Written by Hannah Hilty ’19
This blog post is written in response to Hannah’s 2019 spring 3-week trip to Japan with Professors Erin Lamb and Kirsten Parkinson
It was at Kiyomizu-dera temple in the center of Kyoto when I met him. In the midst of Golden Week – the week-long celebration of certain Japanese holidays – and the crowds were immense. I had escaped both my class and the surplus of tourists, needing some space, and found solace on a sunny spot of a stone fence outside the temple. And of course, as a true American, I was guzzling down an ice cream cone.
And then I saw him.
We saw many temples in our travels across Japan, sometimes up to two or three per day. Therefore, it was as if each temple needed a “gimmick” of a sort to keep them apart. Mibu-dera temple had kyogen performance, a special form of Japanese theatre that involved miming and ancient folk tales. Todaiji temple had a statue of a Buddha so tall, I instantly swore when I stood underneath its majesty. For Kyomiza-dera temple, the gimmick was the Love Stones.
The Love Stones is one of many Japanese traditions that have stuck to places such as temples due to their apparent power. Like the idea of a certain stone giving off a certain positive emotion or a specific item being lucky, these traditions are fun little things for tourists and locals to do. The Love Stones were one of these, two stones that I mistook for tree stumps at first, about twenty feet apart. If one walks from one stone to the other with their eyes closed (and somehow make it through the ridiculous crowds), they were soon destined for true love. A person is able to help them across, coaxing with words but no touching, then that person will become a part of the true love in some form.
I stumbled across these stones after standing in line for a temple signature for almost an hour – I was so done with lines. I dodged a few women doing the challenge, and a few kids, until I read the sign explaining what was going on. I was mildly interested, even after hearing of the paths “successes.” I’m not a very superstitious person and seeing as none of my classmates were around to help me do the walk, I left.
Wandering around the temple was more calming than being inside due to all the people, and I found a quiet mountain path that wound around into the woods. Before I knew it, I was spat back into the main streets of Kyoto, passing shops and restaurants on every side. Like any lost American, I instantly settled for ice cream – a vanilla and matcha tea flavored swirl. Then I sought out my sunny spot on the fence, took an Instagram-worthy pic of the ice cream with the temple in the background, and began demolishing one of the best flavors of ice cream that Japan ever invented.
That’s when I saw him,
Yoshike came right up to me and immediately introduced himself as a Language student who lives in studies in Kyoto. That was his first sentence, and his second was about how he wanted to talk to me because I obviously was a tourist. The third sentence was, “That purse looks good on you.” It was love at first sight. Yoshike and I discussed multiple aspects of my trip and Japan, and I introduced him to the Hiram students that happened to weave through the conversation. We were such a center of attention, our meeting spot was altered as our entire class gathered around me and Yoshike.
We talked for almost an hour straight, talked about America and Japan, Trump and the new emperor, time differences and classes. I’m studying theatre, he’s studying Italian – “Ciao!” Said he, to every new student meeting him. Half the Hiram students met him with ice cream cones in their hands, a further indication of our tourist intentions. Suddenly, the class began counting off in Japanese, our go-to system for making sure everyone’s present. I barely had any time to explain to Yoshike why we were suddenly screaming numbers in Japanese before I had to bellow my own number: “Roku!” Although he seemed amused, I told him that, sadly, our class was getting ready to leave the temple, and that I should get going.
He said, “Okay. Nice to meet you!” Then he shook my hand, nodded his head in a slight bow, and disappeared. I never saw him again.
And it’s all because of that damn Love Stone.
If I had done the walk, then that would’ve been it! Yoshike, my true love, right there in Kyoto! But instead, I scoffed at its power, and Yoshike slipped away through my ice cream-covered fingers.
Japan was full of these cool cultural things, like the Love Stones or climbing through Buddha’s nostril (a hole in a temple pillar to gain Enlightment), but since that moment, I made sure to participate in the ones I could. Power like that doesn’t appear as often in America, and if you’ve got a chance to have true love handed to you, by God, take it!
Learn by my example. There’s always more Love Stones out there. Plus, sometimes it’s more fun to give in to the tourist aspect of things and do what seems silly. That’s how I truly found myself enjoying Japan – running around buying Pokemon gachapon whenever I could, or sampling all different kinds of sweets. After, this was a class, but more importantly, it was a study abroad, and the people we saw and met are the things that made this experience life-changing.