An Unexpected Cultural Adventure

You can watch a very short video of the amazing garden at Sanzen-in here.

On Sunday, Super Sake Boy and I had arranged to meet up with the very lovely Fujimoris, the couple we met at Shu Kura sake bar in Ponto-cho. Our conversation on the evening was very broken English/Japanese and somewhat sake fuelled, but fun and interesting, none-the-less. Super Sake Boy had painstakingly written his emails in Japanese and we had translated Fujimori-san’s very formal emails, together. We had set the time to meet at 11am on Sunday morning, near a train station, near their house.

We arrived just before the designated time and Fujimori-san was waiting for us. He ushered us into a kombini, where his wife, resplendent in yukata, geta, tabi and the full obi, was purchasing drinks. They insisted we choose something and then would not let us pay for it. This definitely set the tone for the day.

We got into their car, which was almost a carbon copy of mine, only smaller, and they asked where we would like to go. Super Sake Boy suggested Enryaku-Ji, a temple we had wanted to visit several times, but is in an awkward place to get to via public transport. It is in Shiga prefecture, the prefecture next to Kyoto and overlooks the town of Otsu and the incredible Lake Biwa.

Our hosts level of English pretty well matched our level of Japanese, and Fujimori-san had a Pocket Talk, a portable translator with him. We started winding up into the mountains, while watching an anime with Russian subtitles, about Oda Nobunaga on Fujimori-san’s phone. Our conversation throughout the day was using pretty basic language, but communication happens on many levels. Every time I am in this situation, I am reminded of what can be shared through body language and gestures and we had a great opportunity to practice our skills, as they did their’s.

We stopped at a lookout that is half in Kyoto and half in Shiga. The view of Lake Biwa was excellent. We then continued up the mountain and wandered around the temples and museums of Enryaku-Ji. I had become interested in this spot as in 1571, Oda Nobunaga had laid siege to the mountain and 30,000 men had essentially burnt the mountain to the ground, killing all the warrior monks who lived there and up to a suggested 4000 civilians. Amazingly many artefacts were unharmed and the museum housed many statues and scrolls that were more than a thousand years old. There was not a lot of English information about anything, but we enjoyed the experience a lot. The temple itself is undergoing restoration, and the outside is scaffolded and not visible. The inside is still accessible, and you can actually see the work they are doing, replacing every roof tile and every piece of the temple to it’s former glory. An undertaking that will take about 10 years.

After temple walking, we were hungry, so stopped in for some shojin ryori, temple food, vegetarian and so delicious. Super Sake Boy and I both opted for the tempura vegetable udon and it was really yummy. Again, our gracious hosts would not allow for us to pay. Over lunch we discussed where to go next. A few sake breweries were mentioned, and then a photo of Sanzenin Temple. This temple in Ohara has been on my list for a long time, also, and it seemed an excellent time of year to check it out.

We were not disappointed. At all!!! This garden is possibly the most beautiful I have ever been in. I am a great lover of moss, and this garden had moss at an unfathomable coverage. Super Sake Boy looked at me knowingly when we walked in and asked if I had the urge to roll in the moss. Of course, I did. It was so soft and smooth looking. We walked out onto a platform, like a verandah, and sat on soft red mats and all of a sudden we were being served matcha and traditional sweets, overlooking moss paradise. The garden was sublime. Everything was so beautifully curated. The matcha was bitter and delicious and we were shown how to hold it and turn it two quarter turns clockwise before drinking it. It was an excellent cultural experience, after five times inJapan, my first real matcha experience.

After spending much time in the garden, being explained what many exotic plants were and marvelling at the range of colours and sizes of the hydrangeas, we began the move towards home. Stopping at a lovely little artisan shop on the way back to the car Fujimori-san presented us each with a beautiful pair of rosewood chopsticks. I have recently learned that this traditional gift is called meotobashi. There are three aspects to the reason behind the gift. Wishing the couple co-operation, and support from each other, that they may always have food- or health and long life and chopsticks, or “hashi” in Japanese also means bridge. So the gift represents a bridge of friendship, also. We were so moved by this gift and then we were also given some crystals, topaz and smokey quartz, that Fujimori-san had mined himself on a nearby mountain. We were so filled with gratitude and really couldn’t convey to them how deep our gratitude was. Super Sake Boy has since sent an email and the response to asking for an address to send a thank you was that feelings were enough, and let’s keep in contact.

We were dropped off right outside the guesthouse, somewhat reeling and giddy from the amazing experience we had had, and maybe a little brain tired from trying to think in two languages. Maki had booked our favourite okonomiyaki restaurant again, so we all went down there for dinner and it was, as always, delicious. Being back with Maki was comfortable and easy and again I realised how precious our friendship is, how grateful I am for it and we enjoyed our last night in Kyoto, for this trip.

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