SYNOPSIS:  About temples that play hard to get, about a bamboo grove.   About a failed date.


I had a date tonight!  After a full day of temple visits I had gone home to prepare.  I washed my hair, put on nice clothes and if I ever would use lipstick, this would have been the day I would have put it on.  Since I could not have a date with a person, I had decided on a date with the theater.  I would have a night out in Kyoto!

Imagine my disappointment when I reached the famous Gion Corner and found myself before a sign that simply stated:  We are closed today.  We are happy to welcome you tomorrow.  That, from a place which is advertised as putting on a show every night.  Mind you, I had to come all the way out here from the suburbs.  I have never felt quite so stood up! **

The day had been marked by being stood up one way or another.  When no guidebook mentions the temple you want to see, something is fishy even if it’s listed as a world heritage site.  I should have known.  By 8:30 AM, the opening time for most temples, I had arrived in front of the gates of the, Kokedera a mountain temple way out East.  The gates were closed, nobody in sight.  I figured I was early.  But then I started to read the various postings at the door and found out that to visit this temple you had to write a letter which needed to reach the temple 7 days before your intended visit.  That was a first!

But OK, I did my calculations and yes, if I wrote the letter today and left it right here, the timing would work out.  But how to write it?   Where to leave it?  Where to get a sheet of paper?  A monk-gardener was working behind the gate and I called him over.  With sign language and his limited English we had about the following conversation:

ETI want to visit the temple.

Gardener:  Crossed his arms into an X in the well-known “no” sign in Japanese.

ETI know I have to write a letter.  Where can I get paper?  I made the sign of a square and moved my hand as if writing.

GardenerLetter, seven years with post.  I know he meant days, not years, but given the sad state of English around here, he had at least a few words at his disposal and that was promising.

ET:  I am right here.  Again, I made the square sign, moved my hand as if writing and then handed him the imaginary letter.  No post, I added for emphasis.

GardenerPost, he repeated.

ET:  (no longer caring if he understood every word but accompanying everything with lots of hand gestures).  Come on!  I am right here.  I can write the letter and give it to you.  Where can I leave a letter?  Where can I get paper?

GardenerAt 10 o’clock.  (I guess he understood just about everything I had just said!)

ETYou are kidding me!  It’s 8:30 (pointing to my empty wrist).  You want me to come back at 10 AM to write a letter when I am right here, right now?!

Gardener:  10 o’clock.


That is thanks in Japanese.  I am not sure what I thanked him for.  But I left.  It was too soon to throw a fit.  And I had just thrown one a few days ago at the bank in Nara.  I had not yet built enough steam for another one.  It was early in the morning and still bearably cool.  It was beautiful around here.  And what else is new?  Japan is full of f-ing rules.  I had to get with it.  I am a visitor.  I need to be polite.  OK, Kokedera was crossed off the list.

Up North I went from here to an area known as Arashiyama.   There are various sites one could spend time on, but sticking with my rule (am I that different from the Japanese?) I only visited the ones I had circled:

First, there was the Tenryuji, another UNESCO site with famous gardens.  They had the novelty arrangement that you needed to buy two tickets: either you bought one for the garden, then you could not enter the temple building, or you bought one for the temple building, then you could not enter the garden.   But you did not know that as you entered one of two gates if you were a foreign visitor since that information was only posted in Japanese…!  By the time you had figured out the system, you were stuck.  I think I got the better deal, the garden.  And just to boycott them, I did not buy the ticket for the building.  I talked to a couple from Denmark and got the assurance that I really had not missed much — they wished they had gotten the garden ticket.  Each group of visitors could look into the other ticket area, but not see it all.

North of the temple, there was the famous bamboo grove. I had been looking forward to that one.  It was just a short walk, and except for all the people who were flooding through it, was almost as magical as I had imagined it especially since we just had another of the many daily rain showers.  The grove was steaming and covered in haze, which only added to its beauty.

