Kyoto Trip Report

THE TEMPLES AND SHRINES REPORT

In Which I Eat Smoked Herring Soup And Lose Ten Pounds

11 AUG 93 -Binghamton-Detroit-Los Angeles Boarding in LA, the plane was packed with Japanese standing in the aisles, putting their carryons in the overhead bins. Unlike all previous boarding experiences, we walked the length of the cabin quite easily. It was like walking through water – they just flowed around us as we passed, never touching. They were quiet, too, even though most of them appeared to be high-schoolers. Lots of talking, but quiet talking. They seem to have adapted admirably to their crowded island. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was another difference which I noticed later while in Japan. No smell of bodies. They are very clean. Thus I began the trip to Japan in a positive frame of mind, with my apprehension of hectic, crowded chaos and bustle dispelled.

12 AUG 93 -Arrive Osaka Bus to Kyoto. Same as the Plane ride. Quiet, clean, calm. Female voice on PA – announcing things sweetly in Japanese and occasionally, in English – don’t stand up when the bus is moving – the bus might stop suddenly – things like that. Be careful. Catherine’s apartment – on a side street near the intersection of Kitaoji & Higashioji. Boy is that small! Twelve mats total. Plus a tiny balcony. Throughout my stay, I kept feeling that there was another room somewhere. Couldn’t shake the feeling.

13 AUG 93 -KINKAKU-JI – The Golden Temple Gold plated. Exquisite. Three people on little island in front manicuring the lawn. One had a rake with an 18 inch [45 cm] handle. Had to bend over. Why? Some sort of punishment? {Maybe made for the little, bent, old people, for whom a full-length handle would be a hindrance.} First of many perverted trees. Bottom branch somehow made to grow to a great extent horizontally, far beyond the normal spread of the tree. Supported by poles. Groomed to shape. Why? Up the hill, paper prayers tied to a framework. All visitors except us were Japanese. Lunch outside the grounds. I had what appeared to be smoked herring soup with noodles. Pungent. Strong, loaded with protein. Not bad, but never wanted it again.

RYOAN-JI One of the major Zen gardens. Sixteen rocks sitting in raked gravel, representing either islands of existence in an infinite void or a tigress leading her cubs across a river. Take your pick, I guess. On this topic I guess I’m a Philistine or a barbarian. Not impressed. What impressed me was the guy (so silent, so unobtrusive) out on the tree limb at the front door, about fifteen feet [4.5 m] up. He was manicuring the tree. Cleaning the needles. Why? He moved almost like a chameleon. A white something or other wrapped around his head. Probably wearing Sleestack lizard boots, with a big toe. I saw those later on another guy. I had thought that the civilized world had, over the last 50 years or so, melded into a sameness. Delighted to find that it hasn’t homogenized as far as I thought. There’s still some really weird and wonderful stuff to see! Japan is truly different!

NIJO CASTLE Impressive. Huge wall, with moat, surrounding a compound. Within the first wall and moat, another huge wall and another moat. The stones in the walls were more or less the size of Egyptian pyramid stones. They looked like granite, though, not sandstone, or whatever the pyramids are made of. Should last longer if the Asian propensity for destroying everything your enemy has when you vanquish him doesn’t do them in. Those walls would be a chore to destroy, though! No real castle, by my definition. Except for the walls and moats, the structures were wood and paper – not built for defending. It’s more like a military compound surrounded by defenses. The main palace had what they call a “nightingale floor”. It is built on purpose to squeak so sneaky invaders (a common practice in Japanese military tactics according to all the movies I’ve seen) can be heard and dealt with. Cool. Good tableaux with life-size dummies in the palace of the Shogun kneeling with his Daimyos, and in another room, with his ladies-in-waiting. The two rooms with tableaux were exactly the same – same size, with a slightly raised (about 6″ [15 cm]) area at one end for the Shogun, approximately one third of the length of the room which was about 80′ [24 m] long by 30′ [9 m] wide. Strange alcove behind the Shogun, with uneven shelves, sliding doors to his left, two with thick red ropes on the handles signifying that behind them were bodyguards. Beautiful wall paintings. It supports my general feeling that the ruling classes of Japan spent a lot of time squatting on the floor looking at each other. No furniture. No diversions. I can’t believe it could have been that way, but I can’t seem to conjure up an alternative. How did they fill their hours?

