Vermilion wishes, Kyoto

TEMPLE2The sweet-scented dance of incense and purifying chimes of temple bells drew me into 2016, along with the belief that making a wish here would lead to happy endings.  It was winter – 2 January – but late autumn lingered, lining our temple visits with stunning red-bronze maple leaves, delicately beautiful like the wagashi or Japanese sweets. My favourite temple was the Fushimi Inari, dedicated to the Shinto god of rice (abundance). Maybe it was the presence of the fox in the forms of statues and ema (wooden wishing plaques), the thousands of bright vermilion torii gates illuminating a path through the mountain, or the meditative process of putting one foot in front of the other to climb the seemingly endless little steps to the summit. It was not a breezy hike so I was impressed by the many older temple goers, some with walking sticks, taking on that same journey with peaceful yet determined expressions. They were a part of my meditation. I didn’t reach the top, I stopped climbing when my thoughts became clear and sharp, and my restless heart found stillness – it will be a year of blessedness.

A thousand steps
watched by a thousand vermilion gates.  
Fragile offerings carried by crooked feet    
contested by large soot crows  
in uproar, up wintery Mount Inari
where wishes could perhaps be    
stitched into destiny.
I focus only on my first step.

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