Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kyoto (day 1)

From Osaka, you just have to take a 40 minute subway to Kyoto.

We headed to the end of the platform, where it was less crowded.  Waiting for the train, we started noticing something a bit different about where we were standing, compared to the rest of the platform. Everything seemed to be pink...

As the train pulled in, and blue car after blue car went by, the car that stopped in front of us was also pink! Finally, the Japanese girl we were with realized we were waiting in the women only section. Apparently, there's a problem with men putting their hands where they don't belong when the train is in rush-hour-squeeze, so they've made a few cars for women. We slipped into the blue car, with no drama, but I hope the guys from the love motel weren't there to see us!

I'd been hoping to visit Kyoto few a few years, and in the day and a half that I had there, I was only ably to scratch the surface, but if I were to live in Japan one day, I would like to live in Kyoto.

The first place we went was a small shrine and garden. I don't know where it was or what it was called, but it was exactly how you would expect a japanese garden to be, calm, peaceful, every leaf on every limb in perfect place, a work of art.

From there, we took a bus to Kiyomizu-dera, the must-see of Kyoto's many must-sees. We got off the bus, and made our way up Chawan-zaka, Teapot Lane, amongst the hordes of tourists out for the long weekend. Touristy craft shops, selling fans, clothes, dolls, tanukis, Hello Kitties, and other junk, were strung along each side of the street like beads. It was about as touristy as you could take for a temple road, but it was fun. I was just as much a tourist as anyone else on that trip, and the buzzing crowd added to the experience.

I actually hadn't heard of Kiyomizu-dera before, and still didn't know where we were heading. Our Japanese friend just said it was a famous place in Kyoto. The first thing that stood out for me when we reached the gate was the bright red color of the trim. Some of the temples in Korea will have some bright red paint on them, but nothing like this! Once through the gate, the next thing to catch your eye was the three-story pagoda, which looked very awkward with the bottom floor appearing much thinner than the rest, because of the wooden rail around the other floors. Standing beside it, it really felt as though it might spill over the edge of the hill with the next strong breeze. From further away, though, the proportions came together, and it was actually a stunning structure.

Passing the through large, open halls, it was all stunning, but I kept having this feeling that something was missing, even with all the people there, it felt empty. I think what ever energy the place must have held in its prime has been worn away by streams of tourists. It felt as though the walls, the floor, the massive bare beams were longing for the sound of chants, the silence of contemplation, or the caress of deeply felt prostrations. Or maybe that's just what I was longing for, but the walls empathized. Actually, looking at it from Google maps, there seems to be much more to the complex then the tourist route passes, so perhaps there is a more sincere place of practice that I just didn't see.

The path through the temple continued, turning into a trail along the wooded ridge the temple sat on. From the trail, through the Japanese maples, you caught a panoramic view of the temple complex, where it was easy to see it still retained a grandness in at least a physical sense. The sky had become quite overcast, but just as we headed down the trail and passed a gap in the trees, the sun broke through the clouds and lit the pagoda, while a few more rays of light shone over the mountains on the other side of the city. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've witnessed.

We continued down the trail, looping back to the gate and Teapot Lane. We stopped in one of the shops for a snack and some green tea, which I couldn't resist sharing with the tanuki standing in the corner with his mouth wide open. I know he would have much preferred a cup of warm sake, but green tea was what I had.

I'm sorry to say, there wasn't much to take from this day, in terms of learning anything useful, but it's still a day I look back on fondly. Heading back into the city, we stopped in at a tiny restaurant, run by a friendly old woman, and I finally had my first sushi in Japan!

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