Here, as elsewhere, the tourists were almost all Japanese. The Japanese were quiet – they seemed to know in advance what they were going to see. No shouting “Look at that!” The kids were pretty quiet, too. It didn’t seem like reverence, just appreciation. Like you might look at your own back yard if you have a nice one. As a result, I guess, the Caucs were also subdued. Nobody was stifled, I don’t want to give that impression, it’s hard to describe – calm, relaxed. Were they bored? Hard to say. They seemed intent. That doesn’t really line up with calm & relaxed, but there you have it. Stu says it does line up with one of the Zen mental states in which you are making yourself receptive to enlightenment, SHIKAN-TAZA, I believe.

That was a long day! {An aside {as if this entire journal was not a series of digressions {as if that was not another}} – I could probably look out the window at this moment and see more sloppy, dishevelled, unfit, dirty, fat people than I saw in all of Japan. OK, I looked and I was wrong. I saw maybe three such people in Japan. When I looked out the window I saw only two people. Though they seemed clean, and were not dishevelled, they were fat. Two fairly young women waddling to their cars.}

14 AUG 93 -UJI Excellent train ride to UJI. Had a beer on board, delivered to our seats. Walked over the bridge and up a street full of shops & cafes. Sarah bought decorated canister sorts of things for Elizabeth and Charlotte. Had green tea. UJI is famous for it. Not brewed – they grind the leaves into a powder and add sugar, I think. Not bad, but a bit icky. Ate in an upstairs coffee house. Had beer and the Japanese version of a grilled cheese sandwich – bland cheese on slices of bread that were at least an inch [3 cm] thick, with some sort of tomato sauce. OK. Marvelous pastry, though. The waiter, a young beefy guy, spoke something approaching English (a rarity) and wanted to take our picture. Catherine wouldn’t let him. On the way out, he wanted to talk. “Where you from?” Catherine told him we were from New York. “Ooh, big city!” So she told him we were from the country – Cooperstown. “Coopastau! Ooh, beesebollo!!” Later – “I am big boy – catcha!” Later -they discussed Sumo (C has taken up an interest in it). He evidently was also an amateur Sumo wrestler. All very nice. I feel bad we didn’t let him take our picture.

BYODO-IN (The Phoenix Hall) This is the temple that is portrayed on the Y10 piece. Big Buddha inside. Very impressive. Surrounded by a lot of little Buddhas, intricate fan sort of a thing behind him and, I believe, some Hindu godlets. Really pretty grounds, with a pond with a lookout on the other side so the peasants could see the temple. They weren’t usually allowed in. Their big thrill was to catch a glimpse of the Buddha through the door. As I remember, this was where The Tale of Genji was written by the same woman who invented the simplified writing system – Hiragana. Or was it Katakana? At any rate, simpler than Kanji, but not as much fun.

Then back over the bridge – storks or whatever, man fishing in middle of river – twenty foot [6 m] pole, six foot [2 m] line. He trolled with it, moving the pole along with the current. Saw him catch one. About 1 to 1 1/2 feet [40 cm] long. Train back to Kyoto.