At the bottom of the hill, the Nonomiya Shrine provided some lighthearted fun again.  The shrine seemed small, but curiously it was associated with the most famous of all imperial shrines: Ise!  The young and unmarried princesses which were sent off to Ise to serve as priestesses had to undergo up to three years of initiation here before being carried off (yes, in one of those pellegines) to Ise Shrine. What qualified them to bring good luck to marriages, was beyond me, but that was what the shrine was cashing in on: successful marriages.

Today was a tough day as far as transit was concerned.  On the map the distances looked almost reasonable, but there were transfers, weekend schedules, reversed lines and all, which added a lot of time and wasted a lot of my energy.  But hey, it’s all in the name of knowledge, right?

The final temple of the day was Koryuji.  It has two things going for itself.  An unusual and somewhat rare octagonal building and one of the most important seated Maitreya figures of all!  Ami, if you are reading this — I had to think of you today!  You would remember how professor Kane went bonkers over this particular Maitreya.  She loved the suspense created by how he held his fingers ever so delicately to his cheeks without ever touching them.  He is quite lovely, indeed.

But where was the octagonal building?  The temple grounds were not that big and I had made the round twice.  It finally dawned on me that the building would have been at the end of a garden path which was blocked off.  I went to the ticket counter:

ETHow do I get to this building?  Pointing to the map.

Ticket clerk:  Crossed her arms into an X in the well-known “no” sign in Japanese.  It is closed.

ETThat’s no problem.  I don’t need to go inside.  I just would like to look at it from the outside.  ET accompanying every sentence with the appropriate visuals hand signs, circling the building on the map.

Ticket clerk:  Crossed her arms again into an X.  Only open once in year.

ETWhat do you mean?  The building does not need to be open.   It’s the path that is closed.  Why can’t you open that? 

Ticket clerk:  It’s national treasure.  

ETAnd so is this and that. ET pointing to various other buildings on the grounds all known to be national treasures.  After all, this temple had gotten UNESCO world heritage status.  Why is the path closed?

Ticket clerk:  It’s a rule.

ETAh!  Now I get it!  Of course.  It’s a rule!  It makes all sense now.  Arigato daimos.  Thank you so very much!  

And with a big smile and a bow I retreated.

I know that the sarcasm was lost on her.  It was more for myself anyhow.  She was the poor messenger here.  Unbelievable!

This was not the first time I had come across this idea that a statue or a building is open only once a year on this or that arbitrary date.  I am convinced that this is nothing more than a control thing; perhaps, a money maker.   Rule-shmool!   I am not sure I can take a lot more of this nonsense.  This is beginning to wear me out.

Good night.

** Had I just read the brochure, I would have found a list of the four admittedly unusual closing days of the year, of which I had sure-handedly picked one.  Never anyone to blame, but myself.  Darn.

2 comments so far

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  1. I love your saving sense of humor in the face of all that frustration!

    As for the show in Gion, I saw it several years ago. I suppose it is worth seeing only to get an idea of what the Japanese like, but, otherwise, Lucy and I did not get much out of it.

  2. First…that picture of the Bamboo grove is breathtaking…too bad pictures aren’t also “smellies”…I imagine that after the rain, air in the grove had a particularly unique smell.

    I applaud your patience and control in the face of all the rules you have had to deal with…I am sure (absolutely positive) I would have lost it more than once in the face of that kind of regimentation. It would be interesting to do a study on the origin of the apparent rigidity in Japanese society…both from a cultural/historical and a psychological perspective. A friend of mine who visited Japan had the same observation you did about the Japanese and their rules. It would be too simplistic (and inaccurate) to label them as OCD…but that is what it must feel like when you have to confront it on an almost daily basis…rip-your-hair-out-frustrating!

    Sorry your “date” didn’t work out…it would have been interesting to see a play in Japan.

    Hang in there…soon you will be back in the country whose ethos is steeped in the “wild, wild West”…and that means “Nobody ain’t goin’ ta tell me what to do!” LOL