I’ve been staring at this Kokoedera postcard for the last few days Fairly quickly I discerned that it says our appointment to visit this temple is at 1 pm on Thursday, November 26, and that it will cost about $30. The rest of it is totally inscruitable. If I spent a couple hours, I could translate it, but I didn’t really have that kind of time. So while I sat at the end of Teramachi shopping arcade and waited for A to return from her long day of shopping, I stared at it and started to decipher its secrets.
That’s when, from behind me, I heard in a German accent: “Are you having trouble reading that invitation?” I was totally stunned – first because someone recognized what I was doing, and clearly because he recognized the invitation. Almost no one goes to Kokoedera, given that you have to mail away for an invitation and you have to both request it in Japanese and be able to read Japanese. So of course I said I did, and this begins a conversation with a European couple who had just been to Kokoedera this morning, a conversation that goes back and forth between German (his language), Spanish (her language), English, and Japanese when I completely forget what I’m supposed to be saying.
Let me just say that, as usual, as soon as you leave the confines of the big city, the luxury of heteroglosia vanishes and you are left with, well, Japanese. Even halfway to Arashiyama, which is only about 25 minutes outside Kyoto by train, the English is almost gone. Still, upon arrival, the place was immediately amazing. Let me just say that the freakin’ train station bathroom was one of the nicest bathrooms that I’ve been in. Distinctly lacking in a homeless madman shooting up while crapping in the sink, it featured pleasant music and a rather exquisitely carved sink with tile I’d get in my bathroom if it didn’t cost $30 a piece.
Anyway, before you think “oh great, another temple story. This is great – do tell…” remember that basically, I was thinking the same thing. I’m not tired of these immaculate gardens of peace and beauty, but I certainly wasn’t expecting …. well … what I got.
Japan – as soon as you close your eyes we will snatch you by the ears and drag you screaming into a sack of rabid hamsters and give you a rubik’s cube and a 5-minute egg timer. Don’t fail.
I should have known I was in for something. As soon as we got into the cab and said “Koke-dera, kudasai” the driver said “invitation?” referring to my little card. I said “mochiron” (of course) and he laughed. Now I know why.We happily trotted up to the gate and the guard (guard?) let us in. As soon as we reached the front desk we were ushered into a large temple hall before a statute and seated in a row of Japanese tourists, politely seated before a tiny writing desk, a brush, an inkstone, and a sutra. This sutra. We were to copy it, in its entirety, and then and only then would we be allowed to enter the garden. Copy it, with a brush and ink, while kneeling on tatami quietly.
I cannot describe to you how challenging this is, nor can I say what it’s intended effect was, only this: At the end, we were asked to write our address.
Simple enough, right?
I don’t know what happened to my mind, but I wrote my address, in English, and Annie confronted me in shock. “What are you doing? You don’t live there!”
I had written an address I haven’t lived at in over 10 years, Price Avenue in Charlottesville.
Of course, since it is Japan, we had to be sitting next to the writer of the “Let’s Go Japan” travel guide, a fairly cool brit who ended up taking us up on an offer of writing a couple restaurant reviews. We’ll see.