PACHINKO PARLOR I had seen reports on television back home about these places. While travelling about Kyoto I had seen them from the outside and wanted very much to get in one. Tonight was my chance as we were walking back to C’s apt. From outside, all flashing neon, front covered mostly with glass so you can see inside. Rows of Pachinko machines, most of them with seated players. Mostly men. Went inside and up the stairs (downstairs were slot machines, I never went down there). A din of rock music and crashing ball bearings. Three or four men walking about keeping an eye on things. What they were looking for, I don’t know. They were pretty tough types. They eyed me, but left me alone. About 5 double rows of machines. A player at almost every one except for one of the rows. It was almost empty. Unlucky? It was all rather mesmerizing. I guess that’s part of the draw. Watched one guy in detail. He left his machine with a bag of ball bearings (about the size of a 5lb [2 kg] sugar sack). Poured it into a counting machine which printed out a ticket. I figured he had won mucho yen. Evidently they are not allowed to pay in money; there was a booth with an array of prizes, including such things as stereos, cameras, etc. He went to that booth and collected his prize – a candy bar! And he seemed happy! I left.

Then we went to a street stall and got a large plate of sushi to take back for supper. Octopus, tuna, other things, raw. Maki rolls. OK, but not my cup of tea. Ate one of each. Now I have done it and won’t ever have to do it again.

15 AUG 93 -NARA -TODAI-JI There is a temple in Nara called the Todai-ji. The main building is the Daibutsu-den, the largest wooden building in the world, even though it is only two thirds of its original size when built in 749-752 AD. Within the Daibutsu-den is the Daibutsu, the largest cast statue of the Buddha. In front of the Daibutsu-den is a broad stone courtyard, about 75 yds [70 m] wide and 200 yds [180 m] long. It was from the end of this courtyard that I first saw the Daibutsu-den. I was stunned by its bulk and the aura of confident, surpassing power. It seemed timeless, although, of course, it is, in fact, somewhat less than that, having burned to the ground and been rebuilt at least twice. Never mind – it boomed at me. I stood there by the wall looking at it for what seemed a very long time. Unaccountably, I do not have a picture of it. We took about 120 pictures while in Japan. Not even one of the great Daibutsu-den.

Then the long approach, the taking off of the shoes and stepping over the high sill to enter. On purpose I kept my eyes to the floor until I was situated beneath the Daibutsu and my eyes had adjusted to the dark. Then I slowly looked up from the base to the top of the Daibutsu’s head, as I recall 32 feet [16.2 m] above the floor. I was consumed by his presence. The broad, calm face. The graceful right hand, palm toward me, middle finger bent, as if to say, “Shh. Listen to the drum.” And I could imagine a huge drum, struck only when the last reverberation from its last toll had, almost below the working frequency of the human ear, died away. B-O-O-O-M O-O-M o-o-m o-o-m m-m-m. B-O-O-M O-O-M o-o-m o-o-m m-m-m.

This purple prose is embarrassing, but I feel compelled to try and record some idea of how I felt.

YASUGA (?) A Shinto shrine at the top of an interminable path leading up a hill through a wonderland of gnarly trees and Shinto stone lanterns, 1200 of them, with another 1800 brass ones hanging in the trees, supposedly, though I didn’t seem to notice the brass ones. It was the annual lighting of these lanterns. You walk up the hill with hundreds of people, and light lanterns as you descend at dusk. We walked up, but did not wait the two hours it would have taken to do the whole magilla. While up there, we saw a ceremony involving a priest or two sitting on the ground (I never saw them for the crowd) and two exquisite priestesses doing an agonizingly slow ritualistic dance, occasionally, seemingly randomly, clinking little bells or finger cymbals, I can’t remember which. Much more attractive than the usual bald-headed monks at Buddhist temples! All very charming.

We went to a mall after that in downtown Nara and had Okonomya [Okonomiyaki] in a steamy restaurant. It’s cabbage and bacon and eggs and soy sauce and duck sauce cooked on the grill which is your table. Everyone liked Okonomya very much, as well as the other thing they cooked with it which I don’t remember the name of. It was mostly noodles and was also good [yakisoba?].

