Another Day in Kyoto
This week, Koi Nobori carp-shaped flags hang on poles placed above private homes around the city.
May 5th is Children’s Day (a.k.a. Boys’ Day) in Japan, a national holiday celebrating all of our children. People with children fly Koi Nobori “carp flags” from the end of April in anticipation of this day. The carp is not only a strong and unusually hearty fish, but legend has it that a carp that can swim up the fabled Dragon’s Gate waterfall at the head of China’s Yellow River will enter heaven as a Dragon. The strength, health and resolve of a fish that can swim up a mighty waterfall is a perfect symbol of what we would like for our children.
I rode my bike from my house today to 1200-year old Kurama Temple located up the road, about 20-minutes ride. This two hour round excursion includes a climb up hundreds of steps and pathways through the primordial woods. It is also home to dozens of Buddhist and Shinto worship stations that are found all the way to the top of the hill. This course has become a fairly regular afternoon ritual for me. Along the way, I pass this massive, ancient cedar adorned with sacred shimenawa rope, designating this tree an abode of a Shinto god.
Kurama Temple is often mentioned in Japanese history books. It is said that the Shinto mountain god Tengu lives here. The most famous legend is how Yoshitsune, the young orphaned son of a great warrior, was raised here by monks and trained by Tengu in the martial arts and the ways of the Ninja. Another story tells us about the time Yoshitsune, as a young adult, was sitting by the river playing a flute. This slightly built and sensitive-looking flute playing young man caught the attention of the neighborhood’s classic bully whose arrogant challenge to Yoshitsune resulted in the “revenge of the nerds” story of all time.
Though many people flock to Kurama Temple every day, they are usually gone by the time I arrive at 5:00pm for my hike. I have the place almost entirely to myself.