June 6, 2023

Japan pt.2 - Kyoto Tranquillity

Japan pt.2 - Kyoto Tranquillity

Waking up in Kyoto I can tell I'm a bit fried from getting so buzzed while chasing Pokemon the day before. We get up, grab some coffee in Starbucks and do a bit of writing as has become interpersonal tradition; it's gonna be a lazy grey Saturday.

After returning to the hotel to drop our bags, we set off for a walk and to find some vegetarian for lunch. This is harder than you'd think in Japan but we manage to find a decent restaurant serving a selection of tofu based meat substitutes.

My companion is pretty tired and a little dissociated from her time in the monastery so try to entertain her a little and and keep a smile on her face. We stop for a drink a hipster joint that reminds me of Sunday after parties in clubland. Upbeat DJ vibes that are perfect for an hours chill out session.

We head back to the hotel for a rest and I head up to experiment with the Onsen once again. I'm absolutely panning out in the cold bath but doing pretty well to last six minutes between saunas. My companion is exhausted and needs rest so I leave her to recuperate while heading out to capture the wild Pokemon of Kyoto!

This is a bit of a drizzly walk and waaay longer than expected but I catch my first Kyoto Pokemon while picking up a number of lids specific to the area (call them gym badges maybe?). By the time I return the days pretty much over so we chill out and watch Rick and Morty for the evening.

Sunday we start the day with our coffee and writing ritual before heading off to the Eastern outskirts to collect a two more Pokemon on my list - as well as visit some other less important cultural relics like the temples ;)

First stop was Yasaka-jinja Shrine; a shinto park hosting an Igglybuff, Cleffa and Pichu beside its beautiful Koi pond. Aiding an air of authenticity to the shrine experience were numerous Japanese women touring the place in Kimonos; hmmm, original cosplay!?

Sights seen and creatures captured we get moving towards the next spot and encounter the Chion-in temple along our route and for exercise we decide to climb the giant steps and explore. The scale is impressive; like where did they even find trees for these huge structures? Everything about the construction is enormous - just check out the giant bell!

We depart to Okazaki Park in order to collect my last real life NFT of the day while coincidentally encountering two Doge along the way - I get why these beautiful animals became a meme coin to be fair... Needing a dopamine top-up we grab some free mochi samples from a sweet shop and promptly capture a Cyndaquil and Darmanitan lid before ambling into the Heian-jingu Shrine. there are some pretty cool dragons that my Poke hunting apprentice does a decent job of imitating! (no consent to post unfortunately :p)

Temporarily finished Poke hunting at temples; we set course for the National Gardens surrounding the (closed) Imperial Palace. As we arrive universe promptly signals no with loud alarm and a booming thunder clap immediately preceding a hail storm... I'm soaked so we make a beeline for a drink in search of some shelter, ending up a Japanese gin distillery called "House of KI NO BI". Pokemon in bag and kilometres under belt we head back to the hotel for a bath and bed.

In the morning we perform our internetting rituals and head out Poke hunting once again; this time to the West of Kyoto. Having itched for some traditional tea the day before we keep our eyes peeled for a place to sample such and find a spot on the long walk over towards the Nishikyogoku Athletic Park; a real poke gym for once where we capture a wild Chikorita and Shiftry!

Realising exactly how far our next stop is on foot we grab a cab up to Arashiyama - or more specifically the Togetsukyo Bridge. Getting out of the cab we hastily head to the Nakanoshima Area to find Kyotos last Pokemon; a beautiful flying Ho-oh.

At this point I promptly declare myself the 'greatest trainer of them all' as I've collected all the Pokemon I will find on this visit to Japan. There's a monkey sanctuary nearby so we decide to head up the hill to get in trouble by throwing Pokeballs at them. It's a long climb but a beautiful walk that answers many of yesterdays question of "where the bloody hell did the get the timber for these temples" - clearly on these hills which are full of beautifully straight trees of nearly uniform proportions... crazy nature actually grows like this!

We find plenty of monkeys at the top of the hill and are just in time for a show. No they don't perform - but they do steal tourist equipment and already have a fellas lens. One of the keepers is chasing the cheeky blighter down and the whole troop are in on the action screeching something akin to "invader, invader, enemy of the state!". Against the odds the keeper catches the kleptomaniac culprits and the equipment returned to the owner; what a show!!

After viewing the whole of Kyoto from the hilltop we descend from the summit and towards the bamboo forrest. On route we stumble into Hōgon-in Temple which is exceptionally serene but it's getting late so they're closing. Entering the forrest the exaggerated growth of the shoots remind me of the fight scene in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - a stereotype I'm sure that arises for many other tourists also. They're kinda haunting I must admit; the cool temperatures and darkening light also gives off blare witchy vibes. Guess I'm in movie mode now...

We pass by a sweet store to pick up some presents and grab public transport back towards where we are staying, passing by a karaoke centre for some shits and giggles...

