In 2005, I was lucky enough to be International staff on Japan’s Peace Boat. A large floating global community, Peace Boat has three International and one Asian only cruises annually that promote peace, human rights, sustainability and the environment. I was On Peace Boat as an international staff as an English Teacher. There were English and Spanish teachers plus translators that were International staff. The passengers were Japanese – about one thousand of them. I shared a four bed bunk room with two Japanese women – both named Noriko.
Noriko T and I have been Facebook friends since shortly after the voyage and when she found out I was visiting Japan again she suggested we meet. We met on Sunday June 6th in Kyoto.
She came from Nagoya. A bit further for her than me so I was grateful she made the trip! We had both been to Kyoto before so she was happy to go to the bamboo forest in Arashiyama – neither of us had been there. And she was keen to go to Fushimi Inari as well. We went to Fushimi Inari first. This is a Shinto Shrine on a mountain with thousands of red Torii gates going up the mountain.
Nori was raised Buddhist but told me that the two religions Shinto and Buddhist have blended so she knew very well the procedure. Nori taught me how to pray at the base of the mountain. First you must wash – pick up the ladle and rinse each hand. Then put some of the water into your mouth using your hand not the ladle directly. Spit out the water and the. Rinse the ladle by slowly putting it into an upright position with the spoon part of the label facing up so the water runs down the handle. Then you can pray. Praying involves first offering a coin or two into the grate, bowing two times then clapping two times and bowing again. Ring the bell and then pray.
The day before I had hiked Pon Pon Yama so my legs were super tired and sore. I admit it, I was a little whiny as it was a lot for my tired and sore legs and my knees weren’t happy. So hiking four kilometres up and down a mountain was painful. But I did it. Thankfully Nori was patient as I had to stop a lot! We did have an ice cream break about halfway that revived my drive. It was a choice between vanilla, soy bean, or mix of vanilla and soybean. I chose the mix as I wasn’t sure I would like the soy one. But I did! And was a little disappointed I didn’t just try all bean. Ah well. Next time. The Torii are amazing – truly. Mostly they are huge and there is about four or so inches between them. Each has been donated by a family or business and you can read the name and the location on one side of the Torii. The donations came from all over Japan!
Scattered up the mountain were different places of prayer so you could pray the whole way up. It’s not necessary to cleanse with the water at each praying spot but you are welcome to. It took us about three hours, if I had been in better shape probably two hours would have been adequate. It was gorgeous and breathtaking. A lovely place though crowded so it was difficult to get photos without people in it.
The symbol of Fushimi Inari is the fox. The fox is a messenger and there were many statues of foxes up the mountain and at the base.
There were many items for purchase to show your devotion and to pray with. Miniature Torii, banners, stones, and more. We also saw a beautiful prayer tree with little slips of paper with wishes or prayers on them tied to a tree.
Upon leaving Fushimi Inari, we had a bit of time to wait for the next train and Noriko spotted a Peace Boat poster!!!!! So exciting. We, of course, had a photo shoot! It was meant to be!!!
Next we ended up in Arashiyama. Flat walking so I was very happy. We found the way to the bamboo grove and again I was awed. It was awe-inspiring.
No bamboo in Hokkaido, nor in Canada, so I have a special adoration of this prolific tree! We overheard one of the many rickshaw drivers (runners?) telling a customer the bamboo grows twenty meters in three months! Huge! Fast! Anyways, they are delicate and yet hearty, beautiful and towering and just stunning. I really had no words and could just say repeatedly how much I love bamboo! So peaceful despite all the people and very calming I think. People just seemed to glide along and be relaxed and at peace. I certainly felt that way. The bamboo is gigantic above you and yet it sways like wild grass in a field. A sight to be seen for sure.
We wandered down to the river and saw the Togetsu-Kyo Bridge famous in this area. With the beautiful forest mountains as a backdrop I can see why. A few years ago during the tsunami, it was damaged but thankfully it was quickly repaired and is back in business. There were many people just sitting and admiring the bridge and river. Again, a chilled out place to meander or sit and ponder.
We enjoyed some forms of maccha (both sweetened – Noris was lemon jam I believe and mine was a maccha latte). at a second floor cafe with a nice view of the river and then wandered across the bridge to part ways. What a lovely day and who better than to share it with but an old roommate. Thanks Noriko, so happy to have caught up and enjoyed Kyoto together. We said farewell with promises that it wouldn’t be another ten years before we meet again!! Cheers, Nori T!