I was a little bit apprehensive about travelling… And yet there I was, walking in Kyoto, one step behind Nesh, on our journey to travel the world.
We were walking down the hill from where our apartment stood and had managed to find ourselves alongside a motorway. We had wrapped our scarves around our mouths, in an attempt to hold back the pollution, though I wasn’t particularly convinced it was working. Nesh had informed me that the other path from our apartment was really very nice, but that you didn’t discover anything new by always walking the same road. I decided to believe him, though that didn’t stop the stray thought from entering my head: what am I doing here.
We were reaching the base of the hill where we spotted a group of tourists doing a tour. It looked strange seeming them there, gathered in a nondescript concrete car park, quietly listening to their guide as the noisey cars raced by. As I looked over, the guide lifted his hand to point to a red pagoda far off in the distance, surrounded by the lush green of dense forest. Thinking back, I am fairly sure that it was part of the tour provided by the Kiyomizu dera temple.
A little way along, we turned off the motorway and came across a temple. It was simple and wooden and I stopped thinking about how much I hate air pollution and started thinking about whether monks lived in the building alongside the temple or if they just spent their days there.
We moved on and came across some cute little shops at the base of a hill, one of which was selling mochi of the triangular variety. I was intrigued so we entered inside, where we found small little boxes offering tasters of these soft delights. Initially we both ummed and ahhed and spent a great deal of effort in contemplating the product after trying the taster. I went through all the different flavours making very thoughtful faces, much like one does when first tasting a glass of expensive red wine. I might have felt ashamed except the Japanese were exactly the same and I have always been told to act like the locals. When we left the store, we were both grinning like Cheshire cats. I think in another country the lady behind the counter might have rolled her eyes at our silliness, but we were in Japan, so she bowed and said goodbye.
The street was becoming more lively as we walked along; there were girls and boys dressed up in kimonos and more shops selling souvenirs and tasty snacks. With great purpose, we strode up the cobbled stoned road, up the hill, from sweet shop to treat shop, feasting on the tasters with less and less restraint each time. My heart filled with joy as my stomach filled with sugar.
We reached the top of the hill to find Kiyomizu dera, a Buddhist temple for the deity Kannon, who is said to save humans from difficulties and is sometimes asked to grant success in life and love. Inside the temple complex there is a pair of love stones placed 18 meters apart, which visitors can step between with their eyes closed. Supposedly the stones helps people find their true love, but I had no such need that day.
“To jump from the balcony of Kiyomizu” is an old saying in Japanese. It means to be courageous. But in the end I have found that travelling doesn’t really require courage. Just a little bit of curiosity and an open heart.