16 AUG 93 -Mt. Hiei Cable car up the mountain. Nice ride. View from there of Biwa Lake and Kyoto. From there it was about another “hundred miles” to walk up the hill to get to ENRYAKU-JI. All the way up we heard the big bell tolling. I imagined monks calling the faithful to worship. We saw later that it was tourists pulling the rope. We did it too. This was Pete’s major thing to see. He had read about the monks of ENRYAKU-JI who were athletic monks, performing amazing feats of prowess and endurance. The entire mountain was burned from the bottom up centuries ago by a shogun who was fed up with the depredations of the monks in the 1300 temples on the mountain. They re-established themselves, however, and are still there, though not 1300 temples anymore.

Inside ENRYAKU-JI visitors are allowed to look down into an inner sanctum of study and worship. It was so fantastically ancient and aged and musty and dark and dank. I was reminded of Gormenghast in the stories of Melvyn Peake.

In another of the buildings were pictures of past abbots of the monastery. In the main room, they were all standard abbot/monk looking guys. In the two wings, were pictures of abbots who were deformed and/or demented. Grisly pictures. Some of them nightmarish. Unfortunately, there was no English language explanation for this, so we could only wonder what the story was.

We returned to Kyoto and, after dark, went into the streets to try to get a glimpse of the festival fires on five of the mountains surrounding the city. We walked and walked and never saw any because it was raining and they couldn’t get them lighted. We saw some almost start. It was interesting to see the people at one of the intersections down a small street trying to get a glimpse themselves. They stood in the intersection and waited. At one point one of those tiny, bent old women came out of her house, walked to the intersection looked at the mountain for about 2 minutes, muttered something, and went back inside. She had, no doubt, been disappointed many times before and knew there was no sense hanging around. That scene was more interesting than the lights would have been.

17 AUG 93 -KYOTO Stayed in Kyoto to do some local sightseeing and shopping. Pete went to his tutoring jobs.

HEIAN JINGU Shinto shrine. Lots of orange. Whereas all of the Buddhist temples charged anywhere from Y400 to Y800 to get into, all of the Shinto shrines except this one had free admission. Extra charge for the garden, which at first seemed to be not worth it. The incessant rain didn’t help. Catherine was threatening to go back and berate the poor ticket seller. As we got farther into it, however, it became more and more interesting and charming. Flat, round stepping stones across a little lake to a little island and from there back to the main trail. Catherine and Sarah took this route. I didn’t. I would have fallen in.

BIG TORI After leaving Heian Jingu, we walked several blocks looking for the Museum of Cultural Industry. And walked and walked. Finally a young American told us it had been closed. We did see the big tori, though. I think it is the biggest. Then we spent a lot of time in the touristy handicrafts building, buying things. I bought my only souvenir there – a cheap letter opener fashioned like a Samurai sword. Y400. Actually, I did buy something else while in Japan – a small Okonomya spatula (they use a small one and a large one when cooking it). We got other things which will hang about our house.

Macdonald’s for dinner. Tasted awfully good.

18 AUG 93 -KYOTO -SANJUSANGENDO The name means 33 bays. There are 1001 Buddhas there, one about 12 feet [3.3 m] high and 500 on each side of it, each about 5 feet [1.5 m] tall, standing. Impressive. Each has 1000 arms, only 40 portrayed – you have to imagine the rest. Each arm can save 25 worlds. Each Buddha can have 30 existences. So the number of worlds saved is large. (I’ll get the numbers right later).

The building is 130 meters long. An archery contest has, from ancient times, been held on the porch, shooting from one end to the other. The contest (Toshiza) is to see who can hit the target the most times during 24 hours. The record has been held for centuries by an 18 year old named Daihachiro who launched over 13 000 arrows in 24 hours, hitting the target over 8000 times! That’s an average of an arrow every 6+ seconds for 24 hours! The “Dai” in his name might have been added after he did this feat – it means “big” or “great”. The rafters of the overhanging roof have had to be replaced several times because high arrows chew them up.

