October 1, 2012
Full moon, quiet night, a shrine illuminated by lanterns – it couldn’t make for a more picturesque setting. It was like stumbling into a movie.
How in the world did we find this place? We surely weren’t looking for it. After a rather full day of visiting some of the city’s premier tourist spots we leisurely cruised around on our bikes looking for one more adventure. Riding through the narrow streets of Gion, the city’s famed Geisha district, we quickly realized that this part of town goes to bed early. The streets that were bustling with tourists and shopkeepers just an hour ago were now eerily empty. It was only 7:00PM.
We started to turn back towards our hostel. Rounding a bend, we were greeted by a beautiful sight. Straight ahead, row upon row of paper lanterns shone just beyond a wooden gate, illuminating an otherwise dim street with the promise of something welcoming beyond. We took this for our cue, got off our bikes, and walked in.
There’s no real way to describe the feeling of visiting a Japanese shrine, especially when it’s beautifully lit up at night time… and especially during a full moon. The astounding light coming from the lanterns in the central pavilion seemed to echo the brightness of the moon. Looking up, we couldn’t help but admire how naturally she stole the spotlight. The universe felt a bit smaller, a bit more contained. This called for reflection.
Breaking out of the spell long enough to explore and take pictures, I suddenly realized how vast this compound was. Walking around, I found small paths that led to hidden nooks where Inari fox statues guarded smaller shrines. Past a corner, a hauntingly lit path stretched beyond view. It seemed as though every few steps a discovery was waiting to be made.
I left that night feeling whole. Like whatever gaps that were in my life were filled from the experience of being there that night. The most satisfying part was knowing it was all completely unplanned, that we were never looking for this place. It just found us.
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