Thursday, November 3, 2016
Let's Get Lost
It's still possible to get lost. This requires stepping out of one's routine. For me, now, this means going beyond the Kyoto city limits. I still enjoy the feeling of being slightly (or completely) lost. Adventure begins when you leave the trail.
I was headed to Omihachiman, a small city in Shiga Prefecture about 40 kilometers northeast of Kyoto, for the the 7th edition of the Biwako Biennale contemporary art exhibition. I took the wrong train. This was corrected after a few stops. Then I took the right bus, but got off at the wrong stop. 7 kilometers wrong!
The end of the bus line is Chomeiji on the edge of Lake Biwa. I have long wanted to see this lake, the largest in Japan and apparently one of the oldest in the world. It is a popular destination for Japanese vacationers in the summer months.
As long as I am here, I thought, I might as well have a look around. There is less despair, less exasperation now in these transit mistakes. I am more comfortable in my abilities to navigate a situation in Japanese. I found a cafe and had lunch. The place was empty, the summer tourists long gone.
The cafe was at the foot of Mount Ikiya leading up to Chomeiji Temple. There was a sign at the bottom: 808 steps to the top. I should have taken that as a warning, not an invitation. I started up the large, uneven stone steps. After about 60 my heart was racing. I continued to climb, counting as I went and pausing every so often to catch my breath. The stairs twisted through the dense forest. Because the temple does not come into view until the last 70 or so steps I did think I was perhaps climbing to nowhere.
The view of Lake Biwa was spectacular. Looking north from the temple the lake spread as far as the eye could see and shimmered in the afternoon sun. The hondo (main hall) of Chomeiji was covered in senjafuda (stickers bearing the name of visitors). It being particularly remote and difficult to access would account for the significant number of these commemorative stickers. Chomeiji translates as "temple of long life". One might feel a long life is a just reward for conquering the steep stairs.
After a beer and a good rest on the waterfront I caught the bus back into town, to Osugi-cho, the historic district where the exhibition was centered. The theme of the biennale was "Eternal Dreams." Artists from around the world were given carte blanche to transform long neglected Edo era (1603 - 1868) houses and factories into site-specific art installations. As with any biennial, there were hits and misses, some artists creating an interesting dialogue between these unique spaces and their art, and others clumsily placing their work in rooms and spoiling the otherwise historic beauty of the architecture. To be sure, I would have enjoyed touring these buildings without any invitation, the wonderful atmosphere of pre-modern Japan reason enough to look and linger.
I've learned that sometimes when the schedules and systems we live by are interrupted other experiences and opportunities present themselves. Let's get lost.