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  • Writer's pictureYoko Nogami

On Walking Up

I avoided Gatlinburg during my hike. The climb up to La Conte with Randy the summer before, planted the seed towards my AT hike but the “Orlando of Tennessee” was a place I did not need to hike down to resupply. When I reached there, I instead went down to Cherokee.

Kyoto is potentially one of my most favorite places on earth. The undoubtedly historical, origin of Japanese artistic sensibility, oozes from the land, its people, religions and architecture. Arashi Yama, in its beauty with the lush mountain and wide river that reminds me of the French Broad, has, however, become a little bit like Gatlinburg. Actually, many of the quaint and what used to be old towns and neighborhood in Kyoto is starting to have that Orlando/Gatlinburg flare that saddens me. But like La Conte, I figured, if I go higher and steeper, I will have less Mickey Mousers with me, as the pretty kimonites would have a hard time huffing up those pilgrimage paths in their sashes and little slippers. So I went to the quieter side of the river, passed the shrine that has the ever so popular Monkey Park, followed a less than appealing handmade sign to a temple which was supposed to be about 18 minutes away.

Dilly dallying, walking up the river which now is deeper and narrower with steep valley of rocks and trees and forest on either side, I hear three gongs of an unmistakable deep and nostalgic sound of the temple bell. The river has multiple rental long boats with three strong men, one steering in the back, one rowing a single giant paddle and one in the front tip with a big stick, checking the depth and launching the boat full of tourists, forward. I walk by the rocky banks and up a narrow trail which starts its steep ascent to the temple. More signs of confusing hand written spiritual quotes, mixed with the numerous “¥400 to see this temple”, over and over again. The climb is tough. In the middle there is a big box full of bamboo walking sticks, along with a small hut for people to rest. I think of the cemetery trail I frequented in Jeremiah KY, with a outdoor cemetery chapel, which I assumed was for funerals. At the top, a hermit like monk sits right above the big bell tower, the bell which I heard earlier below. The scribble hand written sign says, “three gongs per person”. I dare not gong. I give my ¥500 coin to the monk, no change needed. There is a small hut stuffed with deities. Super dusty but eccentric and obviously loved. I hear bamboo water fountain making clicking sounds. Everything is a little bit dusty, moldy and unkept but you can tell it’s not neglect. It seems to me that this is the reasoning of the repeated ¥400 reminders. There is a larger perched hut beckoning visitors to see the view off the tiny balcony. The monk points to it and says that the view is up there. I wanted to tell him that I like views but that is not why I chose this temple and I simply wanted to walk up and away from Gatlinburg down there. But I don’t, because it is pretty apparent that anyone who makes it up this far would have some reason besides typical tourist incentives. The temple is worn out, you can tell from the approaching signs and obvious strenuous climb to get there. The perch hut is spread with low tables and seat cushions on tatami mats as if there will be a class. The tables are tightly topped with stacks of printed paper, weighted with rocks and paperweights so they do not fly away. The view is indeed spectacular. It reminded me of the fire towers on the AT, I can look over the river valley into the spread of Kyoto. This place must look gorgeous in the fall. Gentle breeze on a warm early spring day is today. There is a woman sitting looking over the view. She was there in a trance when I got there and still sat there as I left. The papers on the table were printed, assuming, by the single monk that took my entrance fee and is busy folding more printed paper on a bench outside. The paper is not only printed by him but most of them written by him. The handwriting is the same as the sloppy signs below that lead me here. The contents are some nitty gritty good parts of Buddhism. Nectar and essence of what and how peace is brought unto you and reminders that basically say, just be nice. So easy to say, "yeah, I will". But ultimately reminded that it really is hard to just be nice. I reason that I bet if I wrote all these out like the monk and made bazillion copies, it will permeate my psyche and I can’t help but be nice. And I might also become nicer indeed, living on top of a mountain looking down at Gatlinburg, far-away from the hustle and bustle of souvenir selling and buying down, down, waaaay down below. #tokotokojapan

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