Kyoto

Walking in Gion, my latest article for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto, is now available online. For this piece I took a daytime tour of Gion’s main sites and historical landmarks, taking in some craft and antique shops and sweet shops on the way. I spent a long time on Hanami-koji, trying to get a decent shot of the Ichiriki Chaya unobscured by face-masked pedestrians and tourists with selfie sticks. This was the final result of my persistence.

The Ichiriki Chaya

The Ichiriki Chaya

My favorite spot though is away from the busy streets and in Kennin-ji, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple. This temple complex is pretty big, but doesn’t get so crowded, and you get a real sense of peace from the raked stone gardens. Here are a couple of pictures from Kennin-ji that I didn’t have space for in my article.

Kennin-ji... As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

Kennin-ji… As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now  is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

You can read the article here: Walking in Gion

See also:
Kyoto Samurai
Toka Ebisu

A Long March – Ted Taylor Reflects on Anti-Nuclear Protest in Kyoto

Each year, as the anniversary of the 3/11 disaster in Tōhoku approaches, anti-nuclear protestors here in Kyoto hold a rally and march to protest the government’s pro-nuclear policies. On Saturday March 7th this protest will take place once again. A year ago Ted Taylor joined this same rally and reported on it for our book, Deep Kyoto: Walks. As the marchers once again gather in Maruyama Park, the time would seem opportune to revisit that report. We join Ted as the demonstrators begin to move from the Park into the streets of Kyoto…

Excerpt from A LONG MARCH by Ted Taylor

…Most around me are in their 30s or 40s, being political only to the extent that they want a safe home and future for their children. As there are fifteen reactors just to the north of us here in Kyoto, they have great reason for concern. Regardless of personal beliefs about whether or not nuclear power is safe, the Fukushima disaster proved how unsafe they can be under current conditions. While the marchers here today are most certainly against even a single one of the fifty inert reactors in Japan coming back online, an even larger percentage of Japanese takes a more pragmatic approach, and would accept some of them back online as a temporary solution until other means can be found, though with greater safety protocols in place. As I walk I ponder this, and the passing buses and automobiles douse us in their exhaust, a reminder of equally unpleasant alternatives.

We’ve moved up Shijō-dōri by now, following the parade route that the yamaboko floats take during Kyoto’s renowned Gion festival. The festival began as a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. Perhaps in this nuclear age, our group of walkers serves as a new type of float. Today too, our procession is being observed by the thousands of people out shopping and sightseeing, many of whom have bemused looks on their faces. None are more amusing than the confused looks on the faces of foreign tourists. A worker at one of the tourist shops stands out front offering samples of yatsuhashi to passersby. For a moment I’m tempted to break ranks and taste one of these famed sweets, as it seems like a very Kyoto thing to do.

Our bit of street theater merges briefly with the crowds just coming out of the Minamiza, and then we’re off again, crossing the river and making an eventual right turn onto the bustling Kawaramachi. As the chants now turn to “Kyoto o Mamorō!” or “Protect Kyoto!” I look up this canyon of towering steel and glass, wondering if there is anything left to protect.

Picture 15 A Long March by Ted Taylor (Medium)
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Text and photograph by Ted Taylor. To read the rest of Ted Taylor’s A Long March, download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Ted Taylor

tedBased in Kyoto, Ted’s work has appeared in The Japan Times, Kyoto Journal, Resurgence, Outdoor Japan, Kansai Time Out, Elephant Journal, and Skyward: JAL’s Inflight Magazine, as well as in various print and online publications. A Contributing Editor at Kyoto Journal, he won the top prize in the Kyoto International Cultural Association Essay Contest. He is currently at work on a series of books about walking Japan’s ancient highways. Ted blogs at www.notesfromthenog.blogspot.jp.

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See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn
Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt by Bridget Scott
Blue Sky – An Excerpt by Stephen Henry Gill
Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor (VIDEO)

Kyoto Botanical Gardens by Izumi Texidor Hirai

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Image © Izumi Texidor Hirai

The Asahi Shimbun recently ran a story about Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Researchers there are planning to build a greenhouse for endangered species. Not only will the greenhouse be used for preservation but it will also serve an educational purpose as visitors will be able to observe the plants and the work involved in keeping them alive.

