Plum Blossom

Aware that some of my readers may have more experience than I with Asian cultures, I apologize for my superficial treatment and ignorance.  Today was a day of temples in Kyoto,.  I am so jet-legged, and they all went by so fast, that I can only comment in general, trying not to repeat last year’s blogs on Japan.  I write these mainly for my daughter, and as yet she has not been here.

Yuki-san, a local rolfer (and renal dialysis engineer) was our guide, so the four of us piled into a taxi. All the taxi drivers and doormen wear white gloves – whether it’s about germs or formality I don’t know – and all the seats are ‘gloved’ in white as well with covers.  The doors open automatically from a lever the driver can operate, and they are a little offended when I, in my helpful and impatient way, open or close the doors on my own.  I am often eager to get out of the confined space.

The first temple – with a history from 1132AD – involved the usual peaceful gardens, wooden buildings, and tatami mats, and in this case, hanging brass chandeliers with so many brass bits we wondered how they dusted it all.  One spot has a little dipper – pour some water over the bamboo surface and hear inside the workings of the well on which it stands in gentle chimes.

Most interesting to me were some workers toiling on a rock retaining wall.  Part of it had been clearly repaired using a diamond-shaped standard paving stone, but these fellows were recapitulating the old style drywalling  It was a pleasure to hear the ping of their hammers as they chipped the grocery-bag-sized but irregular boulders to fit snugly and securely on the ones below as they built almost straight up to the line of tree roots and moss where they could stop.

The first time I was in Tokyo I hit the cherry blossoms perfectly – beautiful along the Imperial Palace walls, but I had not seen them since.  Way too early this year, I asked for some plum blossoms.  I would be too early for those as well this year, but a strange spell of warm weather had pushed them for me, so the next stop was not a temple at all but a garden full of white, pink, and deep red plum blossoms, with a heady but subtle fragrance – like plum wine more than plums.  Each 5-petaled blossom reminded me of Martin and Marpa, the plum blossom being the symbol of his garden-design company.

At the entrance we were given plum blossom tea, salty with seaweed, along with little rice cakes, that started out about the size of an oreo, but disappeared in your mouth down to the size of your fingernail even before swallowing.  Reminded me of American politics – all air, no substance.

On the way out were all these stalls – like a country fair in the States: cotton candy, candied apples, fried chicken, roasted corn, hot chestnuts, and french fries in a cup, but here the correspondence ends.  I loved the constant skiffer-skiffer of the knife sharpeners, with boxes of tools and blades in front of the grinding stones.  There were the usual touristy bits, and some folks selling everyday crockery.  For those to whom I will bring presents as I return, I wish it could be the strange foods: hunks of pink cod roe looking like hot dogs, dried fish of every sort, dried ginger and other spices, little fish-shaped sweet cookies, open baskets of many kinds of green tea, fried yams in salt, pickled burdock, and some stuff I couldn’t hope to identify.

The tea created the need for water, and Yuki paid for it by laying her cell phone on top of a scanner next to the register.  I can’t do that with my iPhone at home, but surely there’s an app for that?  No?

Lunch was at an organic Japanese buffet – lots of stuff I couldn’t recognize, but enough that was readily edible.

The last visit of the day was to the Katsura Imperial Villa, a series of gardens and tea houses used by the imperial family starting in the 1600’s, but recently refurbished.  A series of simple placements leading to outstanding views, the Japanese habit of gardening, as I have said in these pages before, leads one to a benign view of the possibilities, at least, of man working in harmony with nature, rather than ‘dominating’ it, as we have valued for the last few hundred years in the western world.  I love these Japanese gardens that allow humans to enhance nature in harmony with its laws,

without entirely shutting it out or shutting it down.

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