Kyoto is just one amazing thing after another. Honestly, I don’t know where to start or end. So much here is full of meaning and humanity. My only regret is that I am barely scratching a very small part of a very big surface.
The big event for me was the Godai-Rikison Ninno-e Festival at Daigo-ji (“ji” means “temple” and the temple complex is another UNESCO World Heritage Site 🙂 ). Daigo-ji is Zen Buddhist, like most Buddhists in Japan. The name of the festival means “Contest of Strength” and celebrates five Buddhist gods, peace and personal good fortune. It has been celebrated for more than 1100 years and apparently only at Daigo-ji.
The festival engages all of the senses with chanting, taiko drumming, candles burning, incense, street foods sizzling on grills, bond fires, monks in traditional costumes, brightly colored banners, worn wood floors on naked feet, praying and, of course, the grunts from people trying to lift 300 pound rice cakes.
The crowd was mostly over the age of 60 and I saw very few tourists. An estimated 100,000 people attended, but nothing about it felt crowded. Any time I wanted to see something or participate in something, there was a space for me. Three women at different times kind of pushed me into transitioning from an observer to a participant. I prayed, I bowed, I listened, I slowed down. I didn’t try to lift the 300 pound rice cakes.
I also attended a tea ceremony earlier in the day. It was actually more of a short workshop that left me wanting to learn more. The Japanese tea ceremony is a tradition that is very complex, with many steps and specific ways to perform each of them, and each has layers of meaning (this is Japan afterall). The tea scooping spoon even has his own personal name. The name of ours was, loosely translated, “the lovely scent of the plum blossoms in the spring.” The purpose of the ceremony is to instill peace and harmony and it usually lasts more than three hours. It is now most commonly performed by women, including geisha, but originally it was performed by samurai who wanted to show off their wealth and demonstrate cultural refinement.
I don’t often drink green tea because the caffeine in it affects me profoundly, way more than coffee. Our tea ceremony not only featured two bowls of tea for each of us, the tea was “matcha,” which is tea that is so finely ground, you drink the leaves. I hallucinated for about six hours after that.
I have also visited a couple of the museums and enjoyed the kind of art that is on posters or walls or a squash. Japan seems like one big art project.