Sunday, October 21, 2007

Matsushima Ah! Matsushima! [1]

Whilst I wasn't moved to Haiku [1], Matsushima, even on a cloudy day, has an undeniable beauty. More than 300 islands litter Matsushima bay like fallen leaves.

We arrived by boat, sailing from Hon Shiogama. Hon Shiogama is an industrial town, with a fairly busy port:

We soon left this behind though, as the ferry threaded its way through the islands:

Several of the islands can be reached by bridge. From here there are some striking views of the bay.

The autumn foliage is beginning to reflect the colours of the lacquerware bridge:

On the largest of the islands stands a small temple:

Hundreds of Daruma dolls have been placed in alcoves. These dolls represent Bodhidharma and are sold "eyeless". One makes a wish or pledges some action and colours in one of the eyes. Once the wish is accomplished or the action completed, the other eye is filled in. Each doll seemed to have both eyes, which is heartening:

At dusk we went to Date Tadamune's Tea house, the Kanren-tei, for o-matcha and some ceremonial bowing. The tea house was used by the Date clan as a place to view the bay from the 1600s. One of the rooms is walled with gold, lacquered screens (described here), and the other has a free standing screen made up of four paintings over gold leaf. I don't know what these are like on a bright day, but as the light falls, the rooms are lit by lamps and the effect is nothing short of magical. I have been reading Junichiro Tanazaki's essay "In Praise of Shadows", and he describes the effect beautifully:

"Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light... The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie... The thin, impalpable faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself."

(trans. Harper and Seidensticker)

No photograph could do that justice, I'm afraid, so I can't show you what I saw. But I sat there drinking in the rivers of light as best I could. I felt as though they peacefully illuminated me all the way home.

[1] See here

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