The view was good. There isn’t much to crave when sleeping in a temple — a decent futon, reasonably new tatami, a bath. Everything else is icing — great food, and of course, a view.
I think this is the first real “view” I’ve had in any temple I’ve stayed at in Japan. I’ve stayed in dozens now. Many have views into gardens, but not into valleys. Inns, perhaps. The inn at Kiri-no-sato Takahara along the Kumano Kodo has some of the best views. I could sit there for a week and drink beers and work to the rolling in and out of the valley mists. But temples, no.
This view in the photo above gave way to a friendly family in the room next door.1 Dad was drunk by 6pm. His son was in the fire ceremonies to be held later in the evening.
By 9pm the stars were out and hints of galactic Milky Way swirls could be seen. We mulled. Nobody seemed to know what was going to happen.
[[NOTE : Ah! Of course, my last moment on hi.co and I accidentally publish midway through. Right at this very second I hit [TAB] and then [Enter], trying to do something else, and the machine interpreted the keystrokes as it should: As publish. Well, I guess I won’t edit this as much as I thought I would ;) ]]
Then things happened. Fire was lit. Fire was poked. I shot photos of my friend John who was completing a week of shugendo training — a kind of syncretic mix of Buddhist and Shinto mountain asceticism. They were sleep deprived and confused but alive (not always guaranteed, and in fact, two men were hospitalized this year).
Everyone lived, was breathing. The fires burned, were poked. Chants were chanted and the drunken father of one of the shugenjya clapped and yelled much to the embarrassment of the rest of the family and the son.
We stood for hours (having arrived far too early, none of us really knowing what to expect). And when it was over, all of us — drunken dad included — made our way back to the temple and passed out like we had been hit in the head with bricks.
A good day. I had seen a thousand year old tree. Had walked up a set of 600 year old steps. Had made my way through the forest and found a grove that felt not unlike something from Zelda, like a place where a sword of unknown provenance should live. The day had held all of these things and so the view was not needed. And yet.
This is technically the last day of Hi.co. I am beyond proud of this little temple the team has put together. It’s still, to this day — despite us having made almost no improvements to the publishing process over the last few years — one of my favorite writing places ever. I don’t know where to put these kind of stories steeped in place anymore. None of the other options feel right.
The goal here was always to build a solid, simple(ish) place to hammer little stakes into the ground, to return to them, to help us all remember moments that felt important to us at one time or another. In a way, the goal was just a decent futon, some clean tatami, and a good bath. The barest of accoutrements needed to feel human and loved. Nothing more. And yet.
The view brings me back, and the view is what I’ll miss the most. A view at times misty and over-wraught, at times sentimental and sappy, at times ridiculous, pointless, but then at times deeply moving, profound, politically critical. At times so close to the bone it was almost impossible to witness but, when finished, left you feeling like witnessing it was the only option.
Thank you all for these views. These peeks and peaks, into and of lives and adventures. They were unexpected. The view was good. No, the view was exceptional.
I say “next door” euphemistically, there was only a thin sheet of paper between us. ↩