Today is January 20th, 2012
I am in Kyoto this evening, having just wrapped up my second day in this fair city. My camera has not managed to recharge itself, so unfortunately there will be no proof I was ever here. It looks like all I will take away from Japan are my memories, and it is disheartening to think how I’ll probably forget I was ever in Japan once senility sets in. That’s a few years away yet though so I won’t spend much energy worrying about it.
Kyoto is an absolutely amazing city. To me Kyoto seems like what you would get from a natural modernization of the Japan we see in historical films and books. That old style Japan with clean streets, orderly paper houses and beautiful ponds and gardens arranged just so. If you took that romanticized version of feudal Japan and let it age naturally into the modern area, Kyoto is what you would get. The houses and architecture are hard to describe. They have an angular-ness to them. They have sliding wooden doors. They have shades on the outside of the windows that blow in the breeze. The most striking thing about walking around Kyoto is the orderliness. On any given street where you would find trash bags or litter in most cities you find potted plants instead. Where there would be a rusted out bicycle next to some trash bins in an average city’s alley you find a small garden in Kyoto.
Yesterday I arrived around 3pm. It was a crummy, rainy day so it was difficult to summon the energy to head back outside after navigating my way to the hostel. I did manage a walk around the immediate area and I found lots of small shops mixed about with old buildings. Right near my hostel is the Minamiza Theatre, one ofthe oldest theatres in Kyoto. I also found the Yasaka shrine which sat on a small hill at the end of a road. During this walk I found another small shrine with a sign saying the name of the god the shrine represents, and that people come to the shrine to pray to the god for traffic safety and amicable divorce
I definitely understand praying for traffic safety, and I shrugged to myself and figured if you are going to pray for divorce you might as well pray for an amicable one, before continuing my walk.
Today the weather was better, though still overcast. I strolled north from my hostel along the Kamo river, before striking off west in the direction of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Now – I know what you are thinking, and the answer is yes; I have been to two Imperial Palaces in the last 3 days. I just can’t help myself. Any rational person knows that one Imperial Palace ought to be enough. They say you learn about yourself when you travel, and I have learned that I am oddly fixated on Imperial Palaces. It is a part of who I am that will take some time to come to terms with.
Anyway the palace wasn’t particularly impressive, mainly because everything was walled in and all the gates were closed. The gravel paths were nice enough, but judging by the maps I saw the interior of the palace grounds looked really nice, but all I could see were the 20 foot high outer walls.
Afterwards I went south to Nijo Castle. Nijo castle was really quite spectacular. I had to pay an entrance of 600 yen – around 8 bucks – which I thought was a little pricey. The castle ended up being worth it, however. First of all let me try to describe the layout to you. The entire compound was surrounded by a moat, out of which rose the 30 foot high outer wall. The outer wall was rectangular in shape with raised platforms on the corners. When the castle was built back in 1603 by the Tokugawa Shogun it would have been quite an ordeal to storm those walls and gain entrance to the inner grounds. In 2012 it only cost me 600 yen. Inside the walls were paths weaving through trees and grassy fields. There was a main path that you could follow along the inside of the outer wall around the compound. Inside the outer wall were two palaces. Each palace was surrounded by its own moat and its own 20-30 foot walls. One of the castles was open to the public, so I took off my shoes, threw on the conveniently provided slippers and took a walk through it. One of the coolest features of that castle was the ‘nightingale floors.’ The wooden floor boards that made up the hallways between rooms were designed to squeak under the slightest pressure, to warn of intruders. But since the shogun and his family didn’t want to hear squeaking every time someone moved, the sound the floorboards made was designed to mimic a birdcall. As you walk down the hallway it sounds as if you are walking through a forest with birds singing all around you, until you stop moving and don’t disturb the floor boards.
Another part of Nijo castle worth mentioning was a pond in the northern part of the inner court. The pond had three tiny islands with peach trees growing on each one. Each island was accessible via tiny stone bridges. Surrounding the pond were beautiful moss covered boulders, arranged painstakingly to evoke the greatest tranquility and beauty. The serenity, beauty and sense of calm that permeated this place is absolutely impossible to describe. I could have spent all day sitting on one of the tiny islands composing haikus about the joy of life. If this place could invoke such feelings in someone like me, imagine how it would make a non-23 year old man feel. The place was so beautiful I think I almost stopped thinking about sex for a few moments. Almost.
I spent the rest of the day wandering up and down small streets and alleyways, taking in the feel of the city. As I suspected before arriving here, Kyoto is my favorite of the cities I have visited over the last 5 days. Tomorrow I will spend part of the morning seeking out one or two more elusive temples, then will be making my way back to Osaka for my flight home to Busan.
Stay tuned for a final thoughts style post about Japan soon after I arrive home.
That’s all for now.