In my last post, Furusākuru (Full Circle) I wrote about my mother’s journey across the Pacific to Japan via my daughter’s trip there recently. Here is the story from her perspective:
We arrived in Gifu on a train and took a bus to Gifu Park, where Mt. Kinka and Gifu Castle reside. It was snowing quite heavily, but it was not cool enough for the snow to stick to the ground. It was a calming ambiance. The bus arrived at the park and my friend and I made our way through the archway of the park, and began our exploration of the area.
The day I arrived in Japan, I had shown the eye-shadow case full of my grandmother’s ashes to my friend, and told him that I intended to spread them somewhere. I didn’t know where I would put them, but I knew it would hit me at some point. During our exploration of Japan, I kept the case on my person at all times, ready for that moment.
Gifu Park was beautiful. There were lots of trees and running water, and everything was quite green and mossy. My friend pointed out as he took a picture that it reminded him of Victoria, and I agreed; we could have been in Goldstream Park. The reminder of home, and the peaceful beauty of the park stirred up a sudden realization: this could be the place. I didn’t want to make the decision lightly; this was an important task, and this was the first time I had thought about it since I had arrived in Japan. I opted to keep it in mind and keep exploring… and take as many pictures as I could! We wandered around the park some more, and looked at a beautiful red pagoda that was on the side of the mountain. We couldn’t visit it due to some construction on the pathway, but we still enjoyed looking at it.
There was a gondola that took tourists up the mountain where the castle was, and since that’s where we wanted to be, we bought our tickets and took the next one up.
The ride was quite beautiful. As we slowly drifted higher, the trees held more and more snow. We seemed to be ascending into a winter wonderland, and that’s one of my favourite things. ‘A good sign!’ I thought.
We got off the gondola near the top of the mountain. It was still snowing, and we found ourselves surrounded by different shrines and lots of stairs, all covered in a delightful layer of snow. I kept my eye out for places; somewhere with a view would be nice, but I didn’t want to decide until we at least reached the castle at the top. We hiked up countless stairs and I took picture after picture. Everywhere I turned was so beautiful, I couldn’t help myself! As we neared the castle, it slowly became clearer and grander through the snow. It had gold features on the outside, and one thing I knew that my grandmother and I had in common was a taste for the opulent. The signs kept on coming!
When we finally reached the castle, we were able to explore inside. It was basically a museum with artifacts in glass cases – samurai armor, chunks of the original Castle, and lots of history on the different rulers that resided within it. The very top floor allowed you to go out onto a deck that went all the way around the castle. It was freezing and slippery, and the views were limited due to the snow, and from what I remembered on the gondola ride up, it would have been quite grand, but I enjoyed it all the same. We made our way back down and out of the castle, and headed over to another building nearby which was another smaller museum. There, they gave us postcards that we could stamp as proof that we made it to the top of the mountain.
We wandered back towards the castle, and were following signs to where we could find something to eat. As we neared one particular section between the buildings, I noticed that the sun was starting to peek out through the snow and the environment was filled with a warm, golden glow. It was at this moment that I saw a monument. It looked like a headstone, but it was on a sort of rocky hill next to a tree, and in front of an observation area where there were benches you could sit on and enjoy the, usually, stunning view of the city below. I looked at it and looked at it, in fact I stopped in my tracks and started to analyze the area. I didn’t even quite realize what I was doing for a second, but I was searching for where I could rest my grandmother. This place was a definite contender. My friend kept going ahead, and I realized I had fallen behind, so I reluctantly caught up to him and we found a place to grab some food.
As we slurped up our nice hot noodles, I couldn’t stop thinking about that stone. It was easy to find, it just stuck out from the other shrines and areas we had already seen that day. I wasn’t going to even bother keeping an eye out anymore: I had this one place stuck in my head, and that was all the sign I needed. When we finished our lunch, I asked my friend if we could hike back up to the castle. He said yes without question, and as I pulled out the makeup case from my pocked I said, “There’s something I need to do.” He realized what that meant, and we headed back up to find the stone.
We got to the area, and I wanted to wait until the coast was clear to do my ritual. It involved a bit of climbing, and I didn’t want to be pouring dirt in some place with an audience, just in case it was somehow disrespectful. There was this one man, though, who was standing in front of the tree, and it didn’t seem like he was going to move any time soon. It was odd, because he was looking up into the tree with his hand in the air, and his phone in the other hand pointed upwards. I wanted to do my thing, and he wasn’t moving. I leaned towards my frozen friend and we pondered at what the heck he was up to, but then I saw a tiny bird fly down to his hand and then back up into the tree. “Oh! He’s feeding the birds!” I realized. It wasn’t long until the man saw us watching him, and managed to communicate to us in Japanese that we should try. He gave us a few crumbled peanuts and then we stood where he had been; hands in the cold air, camera at the ready, waiting. One came down to my hand briefly and snatched a bite. Then another came down to the hand of my friend, and again, and again. The man had been taking pictures behind us during the feeding, and once our hands were too cold to continue, he offered to take a picture of the two of us together in front of the tree, which was very nice of him. Just as we positioned ourselves in front of the tree, I felt one of the birds flutter down between our two shoulders for a moment. The man took a couple of pictures with my phone, and we thanked him for the experience. As he moved on, I looked around and the coast was clear.
I climbed up the rocks to the stone, and noticed a small pool of water in front of it. I emptied the contents of the makeup case into my hand and grabbed my phone and hit record. I crumbled the ashes into the little pool gently, and then turned to see the view. It was a good view. Very peaceful. Quite perfect. I climbed back down the rocks carefully and then took a few more pictures, and rejoined my friend waiting patiently at the bottom.
As we made our way back to the gondola, I felt a little clench in my chest. I had done it. My grandmother finally had her place, and had now circumnavigated the world, and I helped her do it. I quietly got a little misty-eyed.
We took the gondola back down the mountain and explored the gift shop, as one does. My friend and I huddled together as he looked up which bus we needed to catch to get to our next destination. As we searched, the bird man from the top of the mountain approached us again. He handed us each a little cardboard token, and my friend deciphered from the man’s Japanese and partial English, that these were charms that you are to put in your wallet, and they were for good luck – which he must have gotten from one of the shrines from the mountain. We thanked him again, and placed our charms in our wallets. What a nice fellow!
That evening we went to see The Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary concert, which was our true reason for being in Gifu – something my grandmother would have appreciated as she loved the symphony. I think she just wanted to make sure she had a really good seat for the concert: one with a great view, and alongside some birds, which, I didn’t learn until after the experience, was one of her favourite things. At first the castle was just something to do to kill time before the concert, but it turned into so much more – a very special experience that I will not soon forget.