the snow is making me think of other quiet things.
in kyoto, this summer, at the height of the heat and the humidity, i was feeling sorry for myself and went walking in the forest on the grounds of the shinto shrine on the side of yoshidayama（吉田山). despite the image of cool light filtering through green leaves, there was no respite among the trails. there was a skunk- like animal asleep at the entrance to an especially interesting-looking path lined with red-painted torii gates. i wandered hazily off a ways down an unmarked, uncleared path before thinking better of it and turning back. on the return trip, i noticed a small sign, an arrow marked mo-an pointing into a wall of greenery in which a trained eye might detect the vestiges of trail.
about 30 metres of bushwhacking later, i emerged into a clearing containing a two- storey wooden house. a stair led up to the upper floor, a columnless room, air- conditioned and with enormous windows along the two sides. there were long tables facing the windows and sugi-wood barstools. everything was made of sugi, except the roofbeam, which was made of something else. there was no varnish, instead the silky feel of rubbed wood, like the handle of an old hammer.
it was a teahouse of the most obscurely expensive variety. for the privilege of a stunning view of kyoto city on the left and the massive word burned into the side of daimonjiyama on the right, i paid in tea and wagashi. keith jarrett's koln concertos were playing in the background, and chilled spring water was served in hand-blown, wafer-thin asymmetrical glasses made in kyushu that i coveted in the worst way possible. when the tea finally came, it came in the hands of a statuesque woman dressed in a pale grey linen shift that reminded me irresistibly of peter hoeg's description of elsa lubing in
ms smilla's feeling for snow. The tea bowl was twice-fired raku, a fact that did not become clear until i drained the last of the tea. this was when i saw that the second firing, done in a reducing kiln, had put a blue-green haze over the floor of the bowl where a japanese maple leaf had been laid. the wagashi was an exquisitely beautiful miniature persimmon, but ultimately forgettable, as all wagashi are.
(did you know that the wasanbon sugar from which the finest wagashi is made costs over $40 a pound? it is made by hand from a type of sugarcane endemic to shikoku, and tastes exactly like normal sugar with a bit of brown sugar in it.)
to my knowledge, there is about a snowflake's chance in hell that you will find mo-an without a map drawn by someone who has been there before, except by accident.* as i paid the astronomical bill which must have factored in a freehold on the land i stood upon, i picked up mo-an's card, the back of which featured a map bearing no resemblance whatever to the landscape.
later, back in my laughably small room in what used to be a samurai house for very short samurai, i reflected on this. my notes from the day show that i reached no conclusions worth recording, which sounds about right. japan was a very quiet place.
* - later, in tokyo, i discovered that corky had in fact recommended mo-an to me and even provided detailed walking directions from the shirakawa-dori main road.