KYOMIZU A huge Buddhist temple built on the side of a mountain. Massive pilings holding it up on the long side. We walked down the mountain along a path. At one point there was a place you could sit on a bench and look up at the temple. Beautiful. I imagined myself a monk looking up at the other monks working while I loafed. Why did that pop into my head? Maybe I was momentarily possessed by one who had done just that centuries ago. The path then led all the way down the mountain through the largest and most crowded cemetery I have ever seen. The graves, little shrines, actually, small because they are all cremated, had what appeared to be offerings on them – flowers, empty beer and sake cans mostly.

Went home and Sarah and Catherine made lasagna. Good.

19 AUG 93 -ARASHIYAMA (The Storm Mountain) This district outside of Kyoto is sort of an Atlantic City (before the casinos). Touristy, but for Japanese tourists. Seemed to be the place to go on vacation. Rickshaws – about $100 per hour for each passenger – the “coolies” wore lizard boots. Stopped in a park by the river to consult maps and get our bearings. Across the river some bodaceous speakers were belting out what sounded like an up-with-people or a Gospel happening. Women in white robes.

We went (again!) up a long hill to get to:

TENRYUJI Can’t remember a thing. Must consult the snaps.

NONOMYA JINJA Same. I think we were templed out at this point and elected to not pay the admission price. Up and down hills through the bamboo forest. If I could grow bamboo like this I could make a lot of neat things, including the fences and flower garden borders Sarah wants.

We finally reached the river and had a beer at a riverside concession stand on tatami benches. Pleasant. While we sat there, looking across the river at Storm Mountain, watching the old man across the river standing at the foot of a rushing waterfall to cool off in the cold air which slid down it (Pete & Catherine had experienced that on one of their bike trips), we noticed what looked like a length of bamboo sticking up about a foot [30 cm] from the water’s surface, floating rapidly downstream. Then it jogged underwater and came back up. Was there someone breathing through it? Or was it just attached to a log which had hit bottom. We had fun supposing.

Walked all the way downstream to the bridge and crossed. At the other end, a Ninja movie was being filmed on the beach. Cool. Got pictures. Once across the bridge, we saw some real, actual geishas, not girls dressed up for a festival.

We returned to Kyoto and walked home in the dark from the train station along Kawabati Dori, by the river. This stroll was like Mao’s Long March. Endless. Endless. But we saw a lot along the way:

An office beach party, at which white-shirted and black-tied men and women burned sparklers – no liquid refreshments, apparently.

The posh restaurants on the other bank, porches overlooking the river on which people sat on the floor and were served by geishas.

A large package tucked under a bush. What was in it?

Small fireworks being set off by other parties on the beach.

A man running full speed backward without looking. He ran into a group of women and children who hadn’t seen him coming. He apologized, picked up what appeared to be a two year old girl, brushed her off, and resumed his backwards flight. Pete and Catherine considered this very unusual for Japan. He was doing something DIFFERENT. Actually, Pete wasn’t with us, having left Arashiyama earlier to go tutor. We got rained on before we got home. A very bedraggled threesome. I think we had cheese and sake for dinner. What a day.

20 AUG 93 -KYOTO DOSHISHA SCHOOL FOR GIRLS Finally got to visit Catherine’s school. Met three of her students (seniors). Pleasant. Giggling. Met two other teachers of English (both Japanese men). Very friendly. Saw her room and the teachers’ room. Looked much like school rooms here. Surreptitiously noodled around with a laptop on a teacher’s desk – Sharp WD-A761. Fascinating: it worked with Kanji icons (good use for Kanji) and Hiragana (Katakana?) dialog. Couldn’t find out how to get into English, but it probably will do that. Grotesque bottled biology display in the hallway. I wonder if the girls wince as they pass it on the way to classes? Viewed Catherine’s gaily painted bike in the Doshisha parking lot.

