This weekend proved an odd juxtaposition of the hyper-real and the surreal.
Saturday I went hiking northwest of Kyoto, from an area known as Takao down to the more famous Arashiyama region. The rain made everything fecund and vibrant, and very immmediate. Every color and texture we encountered seemed crisply in focus, so that our surroundings took on a super-exaggerated clarity; I found myself noticing details in a way I normally don't. Life seemed very potent, distilled down to its most basic elements. And yet it gained mystery and depth.
We came across a temple quite accidently, which is always the best way. It turned out to be home to a multitude of carved rakanzou -- statues depicting followers of Buddhism who've reached 'satori' (enlightenment). The images were donated from all over Japan, and each one was distinct. It brought to mind the gargoyles at the National Cathedral, and I was reminded of making a visit there in this same season last year. To have past and present dovetail so neatly was extremely gratifying.
I'm not normally a big fan of temples, preferring shrines. But this one was so joyous and inviting! Besides Jizou, the Bodhisattva of pilgrims and travellers (and my favorite Bodhisattva, sort of a St. Christopher equivalent), the main temple deity was Kannon, the Bodhisattva of mercy. The pamphlet the temple provided explained in English 'People pray to this Kannon by touching it with their hands.' You could see burnished spots on the idol, where hands had worn it down over time. A Japanese friend once explained a period of time defined by the game of igo in this manner: if angels took turns coming down from heaven and touching a stone -- merely touching it, not rubbing it -- the time it would take for the stone to be worn away. I wondered how many hands had touched the Kannon. I put my own hand over a burnished spot, and thought about that for a long time.
Sunday, by contrast, had all the makings of a David Lynch film. Nothing about it was strange in the extreme sense -- I merely attended a 4th of July barbecue hosted by the George Washington Society -- but celebrating Independence Day in Japan is somehow one phase shift removed from true normalcy, just warped enough to make me feel like I was viewing the proceedings through a fisheye lens. Despite expecting that at any moment I should be demanding Pabst Blue Ribbon or admitting I was having a love affair with Laura Harring, I felt singularly uninteresting. Eating my watermelon soaked in condensed milk (as I said -- one phase shift off), all I could think was how grateful I am that Gary Busey is not my father (my apologies to any of you who don't understand the David Lynch references... and also to those who do). The Japanese co-chair of the Society asked me to come back and help decorate for their Thanksgiving celebration. The mind reels. Here's hoping they'll be serving turkey sushi.
I'm anticipating similar weirdness this week at the consulate's own 4th of July party, a formal affair meant to thank all of our contacts and supporters. It's being held at Universal Studios Japan, which means Woody Woodpecker and Snoopy will be in attendance. While I tried to talk them into letting me go as one of the characters, it looks as if I'll have to be wearing heels and a dress. Frankly, the character costume would be more in keeping with my current wardrobe, not to mention my current comfort level...