Eight o'clock on a Saturday morning: School kids in uniforms are hustling along the back streets of Kyoto as merchants sprinkle water on the sidewalks and open their shops for the day. I make my way across a four-lane thoroughfare to Nishi-hongan-ji, a temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Pure Land Buddhism in the midst of downtown. Once through the enormous gates, I pass into a hushed place of active worship. Monks go about their chores and people pause for prayers on their way to work, coming and going quietly past an enormous ginkgo tree.
I remove my shoes at the base of the Goeido Hall, ascend the steep steps to a corridor. The wood is warm and welcoming, polished smooth over centuries by millions of bare and stockinged feet. Inside the worship hall the tatami mats almost caress my toes. I sit…Wait… Wonder what is so deeply moving about this place.
I put a 1000 yen coin in the wooden offering box. It drops against an inner wood grate before falling onto the bottom with a thick thud. The resonance of metal against ancient wood is so enchanting I drop in another coin, breathing in the sensuality that has captivated me for so many decades.
Higashi-hongan-ji is just to the east past a tile-roofed white-washed wall.
Other allures of Kyoto include the Tetsugaku-no-michi, the Philosopher's Path. It descends from Ginkaku-ji along a canal lined with cherry trees, a walk as charming as it is meditative.
Artists are at work along the way, clearly mindful of the tourist trade.
For me this delightful walk ends with a jolt of young Japanese women decked out in kimono. From their hesitant mincing steps and ungainly gaits, it's clear they are tourists in their own land giving traditional garb a go..
From Kyoto I'm heading to Fukushima, where no one wants to return to the recent past