The garden’s botanists also anticipate using the new facility to collaborate with universities and research organizations in reintroducing plants that are extinct in the wild back into their natural habitats.

“When people hear the term ‘endangered species,’ most of them tend to focus on animals,” said Junichi Nagasawa, the director of the garden. “But we want visitors to understand the rarity of endangered plants and how they are influenced significantly by changes in their environment.

An important reminder that the Botanical Gardens are not just a pleasant center of recreation but a locus of serious scientific endeavor! You can read the full story here: Kyoto garden to build greenhouse where visitors can observe endangered species

This story also reminded me that I have been meaning to post a special excerpt from Deep Kyoto: Walks by Izumi Texidor Hirai. In her walk through the Botanical Gardens Izumi weaves personal recollection with finely observed details of life in the gardens as they pass through the four seasons.  January has already passed now, but we are still very much in the early and wintry part of the year. Let today’s excerpt from Izumi’s walk serve as a happy reminder of all the special seasonal joys that the year ahead has in store.

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The Botanical Gardens
IZUMI TEXIDOR HIRAI

The Rose Garden is my favourite part, like stepping into an English garden. A couple of tables shaded under tall trees, roses blooming in every colour I can imagine, grass and gravel under my feet, and then Mount Hiei quietly standing there at the end. Before I notice it, my steps have become smaller and slower. My eyes want to look at all those roses, every single one of them, and my lungs want to breathe in as much of their aroma as they can. In full bloom, this garden is spectacular and many people gather here to take quick photos or to slowly sketch their favourite bloom. However, I quite like it around November, on a cool, rainy day. I like the smell of wet earth and the rain drops on the flowers and on the leaves, and I like to see Mount Hiei mysteriously surrounded by grey clouds. I like that there is no one around and all I can hear is the continuous whispering of rain. I wonder if it sounds the same down here amongst the roses, as up there, at the top of Mount Hiei. In the spring, I will sometimes sit at one of the tables under the big pine trees and read or study. It is one of those special places where time stops as people come and go.

Now I have had my fill of roses, I want to explore the rest of the place, so I stand up, leave the Rose Garden behind and head north. Depending on the time of year, I will see camellias, or irises coming out of a lotus pond, or big hydrangeas if it is June. The lotus pond has an interesting bridge that often reminds me of classic Japanese novels. It is not a straight bridge or even a typical slightly elevated bridge, it goes right and left, and then right and left again, making you understand that the point is not to go from here to the other side, but to walk slowly and look around, maybe even stop a couple of times and enjoy a certain spot. When I get off the bridge, I start walking freely, no longer really having any direction in mind. All that zig-zagging. Wherever I go, I am always shaded by big old trees that must have seen a hundred years go by. There are more than twelve thousand species of plants and trees in these gardens, and birds live in some of these trees. I have often seen bird watchers with the latest cameras, moving silently in groups and taking fast snaps. Like modern ninjas.

Picture 14 Bridge by Izumi Texidor Hirai (Medium)

Image © Izumi Texidor Hirai

Then the sound of bamboo makes me slow down again. It is not a big forest, like the famous bamboo forests that people visit in other parts of Kyoto, yet still bamboo has this way of standing there, strong yet soft, that always transmits depth. At least it always makes me have deep thoughts. I think of how graceful the bamboo shoots look, but how strongly rooted they are to the earth, and how fast they separate from it, to grow higher and higher, while their roots go deeper and deeper, in a constant yet invisible effort to live. And then there is that sound. The wind finding its way through the shoots and the leaves. And the shoots and the leaves moving together with the wind, being flexible, but never bending, always going back to their straightness. It makes me think of how I want to be.

Still half lost inside my green thoughts, I continue my stroll. If I go north, I will see a big fountain that makes kids happy during the summer months, and just next to it, an area with all sorts of seasonal flowers. I like walking in there, not only because of the colours and all the flowers I never knew existed, but also to feel the effort that someone put into that seasonal garden. This is something that I have always admired in Kyoto, the effort people put into their tiny entrances, filling them with small pots neatly cared for. These minuscule urban gardens make such a big difference. A small effort will surely always make a difference.

