This continues my last post, which left off after I secured my saucer of chrysanthemum sake. Scroll down (not forgetting to take my poll) to read that entry. And also to read our big announcement!)
It was blazing hot, so we took a taxi to Giouji, a moss temple that Stephanie had discovered via a Kyoto expat's blog. Unlike the more famous moss temple, this one is not packed with tourists, does not require reservations, and does not make you copy sutras before entering.
The taxi driver took us up a narrow bamboo-lined road, and dropped us off in front of a temple through whose gates (decorated with elephant-demon-creatures) we could indeed see moss. We paid the small entrance fee (usually three to five dollars/300-500 yen) and were given a brochure which listed a name other than Giouji. "Um..." I began, but before I could continue a monk whisked us inside a building, where we were greeted with great enthusiasm by another monk, one who clearly had not seen visitors in quite some time. He gave us a guided tour of their small museum, empty but us and an old lady who muttered darkly about gaijin (I gave her a big gaijin smile), and hand-sold us lucky charms. I got "health," Stephanie got "art." Then we wandered the garden, which was quite pretty, before heading further up the road to Giouji, our destination.
Giouji proved to have one of the most stunning gardens I have seen yet. A winding path, cleverly designed to block your view of the main garden until it opens up before you, leads to a lush carpet of hillocky emerald moss, with slim white trees rising out of it, curving and branchless like pillars bent in a gentle wind. Behind that vista rose a solid forest of green bamboo.
There was also a little hall inhabited by several statues of the Buddha and a lazy white temple cat, who accepted the pets of visitors in a lordly manner. It was all lovely and peaceful. Until I suddenly heard a whirr and rustle of hasty wings, and a great big bug slammed into my temple. I shrieked in what was apparently a hilarious manner. My guess, judging by the ungodly huge specimens we've been seeing, that it was a dragonfly. A woman who had one invade her tea shop said they are called "oniyama." Is that actually "mountain demon," or are those different kanji?
We then went to the garden next door, which was just as lovely, all steep winding paths among maples (which will be clear wine red come autumn) and bamboo forests overlooking a deep ravine. People had carved graffiti into some of the bamboos-- no doubt stuff like "Ichiro was here" and "Seimei [heart] Hiromasa." Stephanie mentioned that she'd heard of a church somewhere which houses an ancient tablet upon which is carved in runes something like "Olaf was here."
It was so hot and humid in both gardens that my glasses kept fogging up, and despite my liberal application of mosquito repellent, I was bitten all over. When we emerged, the little vampires pursued me, and I slapped at them and swore before the gates of the first temple we visited. "Ha ni sasareta!" I remarked plaintively to the temple attendant, a grandfatherly type. homasse
taught me this useful phrase, which means, "I have been stabbed by mosquitoes!"
He admonished me in Japanese for wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt to bamboo forests, where the mosquitos lurk. "But it is very hot!" I whined.
"Yeah, that's when the bugs come out," he replied. He then vanished into the temple, and emerged with a spray can of bug repellent. I sprayed myself.
We walked along the road, prettily lined with old-fashioned wooden houses with elegant tile roofs, houses and cafes and art shops selling exquisite handmade pottery, when we noticed a stone torii with rocks piled atop it, nestled into a stretch of woods. I peeked inside, and saw two orange torii forming a longer archway, and leading to a rough wooden shelter and a most mischievous-looking stone fox guardian.
We went inside and admired the statue, then sat in the shelter to rest our weary feet. That was when we noticed that the fox stood before a small door-- I would have had to stoop to enter it-- in the hill. It was an old wooden door, open a crack, but chained shut.
There were coin offerings laid before it, most old and battered.
We peeked inside. Nothing but black. Why would there be a door in the hill, at the heart of a fox shrine? Why chain it shut? I took a flash photograph, but it illuminated nothing but rough dirt walls, and then further blackness.
"Was that there before?" asked Stephanie. She pointed to a second fox statue, also on a pillar, this one more fierce-looking. I hadn't noticed it.
"Are those seals?" she added, indicating the words on slips of paper plastered over the shelter.
"I think they're the names of people who paid for the shrine to be built," I said. "I hope."
We sat for a while longer, contemplating the fox guardians, the door, and whether it was meant to keep something in or keep people out, and whether it had been altogether wise to disturb it with a sudden burst of light.
When we left the shrine, the heap of coins before the door was topped by several shiny new offerings.