Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sentimental Journey

I've spent far too many of these January days at my desk, clearing out over six months of writing projects.  The weather has been another factor, being wetter than on most years, albeit warmer.  Today we were rewarded with sunny skies and a high of 12 degrees.  Mishima proved the clincher, as I came across a quote of his saying something about needing to leave his study in order to feel the sun on his body.  Thus I followed suit, though not quite to extreme that Mishima himself took it.

I bike southwest, through the warren-like streets of Nishijin.  I pass the house that we nearly moved into in December, before we vetoed the west side altogether.  I round the south of Myoshinji, and leave my bicycle at an Imamiya Jinja under the wraps of construction.

I pass one of my favorite temples in the city, Hōkongō-in, the one with the beautiful lotus garden that blooms in August.  One summer a decade ago, I spent a long period cooling off in the museum here, staring at statuary which kept me as rooted in place as the air-con did. 

Just beyond the temple, I begin to trace the base of Narabi-ga-oka burial mounds.  Miki and I walked this many years ago, in the days before she was my wife.  In the forest we had found a ninja throwing star made from tin foil, and I shot a photo of Miki pretending to throw it at me, a photo that for years stood as her profile pic on my mobile phone.   Sometimes in marriage's darker moments, I think of that throwing star as a harbinger. 

I keep moving along a shaded path that follows the canal below.  Somewhere near here was a house that used to belong to the mistress of a famous film actor back in the 1920s.  I attended a party here one spring afternoon when the sakura were in bloom, their petals blowing like confetti through the bamboo trees outside the house's upper deck.  As we sipped our wine, we listened to William Burroughs singing The Egyptian Book of the Dead,  with Bill Laswell on bass behind him.  I heard recently that the house is gone, despite being one of the most beautiful I've seen in this city.

The hill drops away and I come to the main gate of Ninna-ji, framing as it does a mountainscape of subdued green.  A mounted guide map shows a cluster of temples just to the west.  I'm tempted, but they can wait until another sunny day.  Instead, I follow a diagonal street toward Myoshin-ji.  

Along the way I find the "Wonder Cafe" and step inside, to be led to a table in the front window.  The layout of this place is extraordinary, as each table is separated into its own nook which is shaped by high book shelves. Knick-knacks fill every available space.   I look at an old copy of one of my favorite Japanese mags, "Taiyo,"  this one in particular dedicated to walking in Kyoto.  On one page, I see an article on my friend Jack, looking far svelter back in 1999.  Over my left shoulder is an action figure of Taylor from Planet of the Apes.  Over my right is a CD of James Taylor.  The combination of we three Taylors must account for something in the universe.  I am half expecting Duran Duran to come over the sound systems, but instead I get Jane Birkin proving her "Je t'aime" for Serge Gainsbourg.  A far better choice.

I make it to Myoshin-ji eventually.  The layout of low temple walls and stone walks is reminiscent of Daitoku-ji in my own neighborhood, but the abundant green here, along with the accessibility of the sky, makes it appear far less fortified than its slightly older cousin to the east.   As I walk, I realize how many memories I have of Myoshin-ji, despite never having lived nearby.  I remember in particular a KJ release party here one night,  where the art and the music nearly won out against the beauty of the moon rising above a September garden.

The weather today too remains glorious.  The only grey to be seen is in the robes of a group of Korean nuns, wandering around the temple grounds, snapping photographs as if testing the theory of impermanence.  When the descending sun brings the coolness of evening,  I too am gone.

On the turntable:  The Moody Blues, "This Is..."
On the nighttable:  Nicholson Baker, "Room Temperature"

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