In the morning we say goodbye and board trains in opposite directions; I'm headed to Sogenji with the aim of a midday arrival and my companion to Tokyo. After a minor liquidity crunch with crypto currencies I manage to make it to the temple at precisely five minutes past midday; so roughly on time!

The temple is quiet to the point that it seems as if there's nobody around. Checking around the place I find the kitchen and signal my arrival. They inform my liaison who's preoccupied but on his way so I offer a hand with the cooking. Chefs a decent dude and up for a bit of a laugh as we go about our preparation work during which my liaison arrives. He carries an impersonal vibe that's pretty dismissive without having actually interacted on anything.

I'm briefly shown some of the immediately relevant spaces, like where I'm sleeping, where to put my bag and given a handout and handbook on Zazen explaining the practice:

This is pretty good reading from first glances and we briefly discuss some of the principals, with concentration being the core axiom that supposedly sums it all up. I mention that this is one of seven principals in my own "fourth way" practice and am essentially dismissed; oh dear, I was hoping for some enrichment but it seems my liaison is tightly coupled to the orthodoxy. My 'psychic intuition' had already picked up on the places energetics and was screaming to get the hell out of here - and this interaction might have justbeen the exit sign. Damn, I only just got here, I internally rationalise, I'll wait a little longer and see...

My liason departs and there's some free time to check out the forest and grounds of the monastery which provide a breathtaking exploration, before we are to return for the elaborate ritual of dinner. Much formality - to my tastes this feels plain rigid with grip seems to prioritise the principal of order... which I'm personally partial to but not to this degree!

After eating we head down to the sitting hall to do a whole lotta breathing; a process that's also pretty formalised. Everyone starts in place and with newbies like myself placed in the outer circle. For new entrants like me we are asked to perform a ritual of walking over to the inner camber and bowing before to the inner sanctum before walking its length to again bow to the monk holding space before returning to their seat. Ok, cool by me sure!

A bell rings in the distance and the "in group" of monks head off to sit in the Roshis quarters. Once they are all gone a bell rings to signal the beginning of Zazen, during which one is not supposed to change their posture until the ring of the next bell.

Very quickly I learn of my ergonomic imbalances which become bloody painful to hold through. Since I'm not adjusting my posture until the next bell I figure I'll breathe into these spots quite deeply and after a significant amount of what's essentially holotropic breathing, I feel my hands cramping. Just before the bell rings I'm asked by another new recruit to quieten down - which is 100% my intent - once the bell rings and we're allowed to readjust posture!

By the next round I've got a handle on my ergonomics and the rest of the session flows much more easily with minimal distractions. After three or four rounds we get up for Kinhin (rapid walking meditation) and then back to more sitting. Slowly the monks who left earlier to sit with the Roshi return one by one and continue with more sitting. The first monk to return sits directly opposite my line of sight and we proceed to look through each other for the next several hours

At some point in the session the monk holding space begins to wander around with a stick offering people beatings on the shoulders to wake them up. As I can sense that I'm leaving soon I wish to experience as much authentic zazen before departure so I bow to them and take two whacks on each shoulder. Yes, that's a little bit of a system shake up and quite pleasant really. After about several hours of mindless breathing we finish sitting, putting cushions away and pulling down beds where applicable.

Before crashing out I read some of Aurobindo's writing and converse briefly with my liaison who's interested to know if there are "enlightened beings in Auroville?". Having been quite dismissive of my opinions earlier I respond indirectly by asking "whats an enlightened being?". He responds with a humble admission of ignorance and which in typical zen style sounds both authentic and scripted. I play along by suggesting that I don't know either, adding that I may have met one or two of them while there. We finish our tea and go to bed where I sleep lightly, while dreaming heavily.

We awake at 3am quickly file out to another building, passing through light rain and move into a chanting session about the Buddah in a language that's essentially unknown to me. I get lost in this text but quietly vocalise in the same monotonous tone so as to activate my vocal chords for the day without disrupting the rest of the group. We then put our cushions back and quickly file out to another room to do more prayer and then return to do some quiet reading; this time the text is in English and quite absorbing. From here we depart for the breakfast ritual.

I'm then asked to sign the guest book inclusive of arrival and departure dates. I decide this is a good time to signal my departure so inform the monk that this place is not my jam and head off to let my liaison know I'm off after chores. He looks overjoyed at this and says I can just leave. I head down to the sitting room to help with cleaning, say my goodbyes over a cup of tea and then get the hell outta dodge!

To my senses it felt like the place was in decline and that energetics were getting appropriated from strangers like myself to sustain the inner membrane - who knows though. It seemed that there were some good people there but the place didn't vibe; if enlightenment is liberation then subservience to an orthodoxy felt pretty paradoxical to me. Fine material but a heavy dose of concentration didn't feel like it was on my agenda; at least not without an aligned purpose. I head to Starbucks, sort out my liquidity crunch and head to Tokyo for a final evening with my companion before her departure the next day. Once again I'm on my own, destination unknown...

Ad astra!