Friday, 21 December 2007

In search of Temple No.18

On Friday, Temple No.18 looked fairly straight forward according to the map, off the main highway towards Yokoze. Being mid-afternoon already with practice, composition and dinner plans still on the agenda, I was looking for a simple ride. Enjoying the relatively flat road, I zoomed along and before I knew it spotted a giant roof of ceramic tiles and curvaceous roof idiomatic of many temples. Temples on the Pilgrimage Trail typically have little signs that indicate you have made it and since this one had none such I knew it was not No.18 but I was delighted to find it in the dying rays of afternoon sun, the courtyard glowing. I was glad to serendipitously discover a very majestic temple with two-storey wooden gate and many elegant sculptures. While you're thinking derogatory thoughts about my geographical abilities, it must be said that the Pilgrimage map has proved itself several times rather symbolic, rather than hugely accurate and a bit light on the details like side-roads and, of course, devoid completely of any English reference points. Next time, I should bring the GPS and refer to Google Maps. Interestingly, when you use Google Maps and fly-in to regions of country Japan, the map language is Japanese and it, too, is scarcely detailed in this region.

Outside this temple, I experienced my first encounter with a racoon (Nyctereutes procyonoides) (tanuki in Japanese), a member of the canid family related to dogs, wolves and foxes. Tanuki are the animals portrayed by the generous-bellied often bipedal upright ceramic characters found welcoming you to shrines, shops, homes, originally with large male organs. The real animal's impressive row of many canine teeth testified that the portrayal of the smiling creature is fairly accurate though it might be rather inhospitable. Unfortunately, I only saw this timid racoon-dog because it had been hit by a car and a group of school-girls gathered around to lament, though the racoon's spirit had long since left the scene and he seemed to be resting appropriately beside the temple cemetary. On my return journey, I happened on another temple and then another: the last one a small and humble, somewhat neglected shrine building being the likely No.18 Gōdo-ji candidate.

In the evening, it was Kundan's farewell dinner and it turned out to be even more festive than that. Kakizakai Sensei demonstrated his culinary virtuosity by making soba (buckwheat noodles). Soba is a Chichibu speciality and we were especially spoilt because he only makes them about once a year and typically that is for New Year celebration when the long noodles are an auspicious symbolisation of long life. In addition, Kakizakai Sensei's mother prepared luxurious servings of tempura, including yam, pumpkin, onion, squid with herbs, shrimp and Megumi-san made agedashi tofu (my favourite nutritious tofu delight) and many other delicious courses. The treat extended yet further. In response to our request (that we frankly thought might be too ambitious after sake flavoured by its barrel and so much culinary fun), Megumi-san (koto) and Kakizakai Sensei (1.6 shaku) played for us Michio Miyagi's Haru no ume (Spring Sea) (1929). Kundan and I were rapt and we felt very privileged. It was the perfect conclusion to his stay in Japan.