Just outside Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine has been around as a place of worship for 1300 years.
It is best known for its row of tori gates, whose red color is said to have powers against “supernatural powers” and also indicates the bounty of the Inari god.
(This particular spot is featured in a scene in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha.”)
The row of torii gates developed as a custom 400 years ago as donations from businesses to express gratitude for a wish “that has come true or will come true”; there are now 10,000 torii gates within the shrine.
(Incidentally in the film, the young girl runs through the torii gates on the way to the temple to offer a coin in prayer. The scene was flashed back at the ending when her wish came true.)
One can of course follow the gates all the way to the top of the mountain, about a couple of hours walk though lush scenery.
A tour of Fushimi Inari won’t be complete without mentioning the white fox, said to represent Inari (god of harvest and business) who protects rice crops from the mice that eat them. A recognition of ecological balance even in the old days.
It’s a good day’s visit — to admire a cultural symbol that has weathered the centuries, or simply reconnect with nature and oneself — something of a treat in today’s fast-paced world.
(Or maybe one can simply offer a prayer of thanks for a wish that has come true or will come true.)
Another year rolls by.
After all the places visited, adventures and stories, the best ones are the journeys inside oneself.
The times spent with people who enrich us, who mean most to us, made more precious when they are not by our side.
The discovery in going to new and old places is not so much what we learn about the place but what we learn about ourselves.
When we explore nature and appreciate its minutiae, we become part of something bigger, we see not only with our eyes.
What we share is part of us. But we also keep some, maybe we are still discovering those other parts.
It is a work in progress, like ourselves.
I like the interplay of light and shadow at the Bamboo Forest of Akashiyama, near Kyoto, Japan..
As one walks into the forest, the rustle of the leaves whispers in your ear.
It reminds me of a story about a man who wanted to quit and went to the forest to ask God for a reason not to.
The answer he got was right around him. God compared the fern — which blooms almost instantly and fills the forest with its bright leaves — to the bamboo, which for years after planting, had nothing to show. But He didn’t quit on the bamboo.
And on the fifth year the bamboo suddenly emerged from the ground and rose to the sky, growing several feet every week until it covered the forest with its canopy.
For years the bamboo was silently growing its root system, so it could support itself as it ascends to what it can become.
I sometimes look at these pictures to remind myself of the bamboo, and the light that shines though them, when shadows tend to overcome.
Plimoth Plantation is a step back into history.
It recreates the 17th century settlement of the Pilgrims. First-person interpreters (actors in character) interact with visitors and give their unique perspective on life in 1624.
There is also a Wampanoag homesite where Native people are traditionally dressed and explain their history and culture.
It’s a living museum, and one can get immersed in the period.
But what really stands out for me are the people in character.
It’s a 350-meter suspended walkway connecting an islet to the shore. Apparently the plan is to have a zipline as part of the attraction.
But simply crossing the bridge in the middle of the rain was daunting enough. Not to mention some parts were being repaired.
But there were brave souls ahead.
Did I cross it?
Location of the hanging bridge is here, somewhere on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
(Randall’s Island and Ward’s Island as seen from Upper East Side, NY.)
A set of islands, just across the Harlem River, is where New York used to send “the tired, poor, sick and criminal… to be treated (or sometimes just confined).” They came to be known as the Islands of the Undesirables.
Among these islands are Randall’s and Ward’s, which were distinct islands until the 1960’s when New York dumped its rubble to fill the gap.
Talk about a dubious history!
But today the combined island is home to a park and a stadium (where Usain Bolt broke a world record), and hosts the Governor’s Ball Music Festival. It also has the NY Fire Department training academy where various structures are built to simulate all kinds of environments fire fighters might encounter (including a subway tunnel, a helipad, and a ship).
Undesirable no more.
(Purple eggs sold side by side with normal eggs in a market in the Philippines.)
They weren’t laid by some exotic bird. These are actually salted duck eggs. A popular preparation method involves dipping and curing the eggs in a mixture of clay, salt and water for two weeks.
The salted eggs are then cleaned and boiled, and sold in the market pre-cooked. They are colored purple to distinguish them from normal raw eggs.
Traditionally consumed for breakfast, they have apparently found their way into Southeast Asian recipes and even desserts!
Not that they were wanting attention to begin with!