Monday, June 7, 2010

A really cool Temple and a really cool Shrine

It's not hard to get tired of seeing shrines in temples sometimes in Japan. I mean come on. Once you've seen so many of these majestic old buildings they do kind of blend together. So when my friend Ashley came to visit me with her friend Laura and they suggested two new religious edifices to visit, I wasn't entirely enthused.That just goes to show how little you can know about where you live. I look at Shimane as a place to live. Where can I buy edible food? Clothes that fit? How do I get my oil changed? Not that exciting.
But they looked at it as tourists, and found some really cool places to visit.

The first was 清水寺 Kiyomizu-dera , a temple in Yasugi City. (NOT to be confused with my formerly favorite temple in Kyoto, also called Kiyomizu-dera). What makes this temple special? Two things. One is that restaraunts surrounding Kiyomizu serve a special kind of food called 精進料理 shoujin-ryouri. It's a cuisine based on the dietary restricitions of strict Buddhist monks who actually eat a vegetarian diet. Although I had once learned about this food, I had long ago forgotten about it. So I was very pleasantly surprised by our delicious and healthy lunch.

"Is that tofu?" the culinarily inclined of you might ask. Well, not exactly. This is ごまどうふ or sesame seed tofu- the poster child of shoujin-ryouri. It's made out of ground sesame seeds and a root called kuzu. Grinding the seeds and the kuzu to such a fine paste takes a loooooong time, especially back in the days before food processors. So the job was given to low-level monks- boring work is good for character and meditation right? It was extremely sticky and had an interesting sesame flavor. It was tasty, but I'll stick to good ol' tofu tofu, thanks.
This dish was various kind of 煮物 nimono - foods cooked by boiling with light sugar. In the front is a mountain fern, with some seaweed behind it and a pumpkin to its right. That stuff on the left is tofu skin or yude, and there are two pieces of tofu prepared in two ways behind the pumpkin.This is called chawanmushi, as you may remember from the wedding post. It's an egg custard dish that usually has various kinds of vegetables and some meat. Well, of course being vegetarian cuisine this one had no meat (yay!) but it did have ginko nuts (yay!) which were an interesting surprise. Ginko nuts taste like an interesting mix between quail eggs and chickpeas.These clear noodles are called are made out of konnyaku root, also known as devil's tongue root. They magically have no calories, which is awesome. Unfortunately this means they also have no flavor, which is easily fixed with a dab of wasabi and some lemon as you can see. Phew!

It was a big meal with several courses, but very low calorie. I wish I could eat shoujin ryouri every day.

The other really cool thing about this temple was the pagoda. Now, in other countries a pagoda by itself is a place of worship. In Japan, they usually have a pagoda hanging around a temple just as kind of decoration, so I've never found them that interesting. But this pagoda you can climb. I would have laughed at you if you asked me to climb a pagoda in Japan. I thought it impossible. But we did it. The ladders were tiny, tight, dark, and death defying, but the view from the top was beautiful.

We also visited a sweet shrine, 八重垣神社 Yaegaki-jinja near Matsue. Remember the story of Yamata-no-Orochi, the eight headed serpent and the god Susanoo who slew him? (You better not forget it. It's not going away). Well, apparently after Susanoo slew Orochi, he and the gal he saved moved to Yaegaki. This shrine, erected where they were said to live, is dedicated to marriages and matchmaking. At this shrine you can take a piece of rice paper to a special pond known as the mirror pond. You lay the paper in the pond and put a ten yen coin on top. If the coin and paper sink within fifteen minutes, you will have a happy marriage. If not . . . well . . .
Luckily mine dropped in 8 minutes, so I'm safe. Ashley and Laura were safe too. (Actually, I can't imagine this taking longer than 15 minutes). Apparently there are also giant wooden phalluses on the grounds, but I forgot to look. Curses!!

I guess it just goes to show that you can't get complacent where you are- there are always new and interesting things to eat, explore, and do.


  1. Yeah my friend went to that temple. Her paper didn't sink after fifteen minutes and floated away. >_>;

  2. How fun! I love stuff like this: multi course meals and superstitions involving water and money. It gets me every time. Some of my money is in a pond that's inside a cave in Germany. Thanks for sharing!