On a Friday past midnight, as I lie in my bed and you, presumably, in yours, I come close to asking: “Can I sleep next to you tonight?”

I want to have the words come out in orderly fashion, like items after a colon. But they don’t, and I make small talk of deadlines and shopping lists instead.

How do I describe that feeling? Like seagulls spiralling as a storm approaches, unsure of where to land. Or like moths wavering by the flame, trying to hold distance from that which will ruin them.

In the temple, a guided pathway wraps around the complex where the head priest once slept. One looks outward at the raked rock garden that girds its sides, or inward at the tree that sprouts through its center.

I doubt anyone ever pays much attention to walkways, but today I do. While everyone is smiling placidly at the neat rows of white rocks, I am thinking, Here is a tree, around which you can walk but which you cannot approach. Here is a garden, its trails forever just beyond the reaches of your feet. Around and around the pathway in a never-ending loop.

I wish I didn’t have to circle ceaselessly to tell you how I feel. But cowardice does not allow me to be so direct.


Originally founded in the year 888, Ninna-ji is the main temple of the Omuro School of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. While magnificent, the temple is less frequented by visitors than Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji, which sit farther down the road; use it as a welcome respite from the crowds. Notable features include a five-story pagoda, an orange bell tower, and a cluster of cherry trees that blossom in April, but the goten (residential complex) in the southwest corner is most interesting. Those seeking a more immersive experience can arrange an overnight stay.

33 Omuroouchi, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto
Mon-Sun: 09:00-17:00 (March to November); 09:00-16:30 (December to February)
075 461 1155
Free; goten: 500 JPY

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