Kyoto Anxiety

Last weekend we went to Kyoto. Now it’s only half an hour from us by Shinkansen (bullet train) but I’ve wanted to go for over 20 years and the husband had time off work AND it was the boy’s birthday so we made a long weekend of it. I was so excited that it turned into anxiety. 

When you suffer from an illness like depression it manifests in many ways. My main issue is anxiety. I worry so much about the smallest details that I have panic attacks. I forget to enjoy myself. I put huge pressure on myself. I can see it coming, like a huge wave of water that’s going to knock me down. Sometimes I can stand strong and let it wash around me. Sometimes I drown in the undertow. There is nothing I can do to fight it. I try. I’ve tried many things but sometimes I just can’t win. Other times I get knocked over by the wave but stand up and let the water wash around me, knowing full well it is full of toxic emotions but it’s around me, not flowing through me. Looking at it I feel stronger. Looking at it rather than drowning in it I start to win and I start to swim.

When we go away and I feel unwell due to one of my chronic illnesses it can bring on a depression and anxiety of its own. This is what happened last weekend. I went wanting to have the time of my life but, as my husband so rightly observed, I put too much pressure on myself to enjoy myself. I was also reminded by others how close we are to Kyoto and that I can easily go back. In fact my wonderful, supportive husband has said we should arrange a day when the kids are at school so he can do pickup and I go to Kyoto for the day. Specifically to Gion.

You see Gion is the ward where the Geisha inhabit and it is very famous for the Geisha houses of old. This ancient art form still exists here and is still practised even if it is on a smaller scale. This is one reason I wanted to go to Kyoto. I read ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ in my student days and instantly wanted to know more. (It’s a bit of a cliché but I don’t care.) I have since read many books featuring the Geisha world, both fact and fiction, and they fascinate me. These women who give up their families to totally dedicate themselves to the Geisha arts. They are, essentially, women of entertainment not the high-class prostitutes they have been made out to be. 

We started off at the very famous Kiyomizu Dera temple in Gion. No Geisha but it was a beautiful temple and huge. At this point I should tell you that I did a lot of wishing/praying to whatever gods wanted to listen to me. I wished and prayed for my anxiety to melt away, that we could all have a good time, that our family could see the love. My prayers were answered. )I feel I should look into the Buddhist and Shinto religions more carefully now.) I had moments of anxiety at the temple but they were fleeting. I had washed my hands (as traditional in these temples) before entering and I felt the stress wash off as my 3 year old daughter did the same. We entered the pitch-black corridor where you follow the Buddha beads (a hand-rail carved into bead shapes) all the way around twists and turns and finally reaching a dimly lit wishing stone. You touch the stone and are granted one wish. One wish per touch. It was a fabulous experience with my son holding tight to my top because it was that dark but he wasn’t scared. It was interesting to follow the beads blindly and surrender yourself to the darkness and trust to the beads. No picture of that as it wasn’t allowed due to the darkness needing to be absolute but you can see I took lots. 

We finished off our trip with flavoured shaved ice in an outdoor seating area that was a raised tatmi setup on a varenda overlooking the river that runs off the waterfall that founded the temple. I have to say this was a cleansing trip for me. After which we stumbled across a collection of street bars set up for summer so we stayed to sample some beers.

Another outing we all really enjoyed was our ninja experience at the Samurai and Ninja museum. I bought this mainly for our son as it was his birthday that week. We had a tour of the museum, dressed up as ninjas and threw rubber ninja stars and tried out blowpipes before dressing as samurai. It was all good fun and the history of both the ninja and samurai is fascinating. After this I bought my beautiful ‘happi coat’ and it genuinely does make happy although it’s original purpose was to show the crest of the family at festivals and was worn by servants. Mine is a little more showy than that. 

Also, we went to the Gion Matsuri. It’s a lovely festival that’s small compared to the one the week before. Read about it here. We saw the floats lit up and the contents of the float were put on display somewhere dry (it was really raining) and then found the eco-food stalls in a little square tucked away. They were eco due to all plastic being reusable and you returned it to a cleaning station. There was also entertainment here so we found somewhere not too muddy and settled for an hour or so.

Our last outing was the morning of our last day and by this time my brain had caught up with my heart. I was more relaxed and my husband had helped by letting me have the space and encouragement I needed to get over my own issues. The Fushimi-Inari Shrine was just beautiful and everything I expected and more. It’s famous for the tori or gates. They call the colour vermillion red but in truth it’s more a an orange. Still a wonderful, vibrant colour that is simply the byproduct of the paint they use to protect the wood. For every gate you pass through (and touch I think) it is said a wish can be granted. The shrine is on a mountain but we only went part of the way. It had a wonderful feeling about it this Shinto shrine. It’s massive and full of people yet feels so peaceful even then. I’d love to go back first thing in the morning and climb to the top of the mountain.

So there it is. The Kyoto anxiety melted away in the midst of this beautiful and magical city. The temples and shrines helped me find peace and the city encouraged me to return. I think I will do that....maybe September would be a good time.