Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Happy New Year Kansai!

Well my first weekend back in Japan turned out to be quite an adventure!

Wakausa Yama Yaki, Nara. Posted by Hello

I happened to come across an amazing photo of Wakakusa Yama Yaki (The Burning of Young Grass Mountain). The stark black silhouette of a 5 storied pagoda seemed to spread its wings and rise from the sea of fire engulfing the gentle slope of the mountain behind it. Fire flowers (the actual translation of the Japanese word for fireworks), shot up from the waves of flame, blooming like cherry blossoms in the dark veil of the night sky.

Luckly along with the picture was a note saying that the festival, which commemorated a battle between Buddhist monks of two rival temples who had set the mountain on fire, was celebrated January 15th of every year! Happy birthday to me!

The next day I was on my way, riding in the lap of the luxurious Shinkansen, Japan’s ultra-fast bullet train. But by the time I got to Nara the sunny blue skies of Ena had faded to paler shade of grey, draped in heavy rain clouds that soaked the earth beneath. There was as much chance of the mountain burning as there was of me spontaneously combusting, so needless to say, I was hopeful.

Todaiji, the largest wooden structure on earth, is only a shadow of its former self, 30% the width of the original structure. Fall 2002. Posted by Hello

As I walked toward Todaiji (The Great Eastern Temple), home of the world’s largest cast iron Buddha, I was inevitably stopped by a young rickshaw driver. She casually informed me that this year the festival had been held on January 9th. Ah well. It’s a little early to be celebrating my birthday anyway, so I wasn’t too disappointed. I went to hang out with Buddha for a bit, and figured since I was in Kansai, things could only get better! That’s just the way it works!

Daibutsusan, the Great Buddha of Nara. Posted by Hello

I called Lindz and went to meet her for dinner in Osaka. We noisily slurped down a bowl of miso ramen in a tiny shop conveniently located in her apartment building and run by a bunch of young, American-music-loving kids. I was sucking down noodles to the beat of Michael Jackson, Blink 182 and for a brief moment, Whitney Houston, until thankfully one of the horrified waitresses rushed to the radio and promptly filled the shop with the soothing sounds of something techno.

Lindz said I could crash at her place, so I took the chance to catch up with my long lost partner in crime. Unfortunately, the fact that we are, despite some serious effort, inevitably growing up, she had to work the next day, which made the chance of a joint adventure impossible.

I was ready to head for home the next day when I snapped out of it. There is no way you can go to Kansai and not make brief cameo in Kyoto! I mean, that’s sacrilege!

Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theatre, in which all roles are acted by men. Posted by Hello

I wandered up the subways stairs, past the famous Minamiza Kabuki theatre and towards Gion. Since it was lunch time and Indian food is a rare commodity in these here parts, I indulged in a little curry and dal in the same place where I had celebrated thanksgiving. It always makes me smile to hear the owner speak Japanese with his undeniably Indian intonation.

Brand-spankin' new adults I met on thier way from a New Year's visit to Yasaka shrine. Posted by Hello

After meeting my quota of curry in a hurry, I rolled myself out onto the street and turned, as if magnetically drawn, towards Yasaka Jinja. I squinted as what appeared to be three kyoningyo (Kyoto porcelian dolls) dressed in their finest furisode kimono slowly came into view. Seijinshiki and New Years celebrations were still in full swing! I stopped to congratulate them on their coming of age (and take their picture of course), and ran up to the shrine.

Leaving Yaska shrine, thesr girls couldn't escape without letting me take a picture. But who is that man in the back taking a picture of? Posted by Hello

From there it is only natural for me to head up the twisting, cobblestone roads that lead to Kiyomizudera. I know the path by heart, as if I had grown up wandering the narrow, twisting streets in another life. Along the way I ran into many nisemono maiko, tourists dressed as geisha apprentices to be photographed in the ancient capital, but nothing prepared me for the luck I would find at Kiyomizu.

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