SYNOPSIS:  About a flea market, about sand, bees, an out of place art gallery, a Buddha who turns his head, an unexpected aqueduct; all in the context of a few temples such as the Ginkakuji, in the Okazaki area. 


There wasn’t a flea in this market and I regretted having gone through all the effort and time to get here in this excruciating heat.  I even took a taxi for part of it!  Of course, 33° Celsius does not come even close to the 50° I had to endure in Mali last year. But here, at this time of the year, and today in particular, the heat was coupled with 85% humidity and every part of my body inevitably was dripping.  Too late; I found myself at the Chionji.  This was solely, because the guide book had recommended its “flea market”.  At best you can call this an arts and crafts market.  There is hand-made jewelry, clothing, woodworking and ceramics.  But all of it was made yesterday and the souvenir shops in town are full of this wherever you look.  No need for more, no need for a market, at least not for me.

One single stand was interesting, and I could not figure out what was going on.  It was nearly closing time and an old lady was digging with her bare hands into several wooden buckets filled with some brown paste, pulling out vegetables to be packed up!  Honestly, not very appetizing.  What was that all about?  If she could put both hands into the bucket, I felt that I could dare to take a tiny dip into the paste and smell it.  For all I could recognize, it was yeast-based.  Was this a special kind of storage on hot market days?  Was this a traditional way of pickling or seasoning?  Neither she, nor anyone in earshot spoke English, so I am none the wiser.  But there is a photo of her and her buckets.  Now there is a puzzle…

The Chionji has two halls, as most Buddhist Temples.  In one, quiet prayers were going on, performed by a few visitors who had strayed from the shopping path.  In the other, not so quiet prayers were performed by anyone who cared to join, led by two monks.  They were chanting simple, unrecognizable syllables, drowned out by banging noises everyone created by hitting a round, skull-like “instrument” with a wooden spoon-type clapper.  A far cry from the sweet, Gregorian Chant-like Nembutsu Ann posted on the blog a while ago.  What the purpose of this drumming session was, again is beyond me.  In cases like this I truly regret not to have a knowledgeable guide with me.  Sorry, for leaving you hanging like this.

Chionji was the last temple for today.  Before I got completely lost in all the UNESCO or secondary temples, I have to make sure not to miss out on the big ones.  Today, the main target was the Ginkakuji, or the Silver Temple, and the Okazaki area of North-East Kyoto.

The patterns at the finely raked entrance path to the Ginkakuji Temple were still visible when I got there.  The multitudes that were expected to roll in today, as they roll in every day of the year, were still at breakfast.  As golden as the Kinkakuji is, don’t get your hopes up — this one is as plain as any wooden building.  But it is the same building type with that graceful square shape, punctuated by flame-shaped wooden windows, topped by a phoenix — all this mirrors the golden pavilion but it is at a more modest scale.  No surprise, as this one was built by the grandson of the builder of the Kinkakuji, Ashikaga Yoshimasa.  It is almost as if he wanted to honor but not outdo his ancestor.  The temple is located in a beautiful wooden setting surrounded by a pond, two peculiar and famous sand piles, a villa filled with famous paintings on sliding doors by notable painters, and a path through the woods, lined with moss, a stream, and beautiful rocks.   If you are afraid of bees, beware — the sand piles are swarming with them!  These are big bees — or are they wasps? You can see them going in and out of the various holes they dug for themselves in the sand.  And no doubt you can hear them humming as you walk by.

The Higashiyama Jishoji as it is formally known, is a Zen temple and Zen is an esoteric (secret) form of teaching.  The sand piles you see as you enter are understood to be purifiers for mind and soul acting on those who walk by.   And they can be symbols of various concepts, such as Mt. Fuji in this case, or salt, water, waves, or else, and they can be seen in various Zen places around Kyoto.

With that visit under my belt everything from here was just icing on the cake.  I don’t get a treat like a ten minute shady walk along a river in a scenic suburban neighborhood every day, when I make my way from one temple to the next.  Usually it’s a boring walk to the next bus stop, waiting, sweating, 1/2 hour in transit.  But the Honen-in was just that, ten pleasant stroll minutes away.  The ending “in” means temple just as the ending “ji”.  But it is an indication of size.  An “in” temple is usually much more intimate and small.  The Honen-in lived up to its name.  A modest gate lead down a path to a few small buildings.  Again, you passed through two piles of sand.  These were square shaped and one of them had a secret message written on it — secret to me, at least.  There was nothing special about this temple, really, but it was a cozy and quiet place.

In one of the corners of the temple there is traditional stone stupa in front of what looks like a modern artist’s interpretation of the elements of Buddhism.  A stone on the ground has the deep message:






Ponder that one.  The surprise comes when you realize that one of the small Buddhist halls has its doors open to welcome you to an art exhibit.  There is no charge, no commerce, just the quiet, dedicated promotion of contemporary, local artists.  Way to go, abbot of the Honen-in!  Rumor has it that you are a cool guy and I have no doubt about it.

The next stretch of the day was that typical walk, sweat, wait and ride kind of an experience.  The bus stop was quite a ways away from the actual temple and there was more walking.  And then I got tricked — at least it felt like that.  Everyone is heading for the big temple, but along the way there is an open door, another temple, another ticket booth and before I knew it I found myself in the wrong temple.  I was at the Eikando Zenrinji.  Darn!  That’s why I had circled the map, so I would not waste time in any of these 1600 temples…  But I had paid, I was at least going to look around.  And in Kyoto it’s hard to go wrong.  All these temples have something going for themselves.

Remember the guy who supposedly chanted the Nembutsu 60,000 a day — wouldn’t you know it, he was indirectly affiliated with this temple as it seems that one of his disciples by the nickname of Eikan also uttered the Nembutsu a lot and had a weird vision one day in the 11th century on a misty morning.  He had been walking around an Amida sculpture all night, which all of a sudden stepped off the pedestal, walked away and beckoned him to follow.  Since he just stood there, petrified, Amida turned back to him and called him to follow.  Eikan shared this vision with his congregation and a figure of Amida was sculptured as he was turning his head — totally unique in Buddhist sculpture where all images face forward.  Now that was worth getting side-tracked, or not?

15 more minutes walking and I finally reached the temple I had been looking for in the first place, the Nanzenji.  The gate, the Chokushimon was certainly nothing like I had ever seen: it was ginormous and you could go up into it.  There was a whole hall full of Buddha statues in there!  That is not what a gate usually is, but it was very impressive.

The Nanzenji is another one of those cities within a city kind of a place with 13 sub-temples and a sprawling area.  For visitors, only this gate and a garden with a villa is open.  The villa is full of priceless art works from the famous Kano school, so strict non-photography applies.  That’s like having a lot of Rembrandts or Raphaels.    But the gardens were lovely.

One more cool surprise, not even mentioned as anything special in the guidebook: there was a brick aqueduct right next to the temple.  All of a sudden you thought you were in the middle of Europe facing a Roman leftover.  This thing was still functioning — water was running all along the top channel!   Very impressive and picturesque, too.

All in all, another hot, temple-heavy day.

Did I mention that I finally found some edible bread with crust at the “flea market”?

Bread is a subject I don’t even want to mention.  I wish I could show any Japanese baker what a good slice of German bread looks like.  Perhaps, somebody could make a fortune around here.  Japanese bread is worse than American Wonder Bread.  It’s all white and fluffy and pointless.  But the bread at the market had a hint of substance and a crust that could not be poked in by the merest touch.  That made my day.

And along with my one-dollar dinner,  a bowl of Ramen noodles, I had a big slice of it!

Good night.