A large Buddha with a shockingly red bib stands guard near the entrance of the Shōgen-ji Temple in Hakone. Cherry blossoms, wet from the day’s constant rain litter the grounds like delicate pink snowflakes. I carefully wend my way through them, seemingly conscious of stepping into one and destroying something beautiful. I looked up and saw the gnarly branches of the Sakura tree framing the gray white sky. It’s still raining in Japan.
Stone steps led my soggy shoes up a hill filled with silent grave markers inscribed in Japanese. We were in a hillside cemetery and fog was creeping down from the trees. The silence seemed more solemn as it reached the narrow pathways. There were no tombs here similar to the ones I’m used to seeing back in the Philippines, only small upright grave stones. The Japanese cremate their dead.
Walking further, I met icons stained by time. Miniature stone Buddhas now habituated by soft moss, sitting cross-legged and eyes closed; oblivious to the world outside this quiet place. Distinctly Japanese sculptures litter the graves, pagoda-shaped stone lamps, wooden paddles burned with Kanji characters. And vased flowers; lots and lots of them. Love and remembrances offered to the dead from the living.
The wind whispered and more cherry blossoms fell. Slowly to ground they said their silent velvet prayers and breathed final breaths. I walked on. Climbing and descending through narrow stone stairs, the rain soaking me further every time the clock ticks it minute hands.
I passed one companion and she offered me an umbrella. I smiled, shook my head and said a small thank you. I never minded the rain. I love walking, and I love walking in the rain. It clears my head, cleanses my thoughts.
Cold and dripping, I walked up into the elevated dry wooden floor of the Shōgen-ji Temple. Its geometric lines and clean white walls in stark contrast to the verdant garden reflecting on its glass windows. Warmth.
From afar, I saw a woman. Clad in a purple kimono, playfully twirling her intricate sakura-laden umbrella. And finally reality jarred me from my reverie. For a moment there, I almost forgot that this was a photo trip. That we have a model with us. That this was all sponsored. That it was all commercial and impersonal.
But for a brief span of time, I felt Japan as it should be felt. Not as a tourist. Not as a traveler. Not as a photographer. But merely as an observer. A spectator with nothing to take and nothing to gain.
Address: 5 6 2 Yumoto Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Contact Number: (81) 460-85-5638
Open Hours: 9:00AM - 4:00PM
GPS Coordinates: 35.228503,139.099984
View Locations on Google Maps: Click Here