You know you’ve been in Asia too long when you not only recognize that the Chinese classical song you’re listening to is a cover, but can name the Japanese song that it’s a cover of. For those of you whose computers can display Asian characters, 女子十二楽坊’s song “flower” is a cover of SMAP’s 世界に一つだけの花. You know, just in case you were wondering.
I was pretty pleased with myself when I pulled out that little piece of useless trivia.
Today’s post is actually about something that happened just over two weeks ago, on November 23rd. A school-organized day trip to Kurama for a front-row seat in the national “pray for peace” ceremony.
The day started bright and early at 6:30am. Everyone in Ritsumeikan’s Study in Kyoto Program was supposed to gather at the Demachiyangi train station across town at 9:00, but I told the teacher not to wait up. I couldn’t turn down such a perfect opportunity for an early-morning mountain bikeride under the bright red fall leaves during their best week of the year.
No one else in my class was crazy enough to join, but no matter. I put on my two pairs of pants, two pairs of gloves, three layers of shirts, and headed out at around 7:00. The winter is here in full force. I pulled in to the south side of the small mountain town just in time to see the sun rise behind a nearby hill.
But my fear of being late caused me to way over-estimate the length of the ride, so I arrived with more than an hour to kill before I could meet up with the other students. At last, some time to roam around and take pictures!
As soon as everyone arrived we began the trek up to Kurama Dera (the temple where the famed samurai hero Minamoto Yoshitsune studied during the late Heian era, sometime between 794 and 1192). Here we were each provided a red candle and allowed to enter the main temple where we witnessed first-hand a ceremony from which I understood a grand total of two words: World and Peace. The ceremony was nevertheless a joy to watch (no doubt because I was in the front row) and contained much more world culture that I’ve grown accustomed to in such a homogenous country. The monks who performed the ceremony were SriLankan, and the post-prayer music clearly Spanish. If only I still had a working camcorder…
Next we were led into a huge dining room where we were presented with a nice little surprise. A FEAST! Not bad for a grand total cost of zero yen. The food included everything from SriLankan curry to Kurama-specialty sweets, and was even accompanied by live Koto, Shamisen and song.
By the time we started to make our way back down the mountain I felt like my stomach was going to burst, and was more than ready for a hot ofuro and matcha ice cream cone (there’s ALWAYS some room for matcha!)…but a few of the students suggested that we instead walk to the nearby mountain town of Kibune for a light-up. Light-ups are a sort of “non-festival festival,” where they strategically place hundreds of lights to illuminate ancient temple buildings, fall leaves, cherry blossoms, and any other form of beauty they can think of. Of course, I agreed.
But I was surprised to find that in this town, only fifteen minutes from Kurama on foot, the leaves had barely changed colors at all. So instead of a show of colorful nature, we were offered a surprise show of traditional song and dance. What a tough break 😛
Unfortunately, two of our friends couldn’t handle the cold and headed down the mountain before the performance even started. The rest of us pulled our arms into our jackets and watched an hour of shamisen, female dancers in kimono, male dancers with samurai swords, and the best of the best: taiko drumming. But we decided to leave before the next group came on, a form of traditional Japanese theater called Noh. By the time I got home my fingers were so frozen that it’s taken me the two weeks since November 23rd for them to thaw enough to prepare this post.
And now, on Friday night at 1:00am, I must retire to my comfy futon on the floor…for tomorrow my mom arrives on her way back from China!
How fortunate I feel to be able to share my Kyoto life with not one but both of my parents. I just hope her bike-riding legs are up for the challenge!