Kyoto’s Ancestors Are Watching; Deities In Commerce

Riding a bike in Japan…I don’t think I rented a bike my last three times here, so this is something I haven’t done in ten years. And that was Osaka; it seems to be even more every man and woman for themselves here in Kyoto. But there is something nostalgic about it.

Checked out of my hotel in Takayama this morning, but left my bags for about two hours to do a quick version of the Higashiyama walking course, a quick tour of several temples and shrines to get photos. (I’m taking this trip as an opportunity to further my self-education in photography. I’ve got my DSLR with me and hope to get some shots worth a show somewhere.) Happened on a ceremony at one of the shrines — Boys’ Day, I think. I wasn’t sure if it was okay to take photos, so I made a big production out of adjusting my camera and looking through the viewfinder for a minute before clicking any; no one gave me the hairy eyeball or tried to step out of frame, so I think I didn’t desecrate anything.


Just caught the 12:33 train and made the best possible connection in Nagoya, to make it to Kyoto with a few hours of sunlight left. Checked in, rented a bike, rode a few miles to a different Higashiyama area (it just means “East Mountain”, so it’s an overloaded identifier), and got some photos around Kiyomizu Dera. I was on the western side of the mountain as the sun was going down, so it made for interesting light, though I won’t really be able to see what I got in these photos beyond the preview JPEGs until I get home to a PC and pull up the raw images. (I’m traveling with just a tablet.)

IMGP5925My route up the hill happened to take my through one of Kyoto’s oldest cemeteries. It was as if the ancestral spirits were watching out over the city. I don’t have the planners handy to ask them, of course, but I would guess that’s a deliberate ritual placement.

And then I found a tiny vegan cafe, “Veggie Cafe”, about a 15 minute ride mile north of my hotel. Have the place to myself as American/British music plays. (Don’t know what to call this genre…as I write that, the station identifies as CDNX, which a little Gooogle-fu bills itself as Indie Alternative.) The Japanese owner is friendly but quiet.

I’ve worked up an appetite today for sure, several miles of walking and biking. A little bit of FOMO here perhaps — only a few days in Japan! Must see all the things! On the other hand, that’s motivating. A balance between rest and action is needed. While yesterday and today have been full of physical effort, they have been restful to the mind.

* * *

The meal was great! Though the impromptu bike tour of Kyoto required a second change of clothes for me to feel clean. Now I’ve found a somewhat generic British-style pub, “Hub” . I think it’s a chain, if I recall correctly I had a few drinks in one in Osaka. But it’s walking distance from my hotel and a perfectly adequate as a place to sit in a corner and write a bit and watch the people.

From the next table, I’m hearing a way of speaking English that I hadn’t thought about in a while. It’s a little bit simplified and slow and with exaggerated emotional expression, so that the Japanese folks (or other non-native speakers) at the table have a better chance of following what’s being said. I’ve used that dialect before myself. Another one of those disused neurological circuits.

This bar is still a temple of Dionysus – even in a strange language with people who’ve never heard of Dionysus. How’s that for a theological stumper? If you have a deity who presides over some aspect of life, and the tribe over the hill has a different deity for the same aspect, do you say “Ok, they’re different aspects of the same thing,” or do you say “The tribe over the hill worships false demons! When it comes to that aspect of life, they are Doing It Wrong!”?

I mentioned yesterday that I would not be surprised to see Western deities enter the Japanese pantheon. I forgot that there is already an example — in terms of iconography Fujin, the wind god, is basically Boreas, the Greek deity of the north wind, brought along the silk road long ago. And on my bike ride I passed a truck with “Artemis” and a picture of the goddess on the side — probably a brand name, but the gods can enter a culture through commerce as well as through any other means. Heck, Yebesu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods I mentioned yesterday, has a huge brewery named after him. Maybe we could use a little more of the gods in commerce.

Must commerce be debasing, or can we have a more sacred approach to the exchange of goods and services? I think sometimes of an Osaka businessman I once had a drink with. When I mentioned Osaka’s cultural hustle, it’s willingness to do business, his eyes lit up. “Yes! Let’s do business! Make everybody happy!” He was an industrial carpet salesman who was interested in making everyone happy through his business dealings. Right livelihood and all that.

A few years before his death, I chatted with big name Pagan Issac Bonewitz at Starwood. He was decrying the poverty mindset amongst so many Pagans, that prosperity was somehow inherently wrong. Maybe we can invite the gods into that exchange of energy we call “commerce” and find a way to do it right.

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