Tag Archives: #travel

X is for Xenophile


by Lillian Csernica on April 28, 2022

“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples.  Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind.  If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera.  This was the number one item on my bucket list.  Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.

I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them.  This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories.  My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera.  If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

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 The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls.  Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva.  There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera.  Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there.  People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms.  When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.

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The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves.  Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.

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Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop.  Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards.  The Stage contains not a single nail.  Wooden pegs were used instead.

In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.  The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time.  Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire.  Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!

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This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction.  I stood at the corner on the center left.

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There are several shrines on the temple grounds.  This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth.  I love those fox figurines.  Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.

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Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking.  The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai.  Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money.  The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition.  The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers.  A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine.  The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.

Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree.  Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it.  We didn’t understand that at the time.  Now we do!

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The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people.  I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji.  Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world.  Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them.  Still not sure what that was all about.

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Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings.  On the far right, wisdom.  In the center, long life.  On the left, success in scholarship.  I meant to drink from the water of longevity.  Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead.  I suspect that’s probably what I really need!

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Soon it was time to head back down the mountain.  This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.

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I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning.  Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list.    If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka.  We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick.  Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa.  I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.

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T is for Travel


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2022

When I was eighteen, my father sent me to spend the summer in Holland with the family of the exchange student who had been my Physics lab partner during my senior year of high school. Thanks to my Eurail Pass, I traveled all over Holland, including the amazing city of Amsterdam. With the help of my Dutch parents, I also made arrangements to take a weekend bus trip all the way to Paris. When they took me to the bus station, my Dutch parents were careful to explain to the driver that I didn’t speak the language. Fortunately, the driver spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, just after my Dutch parents left, the English-speaking driver told me his shift was over. His replacement was a cheerful little man named Ott. Ott’s English wasn’t just broken, it was smashed.

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The bus soon filled up with the other passengers, mostly older folks with a few couples, and two girls about my age. Ott had me sit in the tour guide’s seat, the one right across the aisle from him. I felt like a bug plastered up against the big front windows. I did have an excellent view as we drove across Holland, passed through part of Belgium, and entered France. While I was in Paris I saw many of the highlights, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Monmarte. I ran into a bit of trouble on my way into one of the museums. I had already paid the fee to enter the museum, but the tour guide made a fuss about how I still needed to pay it. At that point we had a French woman tour guide who made it plain she did not care for me, purely because I was American. The Dutch ladies on the bus weren’t having any of that. They told me to give my age as seventeen because only people eighteen and over had to pay the fee. Then they rallied round me quite literally as they escorted me into the museum. The tour guide didn’t cause me any more trouble.

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On Sunday we were allowed two hours to go shopping. My shopping list was very simple. In addition to a few items for my friends and family, I wanted to buy my mother a gold Eiffel Tower charm. It took me some time to locate the jewelry department, with many “Parlez-vous Anglais?” along the way. Most of the staff were polite enough about saying they did not speak English. Then I found the jewelry department and the arrogant Catherine Deneuve-wannabe in charge. It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. I gave the situation some thought, then returned to the attack with new strategy. Just as the saleswoman prepared to dismiss me again, I held up my traveler’s checks, fanned them out, and said, “Parlez-vous American Express?” The saleswoman vanished, replaced by Raoul, who spoke perfect British English. He was quite happy to bring out the case that held the Eiffel Tower charms in a staggering range of sizes. I chose the one I wanted, changed my traveler’s checks for francs, and left that department. Mission accomplished.

By a strange coincidence there was another American girl on the tour bus. She was visiting her Dutch grandmother, who had brought both the American girl and her teenage Dutch cousin along for a wonderful weekend in Paris. When I crossed paths with them in the department store, it was clear to me the girls were dying to run off by themselves. The grandmother looked rather tired. Since my shopping was complete, I invited the grandmother to join me in the restaurant on the top floor of the store. The girls could go do as they liked, then we’d all meet back at the bus at the appointed time. Everybody was happy. The grandmother looked relieved to sit down for a while. While she drank her coffee and I had a bite to eat, she told me all about her family and showed me photos. Later, she was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and mailed it to me where I lived with my Dutch family. That photo was the gift I wanted to give to my father.

I keep that photo in my office. Every time I look at it, I remember the kindness of those wonderful Dutch people and my many adventures in the City of Lights, all thanks to my father.

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