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Text and photographs by Izumi Texidor Hirai. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Izumi Texidor Hirai

photoIzumi Texidor-Hirai is half Japanese and half British, but born and raised in Barcelona. She first came to Japan in 1998 to study at Tokyo University. After many travels she returned to Japan to work for FIFA during the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup. She decided to stay on after the event and moved to Kyoto, where her family have roots. Izumi had always admired kimono and took this chance to go to a kimono school, where she trained to become a kimono teacher. This course led her to the world of cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) which has since become her passion. Izumi is currently working towards a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, studying QiGong with a sensei in the Imperial Palace grounds, wearing kimono most days and continues to be very passionate about cha-no-yu.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Walk ‘N’ Write in Kyoto – A SWET Event with Rebecca Otowa – Now on March 1st!

UPDATE!!! Due to a clash with the Kyoto Marathon on February 15, this event will now be held on March 1st!

Rebecca Otowa (author of At Home in Japan) will lead a “walk and write” event in Kyoto on Sunday, February 15th March 1st at Heian Jingu.

Entrance to Heian Jingu - Picture by Michael Lambe

Entrance to Heian Jingu – Picture by Michael Lambe

This event is organized by SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators)   so here from their website are the details:

Get that blood flowing again—to your brain as well as your extremities—with a brisk walk followed by a writing-and-sharing session. We’ll meet at Heian Shrine in Kyoto and take in the formal garden, which has a subtle beauty in winter and not too many people. Heian Shrine, itself, is a scale replica of Heian Palace, which was originally built in the late 8th century when the capital was moved to Heian-kyo (today’s Kyoto).

Afterward, we’ll walk (about 15 minutes) or cab it down to Tadg’s Irish Pub in Kiyamachi Sanjo, for drinks and snacks. There, we’ll each write a short piece about what we experienced, and then share it with the group.

Whatever genre is most comfortable for you—haiku, flash fiction, micropoetry, sonnet, a plain old paragraph, whatever. Join us for a civilized afternoon in Kyoto. If there is a little powdering of snow, so much the better!

Stipulations:
(1) Silence. No talking to anyone from entering until leaving the garden.
(2) No electronic devices to be used during the walk through the garden, with the exception of taking notes and/or photographs.
(3) No cheating—walk, experience, process and THEN write later!

Date: Sunday, February 15 March 1st, 2015
Meeting time: 1:00 pm (We should get back to Tadg’s by 3 pm.)
Place: Meet at the main entrance of Heian Shrine, Okazaki Park, Kyoto (http://www.heianjingu.or.jp/)
Cost: 600 yen (garden entrance fee), minimum 1 drink and snack at Tadg’s
Reservations: We recommend you contact us at SWET Kansai to ensure we reserve enough seats at Tadg’s.

See you there! Don’t forget your woollies, gloves and hat, not to mention writing materials.

For further details please see the SWET website.

With thanks to George Bourdaniotis.

Hiking the Rice Buyers’ Way

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Into the woods!

Two of the most rewarding activities I have been involved in during my time in Kyoto, are the events organized by the Hailstone Haiku Circle, and the conservation activities of People Together for Mt. Ogura (PTO). Stephen Gill is a primary organizer of both organizations, and so some of their activites tend to merge. So it was that on October 26th Mewby and I took part in a joint Hailstone/PTO hike along the Rice Buyers’ Way between Mizuo and Saga, in Ukyo-ku, Kyoto.

Says Stephen,

The Komekai no Michi 米買の道 was the route taken by citizens of Heian-kyo and their horses and oxen when they went off to buy cheaper, more delicious rice from Mizuo, Koshihata and the province of Tamba beyond. The journey involved climbing at least two passes (there is a third on the way to Koshihata/Kameoka). With an early start and a brisk pace, the buyer’s mission could possibly have been accomplished in a single strenuous day… Few people pass this way nowadays, but the trail is still pretty good…

However, unlike the rice buyers, we would walk in only one direction and not there and back again. Meeting up at Hozukyo station at 9am, we boarded a mini-bus for Mizuo. From here we would hike back to Kyoto. Here are some pictures from our walk.

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The view from Mizuo. This little mountain village was once the home of the Emperor Seiwa (清和天皇, Seiwa-tennō, 850–878) and it was here he passed away.

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Stephen and Mewby tree hugging at Enkaku-ji, Mizuo.

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Here Mewby inspired me. “Look at the spider web shining! Doesn’t it look just like a CD!” she said. And, “Did you know that in experiments spiders change the shape of a web according to the music they are played?”

to what tune
does the spider spin
this disc that snares the light?

