The long commute.
When we left Kyoto we ended up using five or six different buses or trains, including a cable car, to get us to and up the mountain to Koyasan, and a Buddhist monastary there, where we spent the night.
We met a lot of wonderful people during our stay in Japan; the designers from Mexico and the Canadian couple from Calgary, Yasuko in Hiroshima and Raphael in Kyoto to name just a few; and some we met on a train. There was a charming couple from Redding, England, that we met on the train to Hiroshima and kept bumping into while we were there; and finally, Christoph, a young (to me) German who had just finished a contract with an international think-tank and was taking a six month vacation to travel the world. He was going to another monastary in the same area as us in Koyasan. We helped each other find our transfer stations and eventually got where we were going. He has sent me some beautiful photos of his travels and if I can figure out how to share them in future blogs I will.
A typhoon was moving onto Japan while we were travelling and it added another texture to our time there. We watched the landscape and the weather change.
This last trolley train took us up the mountain to the town where we would be staying. By then the rain was coming down steadily.
All the train travel we did during those two weeks in Japan, and the need at the end of the day to defrag my brain, left a lot of time for reading. I ended up reading three novels and a number of short stories from 'The Oxford Book Of Japanese Short Stories'; by far the most reading I had done in that short a time in years. The novels were 'A Little Yellow Dog' by Walter Mosley (one of my favorite American crime fiction writers), which I had brought with me; and two novels that I found in a small English Used Book Store in Hiroshima. One was 'A Drink Before War' by Dennis Lehane (another hard-boiled fiction writer that I sometimes enjoy) and the other was a book that Angela had read and thought I might like; 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern. It is a romance with magical imagery and recurring symbols, especially of fire and water, that seemed to take on a personal resonance during our stay in Koyassan.
We were escorted to our room by a young monk who spoke a little English. He was ninteen years old and had been in the monastary for two years. It was a large room and luckily there was a heater in one corner as the temperature had dropped considerably.
Angela joined a medition group somewhere in the monastary and I wandered with my camera performing my own style of meditation.
We had another simple but delicious meal, prepared and delivered by the monastary. I enjoyed an onzen bath; how I miss those. We made our beds and fell asleep to the sound of the wind ticking rain on the windows. We would be waking early.
At five a.m. we were up and dressed and down the stairs, ready for the two rituals we wanted to be part of. The first was a relatively straight forward morning prayer and I did not take pictures. But the second was a Fire Ceremony and I had to.
I do not pretend to know how the fabric of the universe is woven, or what influence we have on its shaping. For this ceremony participants were invited to write their wishes on a stick of wood and present it to the priest to be burned in the fire. I presume that the prayers are released into the air where they can manifest their influence. I did not offer a wish but I don't judge those that did. Seeing their faces I could only imagine the trials that had brought them to this place and could only hope that any hardships they were facing could be lessened by their presence on that morning. While the fire burned, outside the rain fell.
Angela and I returned to our room, ate a healthy breakfast and dressed for the weather. We packed our bags, went down stairs, where we left our luggage, and went out to explore the area. We had read about a famous cemetary nearby.
If you can imagine our entry from the subway tube into the glare and noise of Tokyo as a kind of birth, then it was appropriate that as our life in Japan ended we should be in a cemetary. The number of stories that must have died in that graveyard is staggering to my imagination. It seemed to go on forever.
Angela and I seperated as we entered the gates. I wandered slowly with my camera, trying to protect it from the rain, and she walked ahead to be with her own thoughts. I met a couple, around my age, who handed me their camera and asked me if I would take their picture. They were from the south-west United States and, when I told them I had always wanted to photograph that part of the world, the man took out a card and handed it to me, saying that if I ever made it down there I should give them a call. It felt wonderful to be standing in the rain, in a mountain forest in Japan, and being invited, by someone I had never met before, to visit them in the American desert.
When I realized how large the cemetary was I became afraid that I wouldn't find Angela. Suddenly, there was Christoph, the German think-tank escapee, who said he had just seen her and she was not far ahead. By the time I found her the rain was coming down hard so we found a cab and started the long trip back to Tokyo.