Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, Orlando.
A warm rain swept across the rooftop in wind-driven sheets as I lay back and listened to the music of it. Late afternoon. Neil Halstead in the background singing “Oh! Mighty Engine.”
I thought of a summer gone now, when Ilyse and I lived in Kyoto for a few months. There’s something vast and innumerable about the rain that reminds me of the vermillion torii at the Fushimi-Inari shrine—where rows of brightly-painted gates create a pathway from the profane to the sacred, from the finite to the infinite.
Large foxes keep their vigil over the shrine, posted as sentinels on pedestals of rough stone. Their faces carry the centuries in their gaze, each a silent witness to the passage of the sun and moon over the curvature of the earth.
A long procession of men and women have worn the path between these torii. They leave tiny, painted torii and even smaller foxes dressed in kimonos and bearing messages inked in a deep black script. And as their numbers grow, they form ranks and files, phalanxes, regiments of foxes kneeling and standing with messages in their paws.
We took a short train ride to the town of Nara, west of Kyoto, to see the deer of Nara and to walk among them. The deer, gentle and inquisitive, resting on the clipped grass or nibbling from it, strangely reminded me of the rain, too. It was something about the herd, their numbers gathering under trees and down long stretches of parkland, by twos and threes and handfuls until the entire city seemed populated by denizens of hoof and horn, large brown eyes, ears attuned to the dying waves of conversations held generations and generations ago.
While passing Tokyo by rail, I considered the vast scale of the city skyline set in a panorama over the waters of Tokyo Bay. The sheer weight of steel girders and concrete and rebar were lightened by the liquid nature of glass, its ability to transport water and air and light itself while erasing the weight of all that exists behind its surface.
Distance offered its own instruction on perspective. As I viewed the buildings across the bay, I realized that they were as small as a diorama in my field of view. That is, just as the miniature foxes sat in rows and files under tiny vermillion gates at Fushimi-Inari, the buildings of Tokyo were small rectangles and boxes made of glass and steel, with each window blazing in light, and any messages that might be written there would have to wait for streetlight and neon, or the moon when the clouds break open before dawn.
There is something in this next image that speaks to all of these things at once.
The sacred and the mundane.
Beauty in its finite and infinite measure.