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On our way…

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Much of the route is sign-posted.

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Stephen Gill – upstream

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東の田んぼ跡 – The east rice field ruins. Hard to believe this was once farmland.

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Another source of inspiration, this fungus is called サルノコシカケ or Monkey’s seat. Surprisingly it can actually take quite a bit of weight.

a fungal seat –
each in turn, we try to prove
we are monkeys

And Okiharu Maeda’s translation:

座れるか?
サルノコシカケ
人が猿か

Our troop

Our troop

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大岩 – The big rock

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Climbing 大岩

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Scrambling

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Kunugi is a type of oak, but there was no kunugi to be seen here. Maeda-san explained that there must have been one in times past, that was used as a landmark to help people find the way…

for the ghost of the tree,
that pointed the way,
now stands a simple sign

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Mr. Gill in reflective mood

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「アメンボ!」 says Mewby 「見て!」


water strider –
back and forth he stakes a claim:
this rock is mine

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At Kiyotaki

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The Hozu River Gorge

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Closer

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One of PTO’s main activities is collecting rubbish that has been illegally dumped on Mount Ogura. Maeda-san and Stephen were scouting out an area in need of work along the way…

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The return to Saga

Having returned to Saga, those that still had energy visited a Balinese eatery and there over our drinks and just desserts, we shared our haiku. You can read some haiku from the other walkers here: Of Michio, Toshi and the Village of Mizuo

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A reward at journey’s end.

Many thanks to Stephen Gill for organizing a very enjoyable day.

If you would like to join in the activities of the Hailstone Haiku Circle or PTO then please visit the websites below.

https://hailhaiku.wordpress.com/
http://www.ptogura.org/ep.html

Not Sure Which Way to Go – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Robert Yellin

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, Robert Yellin encourages us to seek chance and adventure along the Path of Philosophy…

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Photograph by Robert Yellin

Not Sure Which Way to Go
Let’s Get Lost on the Philosopher’s Path!
ROBERT YELLIN

One autumn twilight moment I was standing on a small bridge overlooking the Philosopher’s Path’s canal and saw a young couple staring at a map, eyes flittering over the horizon and at each other, each looking to the other for direction, it obvious that neither knew where they were, except that they were on the Path of Philosophy! The guy trying to act like he knew what to do said, “That’s the direction we should go, no wait, let’s head that way!” The girl, in all her feminine wisdom replied, ‘Let’s get lost!” Yes, I thought, that’s what one should do on Philosopher’s Path, get lost and discover.

The Philosopher’s Path or Tetsugaku no Michi in Japanese, stirs up such grandeur in its lofty name that one might even expect to be enlightened somewhere along the way. Some may hit that satori state along the path, as when Ikkyu in 1420 heard a crow not far off the path and got it! And that’s the beauty of this fabled Kyoto walk. It’s not only what one discovers on the paved canal-lined stretch; it’s what one encounters when they step off the guided way. After all a path is a great metaphor for life itself, getting lost often brings the greatest discoveries within and without. Getting lost—and finding oneself—on the Philosopher’s Path: what a grand way to spend a day in Kyoto.

Michi (also read as ) means not only path or road, but also means ‘The Way’ in Japanese. It is not only an integral part of the essence of the Philosopher’s Path or The Path of Philosophy, but can also be found in many names of Japan’s great martial and cultural arts, such as Budo or Chado. Each person’s ‘michi’ will never be the same as anyone else’s and again is a great metaphor for each step taken along this most quaint stroll.

Where to take the first step? Most start from the ‘Tetsugaku no Michi’ signboard that hugs the corner of Imadegawa and Shirakawa streets diagonally across the way from the signboard with the dancing Octopus. Walking east along this entrance one can see Daimonji in the distance with its trapezoidal deforested area where cut lines can be sensed; those lines form the kanji character for Dai—or Large—and a huge bonfire is set alit each August 16th in that form to guide souls back to the otherworld. A fitting view for the first few steps on the path as Daimonji has seen millions of tourists and pilgrims start from the same spot and the mountain never knows where each unique journey on the path will end.

