The rice paper screens grow lighter, fading up from a dark slate grey to a translucent saffron, their wooden frames casting soft shadows on the floor's black-framed tatami mats, backlit by the early morning light. Floor to ceiling rice paper and wood dividers separate the room into sublime sections of a sublime whole, a private space, containing an elegant dearth of material things, a space where time slows to a stop. Suffused by this morning glow, nestled in a rice-husk pillow, the silence is overwhelming.
However, it must be realized that even here, in this sanctuary of earthen textures, there is not absolute silence. There is the pattering of rain on the dew-soaked mosses and gingko leaves in the outside garden, there is the silky crunch of the rice-husks in the pillow, the sound of the wind rustling the bamboo-slat blinds. The false silence is, however, nevertheless complete.
Out in the garden, the greenness is overwhelming. What seems at first a verdant patch of cloud forest transplanted into the courtyard reveals itself to be hundreds of shades of green; jade, mint, olive, emerald, sea-glass, bottle green. Once noticed, it's impossible not to stand in awe at this diversity. Moss and trees share the space with shrubs and miniature bamboo and tufts of grass. Almost bonsai, the plants stand among river rocks, both large and pebble-sized, worn to varying degrees of smoothness by the passing of the water. Each rock has its own texture, and given the time, each one could surely be recognized by touch. Amidst this lushness, a tiny white flask of sake sits, put there for the gods.
Women in kimono attend this ryokan, moving through the halls and rooms with paper-rustles of sound, whispering in and out of rooms with quiet, graceful movements. Sometimes bearing a plate of rice-candy, sometimes a perfect white porcelain cup set on a polished wood tray the color of persimmons with an ebon cast iron pot full of steaming green sencha tea, a muddy olive liquid in the colorless cups.
Sip by sip, the tea suffuses the mind as the room is suffused by the rice-paper scattered morning light, bringing everything into clarity, allowing the observation of the hidden elements of this room. A cupboard, it's walls papered with sheets of music. A black cabinet hides a spray of flowers. An antique sideboard holds a bowl of incense and gingko berries. Yet these things in the room, while abundant, are not overwhelming, for they are there to be discovered, all in their own time. They will be there whether they are discovered or not.
The Japanese have two words that communicate beautiful aesthetic concepts; wabi refers to stillness or loneliness, and sabi talks of antiquated elegance. I reflect on these as I look at the tokonoma, the shrine, and see a lone ikebana flower, its curve singing out against the straightness of the room.