Temples and Tears

Seigan-ji Temple

The day began gray and raining but surprisingly warm. Kathryn went to do some power shopping while I decided to mosey about and explore places that we had skimmed.

I followed a couple of Japanese ladies carrying shopping bags deep into the pedestrian mall and found a sidewalk display with pretty scarves for 500 ¥ ($5.00) each.

After that it was a chore to sort out the wares. Here appeared a store full of tacky plastic trinkets next to an elegant dress shop around the corner from the 7-Eleven up the street from Daiso wth a few little noodle or okonomi-yaki shops scattered about. The galloping hordes included a great many westerners with large packages occupying  far more  square footage than necessary.

A gift for Larry proved impossible as everything was meant for much smaller people. Plus the number of stores with options for men was strictly limited compared to the trove of expensive stuff for women. The only really attractive things I saw were the Italian-cut suits that some of the businessmen wear, and I can get those in the States. Even the men’s floor in the big department stores had nothing to offer.

My first stop, just inside the pedestrian walkway, was the Honno-ji Temple, a complex of temple, shrines, a museum, and residences, including one with a bicycle leaning against the front door.

According to the literature, Honno-ji honored a man who was a koto player and an artist as well as a samurai. It wasn’t until I came home and looked up the history that I learned Oda Nobunaga came from  Africa and became a warlord during the sixteenth century.

I cried once and again and once again as I paced the stones, wet and gray. They were crying as well. Rust-colored leaves drifted from the trees along the perimeter and lay scattered about. The fine mist softened all edges.

The large shrines spread out through an opening in a side wall. Many had offerings of fresh day lilies, along with some wilted flowers. The only discordant note was the double vending machine parked at the entrance, no doubt for people to purchase gifts for their deceased loved ones. It all felt overwhelming.

About an hour into my walk I heard a bell and looked to my right. There was another temple, wedged between commercial establishments, as if a small and ancient St. Patrick’s Cathedral was being swallowed on one side by a Gap and on the other by an Apple store.

Again, I stood just inside the entrance for many minutes and cried. Something about this place had a serenity that I felt nowhere else. After I left I read the plaque: It was the Seigan-ji Temple and held a special appeal. Women of high rank had worshipped there through the centuries. Reading more when I returned home, I learned that it was founded in 667 and that it is also prized by artists and writers.

At that point I had reached sensory overload and returned to the hotel through the side entrance. We had already explored the fancy shopping area on the lower level, but I walked down another flight of stairs and discovered an entire shopping center with establishments selling coffee and pastries, groceries, stationery, clothing, etc. I seemed to be the only westerner, drawing looks of surprise and some admiration, too. Afterward, a brief glance at a map revealed that the mall was directly below City Hall. A good many visitors were probably people on their lunch hour.

Some quiet contemplation with tea was in order.

Later, the very accommodating hotel concierge made a dinner reservation for us at Tousuiro, famed for its homemade tofu. According to one of the online trip apps, the place was either .1, .6, or .7 miles away. Turns out there are two restaurants with the name, and the closest really was around the corner. The concierge drew a map and then handed over a photo of the place because the sign had only Japanese characters.

We stumbled around for a bit but finally located the right tiny alley and matched the photo with the sign. We then committed a faux pas by trying enter with our shoes. The diners were more western than Japanese, some eating at tables, others sitting at the counter, which offered a perfect view of the chefs as they chopped.

The meal proved to be sublime. It included a tiny fish with the head still on, eye glazed over. The main feature involved a large pot of silken tofu and greens (spinach?), which boiled for exactly seven minutes. The senior chef made certain we removed it at the correct time. The Japanese customers sitting near us at the counter ordered seconds. We tried the sake again. It wasn’t as good as what Hiro ordered but still far better than anything stateside.

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