Friday, February 14, 2014

Daigoji (醍醐寺)

A temple is a quiet place by design.  Add to that quietness the dimension of snow and you have entered a world so incredibly peaceful you have to check your pulse to make sure you are still alive, that you haven't somehow crossed into the next life.

I knew it was going to snow.  I saw it in the clouds the evening before.  When I opened the drapes in the morning there was already a thin blanket over my garden.  I'd seen photos of the temples and gardens of Kyoto covered in snow, but so far this winter the snowfall had only been light dustings, disappearing a few hours later.  This was a proper snow.  It was not aggressive accompanied by blustery winds.  No.  As one would expect in Japan it was delicate, elegant.  It was however rather wet, unlike the snow in the Alps or even the Sierras.

While most people prepared for a day indoors, warm and cozy, I set out for Daigoji Temple which is not too far from my home in Uji.  I was hoping for something gorgeous and otherworldly and that is exactly what I got.  The faded orange of this 10th Century temple against the white of the fresh snow and the wet, almost black branches of the trees was a study in contrasts.  I was almost completely alone in this tranquil environment.

The crunch of the snow beneath my feet.
My warm breath hanging in the air.
The damp cold biting my toes through two layers of socks.
Tree branches sagging with the weight of a million snow flakes, then dropping them all at once when it is too much to bear.

There is something meditative about falling snow.  Your perception of depth is challenged as your eyes focus and refocus on the flakes falling near your face and at a distance.  There is a weightlessness too.  As you stare at the snow falling you get the sense you are rising, that the snow is not coming down, but you are going up.  Strange, hypnotic.

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