- Masakiyo Maezono, formerly a member of the Japan National Team in soccer, spent one year traveling to the 88 sites of the Shikoku Pilgrimage as part of the Bicycle Pilgrim Journey TV program broadcast in Shikoku. He had a great time visiting temples with ties to the monk Kukai (known posthumously as “Kobo Daishi”), with many memorable encounters and inspirations.
- Maezono really wanted to make To-ji Temple in Kyoto the last stop on this rewarding trip.
- “I wanted to report that I had successfully finished my pilgrimage in Shikoku,” he reflected. “After visiting the temple to give thanks, it finally felt like my journey had ended.” He paid homage and had a seal stamped in his commemorative shrine/temple book, and he felt revived by the buildings and Buddhist images that are over 1,200 years old.
- Maezono fully enjoyed his quiet time in the city: “I haven’t been to Kyoto for a long time, and I was reminded of how beautiful it is. It makes me feel somehow nostalgic and surprised by its great history. It’s a wonderful place just to walk around.”
- Wanting to do something out of the ordinary, Maezono decided to try playing traditional party games at an ochaya (tea house) in Kamishichiken, a hanamachi (geisha district), at the recommendation of an acquaintance from Kyoto. Kamishichiken is the oldest of Kyoto’s five hanamachi, and is known for its lovely scenery with stone-paved roads. And just like other districts, the ochaya do not serve just anyone, making them quite exclusive.
- “I’m of an age when these ochaya parties seem like a tasteful way to spend time,” said Maezono.
- He was shown to a lovely room, where Ichiaya, a geisha wearing a dazzling kimono, appeared.
- She greeted him in the elegant Kyoto dialect and suggested food and drinks. Dance performances were put on, creating a refined world that draws you in and makes you forget your daily life.
- Ichiaya also taught Maezono how to play traditional party games. “Tora Tora” is an amusing game, rather like rock-paper-scissors, in which two people stand on either side of a folding screen and pretend to be a tiger, soldier, or old woman. Maezono put up a good fight, but for some reason he couldn’t beat Ichiaya at “Konpira Fune Fune,” a game that uses a cup, despite his finely honed reflexes. “I was confident I could win. How embarrassing!” he said before the rematch. He had a great time playing these elegant hanamachi games.
- Maezono commented, “Kyoto has temples, hanamachi, delicious food, and natural beauty in each season. I see why Japanese people and foreign tourists travel here, and I want to make time to visit Kyoto again.”
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