After a dinner of unagi-don in an upstairs room of an old-style restaurant in an alley of Kyoto, we took to the city subway and found ourselves in a corner of town that I had not made myself familiar with. Despite the fact I had only been there a little over 3 months, I had made myself fully conscious of my Kyoto surrounds, just from walking around randomly on weekends after architecture class field trips, straying from the Keihan main line to unfamiliar trains, and trying to constantly relocate myself on inaccurate gray guidebook maps. All the while listening to the soundtrack of a favorite film on my little pink ipod that was already 4 years obsolete.
Our seemingly incongruous group of American, Englishwoman, and four Japanese wandered up and out of the station’s stairway to street level. It was already that dark part of evening, but not the darkest, like it would be when we left the temple. We walked by the Nanzen-ji gate, which stood amorphous in the black evening; its own dark-colored wood and tiles disappearing into the night.
The line to enter Nanzen-ji was out the door! There were lights illuminating whatever it was that is inside temple walls and patient people waiting in droves outside. Our group walked up the hill and through temple ground under moonlight and severe lack of streetlights. Otoo-san was making silly noises to get a rise out of us, and succeeded in making Okaa-san squeal in surprise. A-chan and her boyfriend were quiet and I wondered what it was they saw in each other, if they were having sex, and was it the fact that they were able to act so cool around each other in public a contributing factor to their successful young relationship?
We wove through cramped neighborhoods and past buildings that were said to be private high schools. The young woman from Liverpool and I were just being our silly selves, speaking in native, more comfortable tongues, following my ryoshin in the darkened cobblestone streets of Kyoto past sweet-potato salesmen toward the Eikan-do.
The Eikan-do was on fire with trillions of autumn leaves all lit by halogen floodlights beneath in order to be appreciated by a society who has a tendency to light things up at night in order to experience other-worldy late evening beauty. Red, white, orange, yellow, brown, gold, ochre tones glowing off of statues of deities and pathways. I couldn’t help it. I lost myself in the crowd. My family and friend lost me in the crowd. Well, despite whoever lost whom, I was separated from the group. I heard the babbling of holy water. I didn’t wash my hands! I heard babbling in shortened monosyllabic voices, who were nonetheless happy to be where they were.
My keitai was ringing! It was Otoo-san!
“La-la where are you?! Don’t move! I will come and find you!”
Upon closer inspection, Okaa-san had called me too. We reunited with smiles and arms on shoulders leading me down steps, when suddenly and quite abruptly; in the middle of the pond an unearthly sound began to resonate.
It wasn’t coming from the water but above it on a Monet waterlillies-style bridge. Otoo-san took the back of my head and pointed it toward the black of the pond and the bright white light reflection of musicians in green, orange and blue sitting on the bridge in the pond. The bridge looked as if it stood independent of everything in the middle of the temple lake. With no edges at all reaching toward highly manicured shores. I had to get closer. I had to. I had to see this close. I had to look into their eyes. I had to see what it was they were breathing and buzzing into to make these dissonant high-pitched notes built on an unknown scale, played in an unknown clef. I pushed and excused myself through crowds of video cameras and others trying to record this blessing of song in order to save for posterity and watch later in the comfort of home. I wanted to watch it now and remember what it sounded like forever, recorded, mixed with appropriate treble, bass, pans and fades inside my memory. I was down the stairs and at the edge of the pond crouching on the dry dirt ground next to some landscaping. I could not have ever touched the musicians, gazing at their sweetly vibrating vertical pan flutes and impenetrable Heian style robes paired with modern day eyeglasses. It was gorgeous. My knees were well in the dirt, and others had crouched next to me in order to get a good shot at them with their cameras. At least I wasn’t making a scene of myself down there on the ground.