GOSHO – THE IMPERIAL PALACE A vast, walled compound surrounded by a broad, gravel parade ground in the middle of a large park across the street from Doshisha. Almost totally deserted. Only signs of life were a policeman at each corner of the parade ground and slowly rolling patrol cars (two, I think). Strange to see so much empty space in Japan. Had to go to an office, and show our passports in order to sign up for a tour. Waited in the cafeteria until a bus full of Japanese tourists arrived and mobbed the place. We fled to the park. In our tour group were about thirty people. I identified the following nationalities: American (us), English, Indian, Italian, German, Danish, Dutch. They all presumably spoke English since that was the language used (I think) by the guide, a Japanese woman. The palace grounds are impressively large and beautiful and empty. Couldn’t go into any of the buildings. While we waited at the tour starting point for our guide to collect us, the mob of Japanese tourists passed by with their guide. There were 100 of them, give or take about 4. I can give such a close estimate because they marched by in 24 ranks of four!

Went downtown to shop at a large department store. They had those plaited bracelets that Charlotte and Elizabeth used to make. They are called “omamori” [a talisman].

There were young women stationed at the doors in two-piece suits, pillbox hats and white gloves welcoming us (I assume) to the store. There were others at strategic intersections of the aisles. And the elevators were run by them. Little automatons. Smiling always. Remarkable collection of goods and foods to buy.

In the observation tower they had Pachinko machines. I played and then Pete played. It’s hard to see how the player can control anything. Maybe by using the control knob, which seems to control the rate at which the ball bearings come out. Not much control, if you ask me. Maybe that’s in concert with the Japanese mind-set. From the tower we saw, at the bottom of a mountain just outside of the city, a white Buddha which seemed to be a hundred feet high. C & P didn’t know anything about it. We were forced to leave the observation tower via a route which took us through a really seedy display of national dioramas – France, Germany, Spain, New York, etc.

When we got home, they were decorating the little alley C lives on for a children’s festival of some sort. This was going on in almost every little alley, as I found out by inadvertently touring the whole area. I had gone out to buy beer and got lost. I walked down strange alleys, through areas blocked off and tented over for parties, the adults drinking beer. They all smiled at the stupid lost Gaijin. Quite friendly. The next morning there was a little shrine set up in a car port across the street. Kids would come in and select a number out of a basket and leave with their prizes. Most seemed to be grapefruit.

21 AUG 93 TO-JI Went to a flea market at To-Ji temple. Lots of stuff – Japanese tools, food, antiques, etc. Saw some nice tools, but too expensive and too heavy to carry back. Saw an antique Samurai sword for $3600, or was it $36,000? Bought some door tassels. Really hot there. Catherine bought a key holder in the form of a tiny black leather jacket. Strange thing to buy. I think the heat got to her.

Then went downtown to a department store. While Sarah and Catherine shopped, I parked myself in a pretty little bar in an arcade of the store and had a couple of Asahi drafts. The highest prices for beer I had encountered – Y470 for a mug, the usual price for one of those big bottles. There were several businessmen sitting on the floor at a table having a grand old Japanese businessmen’s lunch party, with lots of unison laughing and what sounded like ribald stories. At another table, also sitting on the floor, were another businessman and a younger woman who looked like she was maybe his secretary, sipping sake. So I guess that’s why the prices were so high. A quiet bar where men can go and be naughty. I worked on my travel notes, studied the map of Kyoto, and practiced writing “Kyoto” in Kanji.

On the way to Gion Corner, I observed an odd thing. Catherine had left her umbrella somewhere on the other side of the river and had left us while she went back to retrieve it. While waiting, I sat on a stanchion or fence post or something and just watched the people. Sarah went window shopping along the block. There was a small white car parked by me on the sidewalk hugging a building. A man got in it and drove about twenty feet [6 m], still hugging the building, until he came to a entranceway set back from the sidewalk. Then he got out and scampered to one of the ubiquitous beer machines, bought a can of beer, opened it, took a drink and got back in the car and moved onto the road and drove away. I thought that was funny. By the way, Catherine found her umbrella hooked over the railing between the sidewalk and the river. No one steals things there.

