There are no cherry blossoms at this time of year, but the late morning is a pleasant 10 degrees Celsius, and the garden is large and green and lovely. There is a meditation room with tatami mats and a small shrine, so we slip off our shoes and sit a while listening to the birds singing the dharma and the distant hum of traffic, my brain floating off in all directions with the giddiness of the time-change and the dislocation of being in this beautiful and unfamiliar place.
When we continue down the path we come to a small shrine. Peering through the glass we see her: Amida Buddha rests in her crown, a vial containing her tears clutched to her heart with her left hand, and her right hand open in her lap to accept our offering.
We have come upon Kannon, the goddess of compassion, by chance in this sakura garden in Tokyo. Last night Ranjini reminded me that she was to be an important part of our trip. We were to visit some of 33 temples dedicated to her on a pilgrimage that would lead us all over Tokyo. Ranjini had a book to guide us.
I agreed. It sounded like a fun way to explore the city. We’d see how many we could do in our week in Tokyo.
After our walk through the garden, we go for a brunch of noodles and when we finish I think we should go back to the Hotel to check on our luggage. When we do, the jetlag hits me and I lie down for a rest. By the time I realize Ranjini isn’t pleased it’s too late. She’d hoped we might visit the first temple on our pilgrimage.
I promise we’ll do one tomorrow.
In the morning we go down to the lobby and in the sunlight I see the gardens. We sit in the meditation room, and walk until we see her: Kannon. She is in a miniature temple of white walls with red trimmings, green window shutters and silver-gray shingle roof. The sun reflects off the glass, and to see her I have to shield my eyes and press my face to the glass. This is the eleven-headed Kannon, rare in China but more common in Japan.
After lunch, we head to our new room. I use the hot water dispenser and make roasted green tea. At 4 p.m., the gong in the sakura garden sounds. Ten chimes.
Listen to the sound of the bell. It is the voice of the Buddha, inviting us to go home to ourselves.
The sign says that the bell has been rung once each day since April 1, 2009 at the occasion of our hotel’s 55th anniversary: March through October the bell is rung at 5 pm and from November through February at 4 pm.
4:30 pm and it is already dusk. I climb the stone steps that lead me to Kannon. Once there, I see that the shrine is lit up. She is so beautiful and my eyes fill with tears.
I have been on pilgrimage ever since a woman, Marie, came up to me at the Buddhist temple on Millcreek Drive in Mississauga, Ontario—“I feel I have to talk with you”—and introduced me to a goddess with toenails and fingernails painted pink, one foot stepping forward, holding a vase and the wish-fulfilling jewel of the enlightened mind.
I sit on the window ledge of our room, 1256. Ornamental “finished’ carp lie still at the edges of the koi pond—silver, orange, red, white skin jeweled with red and blue, sleeping with eyes open: emblems of compassion. The wooden fish drum, mokugyo, is used during the recitation of sutras.
In this city of the 33-temple Kannon pilgrimage, she is there, hidden, behind red doors.
Please let me see your temples, Kannon.