The well of wonders runs deep in this town. If you dropped a stone, I don’t think you’d ever hear it drop.
I’ve said almost as much about Kyoto on this blog as I have about Hunter X Hunter, but I just can’t stop. My feelings for the city are something like being in love, I think. You want to be with her every waking moment. You want to tell the world how wonderful she is. And whenever you think you must have seen everything she can do to amaze you, she surprises you.
The annual Higashiyama light-up festival called Hanatoro isn’t one of Kyoto’s oldest festivals, not by a long shot – it began only in 2003. But it holds a special place in my heart because the first time I visited the city was in March, and it was going on then. Besides which I think Japan’s beautiful places tend to be even more beautiful at night, and Kyoto is no exception. I had a wonderful time on that initial visit, simply wandering the lantern-lit streets of Higashiyama. But I didn’t pay to go inside Kodaiji, which opens its doors in the evening during Hanatoro, and I had no idea until now just what I’d deprived myself of.
Kodaiji is a very nice temple in its own right, established by Hideyoshi’s wife Nene (who remains a much-beloved figure in Japanese history) in 1606 to honor the memory of her late husband. But I had no idea what was in store for me as I was enjoying the opulent halls, bamboo forest, Zen gardens and art displays (I could have lived without the light show in the rock garden, but at least it was unique). Then I turned a corner and saw what I thought was a giant ravine, with a lit-up temple hall at the bottom. I was dumbstruck – there couldn’t possibly be a canyon that big in the middle of Higashiyama and I wouldn’t know about it. But there it was, staring me in the face.
Except it wasn’t. Turns out what I was seeing was a reflection in the pond of the trees and hall surrounding it. I exaggerate not a whit – this may well have been the most remarkable and beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I was speechless (which is rare), then babbling to myself about how impossible it was. I have never, ever seen water reflect like that – and I’ve been to Yosemite, the Alps (European and Japanese), Lake Louise in Alberta. The detail was perfect, the depth of field astonishing. It can’t possibly be that intense all the time, but this was an absolutely still night without a breath of wind – and the results were truly awe-inspiring.
I’m never more frustrated at the limitations of the cheap photo equipment (basically, point-and-shoot) I can afford than at moments like this. It’s never the same as being there, but so little of the power of the moment remains – especially at night, these cameras just aren’t up to the challenge. You’ll have to take my word for it, it was literally unbelievable – and if you’re ever in Kyoto while Kodaiji is having a light-up, just go. Seriously.