For me I start the path with maybe one or two spots on my list to visit and then let intuition take over. Of course, walking straight along Imadegawa and heading towards the Silver Pavilion one will pass many shops such as a cheap, delicious Japanese eatery next to a coffee shop with a big Teddy bear that has been sitting at the counter since the 60’s; a Michelin-starred restaurant; an open-air Italian spread; the estate and museum of the famed Nihonga painter Hashimoto Kansetsu (1883–1945); and of course countless vendors selling traditional Kyoto staples. The Silver Pavilion is of course a must visit and best at opening or before closing, if those times are possible. Here, so much of Japanese culture crystallized in the 15th century in what is known as the Higashiyama Bunka or Eastern Mountain Culture. Based on the illusive aesthetic ideals of wabi-sabi, Higashiyama Bunka under the guidance of the Silver Pavilion’s retired Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa directed new developments for such famed Japanese arts such as the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, Noh Drama and Calligraphy. Living itself changed for the elite with the introduction of the ‘Japanese room’ or washitsu.

Bordering the mountains and in Yoshimasa’s time quite inaccessible from the city, the location was chosen for the quiet contemplation of life, nature and man’s fleeting position between the two; surely Yoshimasa would approve that one major stop on the Philosopher’s Path is his subdued ‘palace’ surrounded by his moon-viewing sand cone (resembling Mt.Fuji) and his exquisite garden. Get lost in time.

A noticeable shift in the air occurs a few minutes’ walk from the Silver Pavilion, passing by rows of ordinary homes (not on the Philosopher’s Path, part of the Getting Lost Path) heading south when the trees of Hōnen-in Temple appear. It strikes the senses immediately, the crispness of the air and the ionic air change in energy, the smell, the tingle. There are magical spots all around Kyoto, many to be found along and nearby the Philosopher’s Path, yet none is as serene as Hōnen-in. It’s one of Kyoto’s hidden gems.

Hōnen (1133-1212) was an extremely important Buddhist figure and the temple bears his name. Once, I stood enraptured for many minutes before a hanging scroll depicting Hōnen; a simple portrait it was, yet never before have I seen a face so full of compassion, light, and sheer contentment. That same energy fills the space of Hōnen-in. Walk up the stone steps from sunlit lightness into a moody shaded grove and in the distance is The Gate. Beaming from its open wooden doors is a radiant light that is heavenly. The stone path leading to the thatched gate is uneven, for a reason. You’ll figure it out.

A gate is always another metaphor in Japan, passing from one world to the next, from the mundane daily existence to a silky world of divinity and beauty. There are always two long rectangular sand mounds upon descending the other side of the Hōnen gate where a theme of water is always seen. These are called Byakusadan. The message from Byakusadan is that you walk between the two mounds in order to ‘use’ the water to cleanse your body, mind and spirit. Next, wander about the very small compound and you might even find a small block that says, ‘Listen, Think, Accept, Practice, Believe’—but not necessarily in that order. I believed once that if I left my new bicycle unlocked at Hōnen-in in the height of the autumn tourist season that it would still be there when I returned. It was.

Picture 5 Honen-in by Robert Yellin (Medium)

Hōnen-in by Robert Yellin

Hōnen-in is not a tourist place to see things per se, but a space to feel, to sense the magic of shadows and light, man entwined with nature, the ‘now’ connected to all time. My brother visited once and was amazed at the ‘quality of the silence’ and noted that silence is not simply the absence of noise. There’s a vibration to silence that one can sense. Maybe it’s the spirit of Hōnen himself.

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Text and photographs by Robert Yellin. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About Robert Yellin
Robert YellinRobert Yellin is an American Japanese ceramics specialist who has resided in Japan since 1984. He writes regularly on Japanese ceramics in numerous publications. For ten years he wrote the “Ceramic Scene” column for the Japan Times, the largest English newspaper in Japan. His articles have also appeared in Daruma magazine, WINDS magazine, Ceramics Art & Perception, and Asian Art Newspaper. Robert is the author of Yakimono Sanka published by Kogei Shuppan, a book about sake utensils which was later translated into English under the title Ode to Pottery, Sake Cups and Flasks. He is a member of the Japan Ceramics Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai) and his articles have appeared in its monthly publication Tohsetsu.
Robert owns and runs Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto in addition to an informational website: www.e-yakimono.net, and an online Japanese ceramic art gallery: www.japanesepottery.com. Robert is available to give lectures and lead tours dealing with Japanese ceramics.

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