As the saying goes: it never rains but it pours. Never had the truth of the statement struck me as keenly as the dismal slog between Kitano-Temangu and Kinkaku-ji.
I’m quite sure a Heian poet would have beautifully detailed the way droplets rolled over the delicate plum blossom petals, romantically captured the hazy grey mist darkening the gnarled bark, somehow conjured up the resolute nature of these precursors of spring – the forgotten predecessors of the more popular cherries. Undoubtedly, there would have been some underlying moral message about endurance or… something, something noble.
But my shallow, physical self was only fixated on the freezing clammy grip I had on my failing umbrella. I lost an inch or two of height as I hunkered my head down vulture style. Everywhere tourists defied reality, banishing grimaces and hurling off ugly cheap ponchos – posing, posturing, pretending for holiday photos. I refused not only in disgust at the sheer vanity but also because I think it might have been physically impossible to prise the umbrella from my hand.
As the standard unconscientious mob of selfie-takers surged and pushed thoughtlessly ahead, a bubble of space opened up ahead of me and I was able to take in the famed Golden Pavilion. Firstly, I was quick to note that this wasn’t the Golden Pavilion – it is in fact a replica made in the 50s. (remarkably common for Japan, in small print you’ll see most historical sites have the grand age of 40 or so years…). Secondly, it was yellow.
An astute reader will gauge I was at my limit. My long-suffering partner seemed to have noticed I was too. He put an arm around my shoulders, gave me a gentle squeeze of reassurance.
‘It’s yellow’ – I declared. Although this was perfectly obvious. Yellow, yellow, yellow. It was raining, it was cold, and this gold was definitely a yellow.
He pursed his lips for a moment, or maybe I’m remembering it wrong and he said that actually he thought it did look gold and impressive. But my thoughts were already lurching on. Not only was it raining and cold and yellow but there were these vain idiots milling around, obsessed and blinded by creating their own self-centered self-propaganda, but in fact I was worse for being bitter. And not only bitter, but ugly and small-minded and with no future plans and no money and…
I either blacked out in my monologue of misery or instead the shroud of it became so dense that I simply became numb to anything but the endless negative listing.
I blinked and we were sat in a tea house, our shoes were off and forming neat little puddles by the sliding doors. A gas heater crackled pleasantly, casting a synthetic orange tinge. A kimono’d attendant pressed a hot matcha into my hand and motioned that I should eat the sweet wagashi before drinking. Kinkaku-ji was still in view across the lake, impassive.
‘Things always seem worse when you’re cold and hungry’ he ventured, blowing off the steam from the matcha and defying orders by taking a sip – sweet untouched.
I nodded. I had to concede I embodied a Snickers advert. As I gripped the cup, my blue tinged finger nails began to fade back to the palest of pinks – probably that of the predictable sakura, not the admirable stark hue of the plum.