• Cory Howell

View of a Mountain Temple

Even now, I have romantic ideas about Japan.

Misty mountains rising from an ink wash painting; rice fields green and rippling in the spring breeze.

But what I find are crumbling resorts and hotels, abandoned houses with trees and ferns growing from the inside.

Or shrines leaning violently, kept up by cracking wood, rusted nails, and stubborn gods.

On our day off, a friend and I hiked to a nearby temple.

Coworkers told her it was a cultural center, a place that hosted festivals and served as the spiritual heart of the community.

The train we took was empty except for us and the conductor. The station sagged with water damage and age.

As we passed through a neighborhood on our way to the trailhead, we only saw one other person–a woman in her 70s, maybe 80s, out on a walk.

My friend and I bowed, and said konnichiwa.

She stopped and stared. We continued on, paused at the trailhead to turn and look where we'd come--she was in the same place, standing, watching us.

Grass and weeds pushed cracks in the courtyard cement, a layer of grime covered the entrance to the main hall.

The temple office was faded and gray, square patches stood bright on the walls, spots where pictures used to hang.

As we walked the grounds, I wondered how long the temple had been abandoned.

At the foot of the statues we found offerings–an Asahi beer, a can of Georgia coffee, a single serving of Ozeki sake, the label still bright, the glass still clear.