24 geishas on the way to the supermarket

Fire ceremony - Ekoin monastery.
Fire ceremony – Ekoin monastery.

The geishas come later; you’ll have to wait. First comes the fire.

A Buddhist prayer ceremony at 6:30am after you’ve spent the night in the Monastery is always going to be pretty amazing. Most of the ceremony consisted of a long plainsong chant between two novices, punctuated with gongs and cymbals. Part of the way through we were invited to add incense to a burner, which was strangely moving not in a religious way, but because the whole ceremony had been performed daily for centuries if not millennia.

Immediately following the prayer ceremony we went to the fire ceremony. This ceremony is unique to this particular branch of Buddhism. A monk carefully and with much ceremony builds a fire to the background of deep, thrumming drumming that has your chest resonating to every beat. As the flames rise, small planks with prayers written upon them are added to the fire. The monk adds some oils and the flames leap for the ceiling, all accompanied by the thrumming drumming. Quite an amazing experience, and made all the more real by the fact the monk had a cold and kept sneezing.

Kimono Gion district of Kyoto.
Kimono Gion district of Kyoto.

After a Vegan breakfast we spent a couple of hours wandering around Kyosan and then caught a series of trains back to Osaka on onwards to Kyoto. There, we navigated our way to our home for the next few days. We have a small house in the Goin district of Kyoto. Walking there the distinctive feature was that every single intersection had a couple of men in uniform directing the pedestrian and vehicle traffic – still not sure why. Our house is tiny, although large by local standards and in a very historical district of Kyoto. The district was known in times past as the place where geishas lived and even today modern geishas centre on this area.

After settling in to our new home we set out to visit the local supermarket for supplies to make a home-cooked meal. The streets were full of women in kimonos walking to work, to the shops, to the hairdresser. In another place it might look artificial or silly, but here amongst the small wooden houses and in a country which so obviously reveres its history it actually seems completely normal. We counted 24 on the way to the supermarket.

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