Finding Nemo

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Living Art

Schoolgirls ready for temple
Temples aside, perhaps the the best part of wandering around Kyoto is hunting for snipes.  Or geishas, same thing really.  According to the LP bible, the odds of spying a geisha are about as likely as getting shat on by a bird.  Which happened to my friend Atab 3 times in 3 days once, so maybe it really was a possibility.  At any rate, on my way to my very first temple, I watched with fascination as 4 girls walked right in front of me, all in full kimono.  It was such a photo op, but I was stumped as to how to ask them politely.  By this point I was well aware of how shy Japanese were, especially Japanese girls.  An American next to me asked his guide if he could get pictures with the girls.  I chuckled, knowing how this was about to play out.  The guide agreed, said something to them, and the girls all smiled and laughed and ... to my dumbfounded amazement, said "Hai Hai Hai!!"  I jumped in and asked if I could have a round.  And that's how I got one of my favorite pics in Japan.  I found out later that its common for schoolgirls to have to wear Kimono when visiting temples, its like a Sunday school clothes ritual or something.  Plus I think there is a little bit of dress-up involved that girls enjoy no matter what part of the world they are from.  I ran into the girls later and I could tell their initial fun at being celebrities was starting to take its toll.  They were no longer excited when asked to pose for the 1000th time.  Ahhhh, the life of fame.  Next was drugs, tabloids, and rehab.... er, where was I?

Snipes found!!
Later I was wandering down the "most beautiful alley in Kyoto", basically its this narrow snaking corridor flanked on both sides by lovely ancient wooden samurai houses.  Even though you can't see in the houses its pretty atmospheric.  Then, the magic happened.  Two geishas were wandering up the alley towards me.  My jaw hit the cobblestones.  I snapped a cool pic of them wandering up, but my brain wasn't working enough to ask them to pose with me.  They clopped clopped on by in their odd wooden sandals, me staring stupidly.  Now, mind you, I live in LA and see celebs all the time.  Or at least I used to when I was a young party animal going to Hollywood.  So I tend to think of myself as pretty jaded when someone famous is sitting next to me.  But watching two geishas walk by is different, its like spotting a tiger in Sumatra.  You read they aren't extinct (yet) but you sure as hell don't expect to actually see one.  I surreptiously followed them a bit and was excited to see that a Japanese tourist had stopped them for a photo op.  I jumped in there and said a few "shashin gosaiimas" and the usual hand gestures... and that's the story of my Facebook profile pic.  It is truly mind-boggling to a Japanese newbie like myself how incredibly nice the Japanese are; if you ask something you usually get it with a smile, whether you are being rude or not.  I often worried that if I was being an ass they would never let me know.
Bamboo music
Listening to the wind
A cool excursion on the West side is the bamboo forest and monkey mountain.  The bamboo is advertised in LP as amazing, a place to get truly lost.  The reality: there is indeed a short stretch about 100m long where you are on a dark path surrounded on all sides by bamboo.  And that part is pretty damn cool, there is nothing more Japan-esque than being lost in a bamboo forest.  The only problem was that I was lost with about 100 other Japanese snapping away with their long-lenses.  (Why does every single Asian on the planet have to have an SLR with long-lens glued to their matching Hawaiian shirts everywhere they go, on a beach, at a cafe, in their hotel, on the bus, in the toilet, when they are such a pain in the ass and not needed unless you are on a friggin safari in Africa!!!!  Whew!  OK, I feel better.  Where was I?)

So the bamboo forest is pretty cool, but I definitely wished I'd gotten to it really early in the morning, when the soft low light through the bamboo would have been fantastic, and the sound of shutters and "Say Cheese!" would have been replaced with nothing but that zen-filled sound of a thousand bamboo stalks softling rustling in the wind.
Everything is sacred
LP is quite good at nailing that occasional little side-trip, and their recommendation to wander up behind Nanzen-ji to a little shinto shrine in the hills is fantastic.  If you wander far enough in the woods just about anywhere in Japan, you'll probably stumble across a lonely little shinto shrine, honoring some rock or tree.  And I have to say, I love it!  As I mentioned earlier, I'm fascinated with worship of the natural world.  To me its a way to show respect to our source, its where we came from.  So when I wandered up the hill alone and came upon this simple wooden and stone shrine in a beautiful little forested glen, I was happy.  A Torii announced the shrine, and a wooden roof hung over an offering rock.  Beyond, a little waterfall sprinkled down a mossy rock, it was the center of the shrine, the home of the Kami.  Little offerings and incense holders were placed around the rocks.  It was perfect.

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