Trying Not to See Temples
We once went through a very rocky period in our marriage. It occurred the week that we traveled to Thailand and I attempted to make Andy visit every single temple in Bangkok. I’m that kind of traveler. I’ve never met a temple or a cathedral or anything that has a plaque on it that I didn’t have to put on the itinerary and photograph. Andy’s preferred travel mode is what the humorist Calvin Trillin calls “The Hanging Around Tour” — which involves just wandering around and seeing what you bump into. I’ve gotten a little more appreciative of the latter, but Andy still lives in fear that he will again be forced into too many temples. Having heard that Kyoto is a great spiritual center and chock full of temples, Andy immediately commandeered the guidebook and took charge of the tour. The problem is that he doesn’t really know how to do guidebooks. As in, he doesn’t bother double-checking critical information such as opening hours and historical, cultural or interesting things you should particularly notice at a given site. As a result, a historical tour, in the hands of Andy, becomes de facto a “Hanging Around Tour”: devoid of edifying history or architectural appreciation but full of unexpected encounters with surprising things.
On Andy’s tour, we’ve spent the last two days wandering around Kyoto by foot, ducking into whatever streets look interesting. That part has been great. Until we stumble on something large and impressive with lines of tour buses outside. Tipped off that it might be at a historical site, I lunge for the guidebook, but Andy’s not relinquishing it.
Me: Hey, I need the guidebook. I need to know what this is. Maybe we want to go in. And photograph it.
Andy: It’s a temple. Or maybe a shogun palace. I heard it wasn’t very interesting.
Me: So that’s why all the buses are ten deep outside it? Give me the guidebook and I’ll decide if we should go in.
Andy: Let’s whip through in 15 minutes and I’ll read what happened here. [Glances at the book for five seconds.] Uh, this is a temple. That shoguns went to. Now let’s go to the market.
Oh, I exaggerate. But not by much. Actually, I did much better than I usually do with “Andy’s Rapid — Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It — Tour”. We saw two large temple complexes, one of which I’m told is “the Vatican of Japanese Buddhism”, saw two Shogun palaces, one of which was open and we actually got to go into, rambled through the oldest and most picturesque parts of town, visited several large gardens and skirted the Gion District famous for its Geishas. I also passed a lot of temples, shrines and some giant Buddhas that I wasn’t allowed to visit and could only photograph as I ran after Andy, who does not brake for temples.
So here’s what we saw that is on the average tourist itinerary and what we also bumped into on the Andy style tour:
Somewhere in the midst of those travels, I managed to entice Andy down into a dark twisty passageway which is supposed to symbolize passing through the womb of a female Bodhisattva to be spiritually reborn. I almost had a spiritual moment feeling the smooth stones under my bare feet and holding on to a railing carved like prayer beads. Except for the group of screaming Japanese school children behind me and Andy saying, “We paid five hundred yen to stumble around in the dark?!”
Here’s a really odd thing that we encountered: every site we went to, within five minutes of arriving, we would be mobbed by groups of Japanese Middle Schoolers. They would rush up and read the exact same words off what was apparently some sort of assignment script.
Kids: Hello, hello. Excuse me. We are on a school trip to Kyoto. Where are you from?
Us: San Francisco.
Kids: San Francisco?
Kids: Ah, California! California! [Meanwhile one of the kids would be madly scribbling down something in a notebook.] Thank you. Thank you. Have a nice day.
We never could figure out if this was some prefecture-wide assignment. Apparently, the only English these kids spoke was their script which seemed to be written down phonetically for them.
So I’m not exactly sure what I saw. Andy held the guidebook at all times. But I’m glad I saw it. Today we’ll see more. Andy just woke up and said, “Let’s go see that silvery, shiny, templey palace thing.”
The Andy Tour isn’t big on a lot of detail.