As it is a Monday, the Genji Museum is closed. I try not to mind as I couldn’t choose a different day and it’s a worthy reason to return some other time. But after a false start—I got off at the wrong station and tramped around in the rain for half an hour or more before figuring it out—and oppressed by the sodden air, I am overheated and cranky.
Expecting to need it, I left the chilly Kyotamba mountain area wearing full ski underwear beneath my multiple layers of clothing. I partially solve the problem by purchasing a tote bag and stuffing my jacket, down vest and scarf inside. However, a turtle neck sweater over the ski-wear is still much too warm even though it is late November.
I have chosen to visit Uji because of the Uji chapters in The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, the name given to the unknown author of what is often described as the first novel.
Statue of Murasaki Shikibu and the Uji Bridge
The Uji chapters are gloomy narratives, bridge chapters, allusions to and symbols of disparities of place and time and mood states—wanting to leave this world but obliged by no choice of one’s own (other than a strong distaste for suicide) to remain in it.
My darkening disposition fits as the word uji refers not only to the city and river but can also mean melancholy. Today the whole place—dark skies, moody river and cloying humidity—exudes that vibe. Not only that, I’m peckish.
Mercifully, an elegant lunch in a restaurant overlooking the sullen Uji River and its namesake bridge does much to mitigate my mood.
The moody Uji River
Travel rule number 2: Feed a funk. Any snit always improves with food. (What is rule number 1? Travel light. One carry-on suitcase. No more.)
Travel can be wearing in that respect. Travelling alone means that I must manage my own state of mind without the buoyancy a companion might provide. On the plus side, I don’t have to suffer any idiotsyncracies or foul states but my own.
Belly full, unsolicited language lesson and false start forgotten, Byōdō-in is an oasis of serenity even though every path is a torrent of umbrellas. I wait long intervals to compose photos between people restlessly streaming past.
After making my way along pathways, through passages, hallways and up stairways that somehow underscore the essence of illusion, I choose not to queue in the rain for the next guided tour to see the Amida Buddha in the central hall.
In spite of everything (or perhaps because of it) I sense the Buddha in all that is—even in the mire of this often irritating temporal world. There is no need to gaze on a statue or need to leave this world to find transcendence. I contain it.