Friday, August 10, 2007

Chris Comes To The Rescue

We did an incredibly smart thing yesterday. We hired Chris Rowthorn , writer for the Lonely Planet Guide, for a half day walking tour of the Southern Higashiyama area of Kyoto .

He was an excellent teacher, the best we could have hoped for. He really engaged us all (and the kids especially) by asking leading questions and giving us fun and informational answers. He made the area come alive. It was only a 4 hour tour, but with lots of walking, climbing, and sweating (temps in the high 90’s here) I was afraid the kids would be complaining nonstop after the first hour. Thanks to Chris we had a wonderful day - barely a complaint - and we all learned so much. (Most useful has been the Japanese symbol for flavored shaved ice).

We learned the difference between Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples, stopping to pray or wish at several. It was fun for all of us to ring the gong – alerting the Gods, Spirits, or Buddha’s, that we were there and ready to make a prayer.

We visited the shrine to all things lovey dovey. The kids got to do the Walk of Love Stones. This is a test to see if you will find true love in this life. Two stones are set in a plaza about 25 feet apart. You close your eyes and try to walk between the two. If you are able to do it in a straight line, touching the stone at the end, you will find true love in this lifetime. All three kids made it – and I am sure it was not cheating for Chris to talk to them during their quest.

We went to the temple of pure water where we drank from the spring, granting us good health and long life.

Chris showed us how to buy a fortune, and keep buying one until the fortune you chose was a good one. Charlie got the best on his first try. Anna got the second best on her second try. I asked Chris to read mine. He winced and immediately went into his own pocket and pulled out a coin for me to buy another. Then we tied the bad fortunes to the branches of a willow tree to be blown away.

But my favorite part of the day was a visit to the temple of Tainai Meguri. At this temple we symbolically entered the womb of Zui Gu Bosatsu. This Bosatsu Goddess is one who has acheived enlightenment but forsaken Nirvana to remain on this earth and help guide others on the path.

We went down a flight of stairs into the pitch darkness, holding a hand railing that was a series of large round balls – like prayer beads. The point was to follow the twists and turns in complete darkness being lead only by the feel of the rail in your left hand. At the end there was a giant stone, dimly illuminated from above. You were to were to spin it in a complete circle, make a prayer, and proceed out of the temple. The entire experience was meant to symbolize passing through the womb of this goddess and being reborn into another, higher existence.

Not sure if that happened for all of us, but it was certainly a funky time for me. And soon after leaving Anna murmured, to no one in particular “It sure must be nice being a fish…swimming around in cool, cool water all day”. That sounds like enlightenment to me – or possibly heat stroke.


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