Kakogawa, Japan: Taking the heat

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Kakogawa, Japan: Taking the heat

Wisdom is not -- perhaps fortunately - contagious. But of that triumvirate of desires alongside fame and wealth it might be the most valuable and so actually be worth working toward. At the end of the race it might be nice to go out thinking you actually knew a thing or two.

Miki-san did. And he also possessed that rarest of gifts, a sense of humour.

Head monk at the Kakurin-ji Temple in Kakogawa, about halfway between Hiroshima and Kyoto, is Miki-san who guides me gently through the private museum behind the main hall. His eyes glitter with mischief behind frameless glasses as he describes the ancient objects in display cabinets, and calligraphy which dates back many centuries.

We pause before some dark wooden printing blocks on which are carved writing. He indicates how they were to be used and then, with a wry smile says, about the time of Gutenberg I think.

We are looking at a primitive but effective printing press.

A Kakurin-ji Temple, Miki-san tells me, has been on this site for around 1000 years ago although he concedes with a knowing smile that the old buildings we see around us have been rebuilt and renovated so many times they might as well be called new.

But it is quiet here and so we can contemplate things much older than ourselves or the world we see.

And it is exceptionally silent in the temple grounds which are surrounded by suburban streets.

This is where Miki-san has made his life's work: he reads the old scrolls and interprets the fading wall paintings, now is teaching the younger students, and keeps one eye on the modern world which noisily batters at his walls.

Inside one of the rooms we kneel before an old scroll and he interprets the meaning for me. Unbeknownst to me the guy who has set up this meeting takes a photograph of Miki-san and I and he gives it to me a few days later. We look like two old men praying in the darkness.

Later Miki-san leads me outside and through the courtyard past the large temple bell (Korean style, he notes) set atop a two metre wooden tower. Then we are back into the welcome cool of another part of the temple. I am sweltering in my suit and mention the humidity. I say that he looks comfortable in his layers of robes, that they must be cooler than they look.

Ah, he says with a bemused smile, now you are understanding the world of illusion.

And he wipes his brow.

For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.

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