Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ikegami Baien – Plum Viewing

“Would you like to …” – before our faithful leader (a.k.a. “bossy explorer”) can get the words out of her mouth she should already know my answer. If it’s outside the gates my response will automatically be “I’d love to.” And so, on a beautiful day with the smell of Spring in the air, four explorer’s headed off in search of beauty and inspiration in the form of Ume (Japanese plum blossoms).

I am of course familiar with the beautiful Japanese Cherry Trees. In celebration of our move to Japan, we planted a cherry tree in our front yard in Norfolk hoping it will keep a quiet vigil over our home until our return. But I was not familiar with Ume, the Plum Tree. Walking around Kamakura in early February a heady fragrance led me to a winter treat – when all else is bare, this tree blooms and gives us hope of Spring. Having teased me with the simple beauty of a bright pink five petaled flower I was then on a quest to find more places to see these harbingers of Spring.

Ikegami Baien
Ikegami Baien is located south of Tokyo and before World War II was on the edge of Tokyo Bay (after the war there was a movement towards land reclamation for factories and homes). The plum garden contains nearly 400 plum trees and before reaching the garden you could smell the fragrance wafting over the garden walls. There are two tea houses on the grounds and a wonderful area with what I will call Japanese water-chimes. With my fellow explorer’s off looking at blossoms, I stop to take a picture of a lovely area with water and bamboo – not realizing that as with many things here in Japan, all is not as it appears. A Japanese lady motions for me to come closer and holding a long bamboo tube to her ear she slowly pours some water from the bamboo ladle into what looks like at a quick glance to be a water drain. But this is no ordinary drain – when the water cascades down it hits something on it’s journey and causes a delightful sound, like the sound of wind chimes. Handing the bamboo tube to me, I give it a try and the delight it gave me must have been evident on my face – she laughed and moved on as I sat there like a little kid pouring the water down the minature sized well. I could have sat there for hours pouring the water and receiving the gift of water chimes. I will be on a quest now (add it to my ever expanding list) to find out how to create one of these in my garden when I return home. With a little bit of research I did find out that in a Japanese garden, water is a key element, the sight and sound of it is there to remind us of the passage of time.


The next stop on our adventure was to the compound of Daibo Hongyo-ji. This is where our adventure really began. As you may have noticed, I am entranced by the beauty of the Japanese architecture and the attention to detail I have seen at the temples and shrines. I was clicking away, zooming in on another architectural detail, when a Japanese Oba-san approached me (Oba-san is a name for grandmother), motioning me to follow her. I simply could not resist, she had a twinkle in her eye and even though she was quite a bit shorter than me I could barely keep up with her. At the entrance to a temple annex, I removed my shoes and followed her into a building … my three friends trailing along behind me. She guided me around to the back of the building and as I turned the corner I saw before me a lovely Japanese garden. There were chairs to sit in to relax and meditate. It was peaceful, serene and I could stayed there for much longer. My pictures do not nearly do this place justice.

After the garden Oba-san guided us up through a cemetery area and to the Honmon-ji temple. This is a major Buddhist temple, the original was built in the 13th century (all but a few of the buildings were destroyed by American bombs in April 1945). The stone stairway leading up to this temple was built at the beginning of the 17th century – there are 96 steps, inspired by a passage from the Lotus Sutra. The main hall is an impressive structure and guided by Oba-san we entered the main hall to the sounds of chanting, the smell of incense in the air and the deep resonant sound coming from a wooden bell.

Oba-san wanted to make sure we saw one more building that day and motioning for us to keep following her she led us to the five-story wooden tower which is a nationally-designated important treasure, was erected in 1607 and is the largest and oldest in the Kanto region. At the end of our visit to the five story tower, Oba-san bade us sayonara and walked away. I was touched – here a complete stranger had offered 4 Gaijin a gift of her time – even through the language barrier, she shared with us what clearly brings her joy. She seemed to delight in watching our expressions as we stopped to look and take photos of the temple grounds and buildings. I wish I had gotten her name, I wish I knew more than my pathetic dozen words of Japanese so I could have had a conversation with her. But Oba-san gave me a great gift that day, I left with a smile on my face and much joy in my heart. I hope she felt the same.

Till next time, sayonara.

Check out Kathy’s blog (“bossy explorer”) for her take on the day:

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, I had no idea that our oba-san who force-marched us through the cemetery was the same woman who pulled you toward the secret garden. Blondes really do have more fun.


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