GION CORNER Did our foreign tourist thing and went to the Gion Theater where they present a sampling of Japanese performing arts. Three observations: Catherine thought the comic skit was like sixth grade moving up exercizes at Springfield Elementary School. I thought the court music was like a third grade rhythm band. The puppet show illustrated that in Japan it takes three men to work a puppet. Full employment policy? The tea ceremony, which Sarah most wanted to see, was performed in the far aisle of the theater and we couldn’t see much of it. Not much to see anyway, in my estimation. I think that flower arrangement is a centuries-old fraud. Guess I’m just a barbarian. The zither [koto?] music was very nice, as was the Kyoto dancing. I particularly liked the dancing. It was posturing, really, rather than dancing, but it charmed me.

Back to the apartment. Now the children’s festival was in full swing, cartoons being shown on a screen set up in the street, a policeman in attendance, drinking sake out of a can. All very jolly and nice. Tiny little girls dressed in kimonos. Earlier, it might have been the day before, another drawing was held and the prizes were things like toy guns for the boys and pretty things for the girls. I noticed that when they lined up to draw their prize tickets, the boys went first while the girls waited patiently. Well, not totally patiently. Occasionally one of the girls would sneak up behind one of the boys or one of the men giving out the prizes and jab them in the back or yank on their clothing. All taken in good spirit, affection and joviality. It was touching to see how tender and attentive all of the adults were to all of the children. These are truly sweet people.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS It was never silent in Catherine’s alley for more than 15 minutes. Life seemed to go on around the clock. A bit slower after midnight, but still active: one morning about 3AM the man who lived across the alley decided he would rearrange the aluminum ladders on top of his van. He did this by throwing them down to the road and then putting them back on. I slept on the floor with my head by the open door to the balcony (we were on the second floor), so I was in a position to get the full effect. About every half hour a car would race down the alley, tooting the horn at the turns and corners. With equal frequency, a bike would roll through with the squeaky brakes that so annoy Catherine. And the wild cats would come out and sing to us.

From Catherine’s third floor balcony we could see Mt. Hiei and a woman on a fourth floor patio strangely mistreating her two dogs at five thirty every afternoon. She wasn’t brutal. She just teased them unmercifully and talked to them and laughed. Her most upsetting act was to hang one of them half way over the railing to scare it. If you are familiar with the sound a dog makes when it is terrified, you would know that she was successful. Then she would take them for a walk. Sometimes her husband and teenage daughter would join in, but she was always there. What was this all about? Some form of dominance dance? Unaccountable.

Also from her balcony we observed an additional storey being added to a house down the alley which fed into her alley. The struts they were using appeared to be one-by-threes. A stick house. I guess that way it doesn’t hurt as much when an earthquake knocks it down on your head.

In all of the crowds and packed masses of people we encountered, I was jostled only twice: once by an older, very solid woman trying to get to a sales counter in the department store, and once inadvertently by the Danish guy in our Gosho tour group. They ride bicycles along the crowded sidewalks and never hit anyone.

Apparently, in Japan you can leave your stuff lying around anywhere for days at a time, come back and find it where you left it. I think it’s partly honor and honesty and partly the fact that they don’t want second- hand goods.

Those Shinto priestesses were really something!

RETURN Thoroughly charmed with Japan, Sarah and I had remonstrated with Catherine and Pete concerning their desire to come back to the States. I think I understand it now. On the plane from Osaka, they began the trip with a travelogue of places to go. The first was a short series of scenes from Washington, DC, concentrating on the big white monuments (Lincoln, Jefferson, etc.) set in expansive, comparatively empty surroundings. The sight gave me a great sense of release, as if I could breathe again. It wasn’t because it was home. It wasn’t a patriotic emotion. It was the uncluttered openness and expansiveness. Without realizing it at the time, my ten days in Japan had begun to stifle me. It must get almost unbearable after a few months. I want very much to go back some day, though.

copyright, Fred W. Tims, 1995

My take on Yukio Mishima can be found on the Home Page