Kyoto, to be sure, is chock-full of shrines. We visited oodles of them in the few days that we were there, and each was memorable in its own way. One shrine was particularly noteworthy but before I start today’s story, I need to come out with a little secret:
I’m afraid of the dark.
Not “Oh, the demon spawn of Pennywise The Clown and Dracula are legion and also lurking in the shadows, must not leave the house after 5pm without my garlic pants” scared. More like “I cannot see my feet, ergo I will trip and fall into Pennywise’s wig and die” scared.
Hmm. Perhaps reading IT left a bigger impression on me than I had realized.
While I’m an extremely jumpy person and an easy target for cruel lurky friends, the disorientation of darkness is vastly worse. I like to know where I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and if possible, what the other options look like.
So, back to Kyoto. On our second full day we visited the Kiyomizu-Dera, a lovely if somewhat commercial shrine overlooking the vast hillside. Because we are nothing if not devoted to the backpacker stereotype, all our itinerary notes for the day came straight from the copy of Lonely Planet: Discover Japan that has entertained Maggie for many weeks now, and thus we noted their entry for the Tainai-Meguri portion of the shrine:
“By entering the hall you are figuratively entering the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu, a female Bodhisattva who has the power to grant any human wish.”
Well, hell, wish-granting for only 100 yen? Sign me up! We took turns waiting with the baby and I went first. I gave the nice lady my coin and walked in…and came to an abrupt halt as the lights immediately ended.
Entering the chamber, or symbolic womb, is dark and full of twists and turns which is totally unfair because it might have been ten years since human biology class, but I’m pretty sure exiting a real womb involves a straightaway. I put a hand up and felt fabric and a bit of resistance, so I waited until I realized that the resistance was not human but in fact a curtain over a wall. I was saddened to realize I was not behind a fellow resister, but held my breath and took a step out. It was okay! I did not die, there were no clowns in the darkness.
Moving down into the chamber took a really long time. At some point I put my left hand down by my side and realized there was a handy railing, so I ran my hand along that and leaned forward slightly so that my hand would lead.
The light of the chamber comes up rather abruptly, and it’s good form to wait until the person ahead of you has taken their turn. If you’re like me, you happen upon the chamber just as the last person has exited, and come face to face with a large, circular stone about the shape of a loaf of artisan bread in the center of a beam of light.
And it will be spinning. True, it is not moving of its own accord, it’s just the lingering force of the spin by the person ahead of you. But it is damn eerie. As is the custom, I paused for a moment, put my hand on the stone, and gave it a clockwise spin as I made my wish. And then I paused for a moment more to run my fingers along the stone and absorb some of the light before I made my way out again. Call me a crazy grasping agnostic, but there was definitely energy there. Maybe it was the projections of people making their way down to give the symbolic womb a twirl; maybe it was the Bodhisattva herself giving our wishes a little blast of cosmic energy. Whatever it was, it was really cool, more than a little unsettling, and I came out feeling weirdly euphoric and gushing “Do it! Do it!” to Tom.
So what did I wish? Sorry, I’m not going to tell you that.
But I will tell you that it came true. 🙂