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.)
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.
“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
I may not be as great a traveler as Benjamin Disraeli, but I have seen quite a bit and remember quite a few.
Among those things I’ve seen and remember is the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. I do like temples and, though not a Buddhist, I find it soothing to the soul when I’m in a Zen temple or garden. This one in particular captures harmony between heaven and earth, and also shines in its beautiful setting.
The Golden Pavilion is worth visiting for a sight to remember, if not to soothe one’s soul.
Some facts about the Golden Pavilion
1. It is a World Heritage Site.
2. The top two stories are covered with gold leaf.
3. The gold is to purify any negative thoughts towards death.
3. Its origin dates back to the 1400s.
More info on the Golden Pavilion here.
At the Zen garden of the Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto, one’s spirit can commune with nature and find peace.
The garden “borrows” from the surrounding landscape and becomes one with it.
A little piece of heaven on earth.
At the Otowa Waterfall in Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, one can choose between longevity, success, and love by drinking from a stream.
The waterfall, which runs off the hills nearby, is split into three streams of “pure” water, and the tradition is that one takes a ladle and choose which stream to drink from. One does not drink from all three streams as it is considered greedy.
So which one to choose?
A 75-year Harvard study on happiness tells us that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” Being in a relationship where one can “really feel they can count on the other person in times of need” is good for our well-being.
If we follow this advice, the choice is obvious – we choose relationships, we choose love.
It’s a choice we can make everyday, through our actions that build warm relationships and nurture the well-being of the people we love.
Each time we do, we are taking the ladle and drinking from the stream of love at the Otowa Waterfall.
(Information about the Kiyomizu Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Otowa Waterfall, can be found here and here.)
(The TED Talk on the Harvard study on happiness can be found here.)