Japan has a sort of Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November, but unlike the American version, it is a day to express gratitude for labor and production. I think mostly it is a just a day off.
Aware of the crowds that would certainly meet me, I set out Monday afternoon anyway. Arashiyama is just a few stops on the train from Katsura, so I figured I could easily retreat if overwhelmed by the humanity. The Arashiyama station was thronged. I paused for a moment, observed the direction of the multitude and went up an adjacent road that was relatively empty. A good decision. This led me past a quiet shrine and on to the south bank of the Hozu River.
The river was full of bright blue rowboats and couples trying to navigate it. Nonomiya-jinja is nearby which is the shrine of choice for lovers and would-be lovers, so I imagined the romantic aquatic excursions were part of some courtship. It was a charming sight, the azure blue of the boats hemmed in by the steep canyon dressed in full autumnal regalia.
As I discovered last year, the farther along a path you go, the more solitary the journey. I like this. Little by little the sounds of human conversation and movement is replaced by nature's equivalent. Serenity arrives.
Far up the river I found a sign for a temple and some steps leading up the hillside. I knew this could only lead to something really good. There were only a few other people that had ventured this far upstream and some were dissuaded by the climb necessary to reach the temple.
Perched high above the Hozu is Daihikaku Senkoji. This temple was apparently founded by a wealthy 16th Century merchant named Suminokura Ryoi who pioneered Southeast-Asian trade. It is meant to commemorate the heavy human toll of his river excavation project.
There was something beautifully ramshackle about this temple. Most temples are pristine and untouchable, the route through the grounds clearly marked with large red arrows, the dos and don'ts posted everywhere. Here, at Daihikaku Senkoji there is none of that. This is not simply a historical showpiece with coffers of tourist Yen; this is a proper habitation. Everything has the warm patina of frequent use and time.
Information about the temple is hand or typewritten and photocopied like a punk rock fanzine from the 80s. There are shelves of books, not rare antique tomes, but well-thumbed paperbacks you'd find in an ordinary bookshop. There are art supplies, bamboo brushes, inkstones and washi paper for shodo (calligraphy) and sumi-e (ink painting). Two temperamental Shiba Inus keep the lone monk and his attendants company and also entertain visitors.
A cup of matcha tea and a sweet appear on a tray decorated with a freshly fallen red maple leaf. I sit for a long time listening to the water dripping from a bamboo spigot and the temple bell that rings periodically. The sun begins to set illuminating the city in the distance. Somewhat reluctantly, I make my way back down the hill to the now deserted river.