Friday 18 October 2019

Gareth Morgan in Japan: 'A Japanese symbol is simply translated "good" - what's more, it's written in green'

The fortunes are “good” and green at Sanjusangen-do Temple in Kyoto
The fortunes are “good” and green at Sanjusangen-do Temple in Kyoto

Gareth Morgan in Kyoto

While the first weekend of the Rugby World Cup provided us with some top class contests, the midweek fodder presents fixtures that on the face of it, only William Webb Ellis’s mother could love.

Unfashionable teams like Russia and Namibia slugging it out unfortunately lack iconic stars or global appeal.

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Fiji against Uruguay was a mini classic but it didn’t make a dent in the national consciousness here.

It seems it is time to put the tournament at the backs of our minds for a few days, just as the organisers seem to have done, when they crammed the sexy matches into the first weekend then scheduled a rake of midweek games involving the minnows.

Meeting the locals at Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine in Kyoyo, Japan.
Meeting the locals at Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine in Kyoyo, Japan.

Speaking of cramming, Kyoto offers a break from the rugby and the chance to swot up on 12 centuries of Japanese history, culture and religion.

If Tokyo is a temple to commerce, then Kyoto is a shrine to serenity.

Not a place I’d had much time to read up on in advance, with the focus mainly on researching important stuff like, you know, who was going to wear the number 15 jersey against Scotland and where to buy cheap beer in Tokyo.

My ignorance obviously shows, because I’ve not heard much shouting in Japan, but since arriving here I’ve been lambasted three times.

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All for not taking my shoes off with sufficient speed - in temples, fair enough, but also ryoken, restaurants, and anywhere else you might risk treading dirt into the carpet. Even though they don’t have carpets. It really is a huge issue here.

Although after a day traipsing the streets in 30c heat my socks are soaked with sweat and probably developing a musk more offensive than any cultural faux pas... they’ll soon be shouting at me to put my shoes back on.

Wandering Kyoto’s beautiful temples and shrines is like stepping into a Japanese-themed Alice in Wonderand with demons, dragons and gods depicted at every turn, plus meandering pathways, surreal garden designs and - for me at least - incomprehensible signage.

Kimonos are in abundance, replica rugby shirts less so. There's a broad appreciation of the tournament and the Irish team though, or maybe that’s just because the Japanese girl selling me the replica kimono was originally from Lucan.

The entrance to the Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine in Kyoto
The entrance to the Fushimi-inari taisha Shrine in Kyoto

Some of the shrines are fairly touristy - more Temple Bar than temple - but others are breathtaking in their beauty and serenity. Also I was keen to hoover up souvenirs so now my suitcase resembles a mini arsenal of samurai swords and ninja weapons (they’re actually bottle openers, combs, key rings and the like in disguise... I am sure the customs officials are used to it... I hope they are).

At Kiyomizu-dera Temple there are charms to purchase for every possible eventuality: "business accomplishment", "passing examination”, "safe travel”, "victory", "for against disaster", "for easy delivery" and "for conception".

They’re at least 500 yen (four euro) each but.. come to think of it, we will need all of those to get us through this World Cup. Maybe not the last one. But better safe than sorry.

Anxious to save the Irish Independent expenses budget from a disaster of its own, I instead head to Sanjusangen-do Temple and spend just 100 yen on a random “written oracle”. It’s a bit like a lucky dip where you’re putting your entire future in the hands of a small bit of paper drawn from a basket.

Mine is drawn and I hold my breath as I tear open the tiny envelope. The die is cast. A Japanese symbol is simply translated: "good", it says.

What’s more - it’s written in green.

The gods have spoken.

PS: Update, 5pm. That’s seven times now I’ve been reprimanded for not taking off my shoes.

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