On plastic desserts, manga, karaoke and an imperial palace and the search for Zen. Kyoto, Japan
In a continuation of our Kyoto temple crawl we visited a temple complex in the North of Kyoto, containing many smaller temples, these were much simpler than the sprawling temples at the foot of the mountains to the East of Kyoto – peaceful places with beautifully manicured gardens, simple tatami mats, paper walls, meticulously raked white gravel. My favourite was Taizo-in which reminded me of Taize, France – which I also recommend as a travel destination to those who don’t know it.
Cycling further North (until I was afraid I couldn’t cycle anymore) we arrived at seventeen minutes to closing time at the Golden Pavilion which actually was a very peaceful time to wander through the gardens and view the lovely golden temple in the late afternoon light.
The following day, (with thanks to Fabian, our German friend from the youth hostel), we managed to get on a tour of the Imperial Palace. Although not the highlight of Kyoto it was interesting to be able compare it with the (very much more elaborate, and extensive) Forbidden City in Beijing.
Then we escaped the heat for a few hours in the Manga museum, which whet my appetite for this type of literature. While Manga is undoubtedly a window into Japanese culture, the material we browsed raised at least as many questions as it answered, but this seems to be the case with travel more generally. I think I’ll try to pick up a some Manga when I’m finished reading Snow Country.
Next stop was the plastic desserts I mentioned in my last post where it would have been rude not to sample some of the wares represented (not the 18000 Yen selection!)
In the evening, together with a few new friends (Fabian and Nina) from the youth hostel we broke the budget to see a show of traditional Japanese arts: a comic play, banraku (puppetry), court music, ikebana (flower arrangement), and Kyoto dance (performed by two Maiko, trainee geishas).
We also participated in a tea ceremony. I am not a natural talent at the Japanese tea ceremony – somehow my bowl always seemed to end up facing the wrong way and I was completely incapable of whisking my tea into the required frothy state. While I won’t miss it when I’m next jiggling a tea bag in a mug, it was a good exercise in “mindfulness” and insight into the meticulous hospitality of the Japanese.
Then, at the other end of the spectrum we decided to hire a Karaoke room and found this so addictive that the sun was coming up by the time we emerged, hoarse, four hours later.
Asia reminds me more of Australia than I had anticipated. I don’t know exactly what it is: sometimes it’s the vegetation and the heat, but that’s not all – it feels like actually it’s a lot more than rhetoric when we talk about Australia being part of Asia. As I write this I’m on a bullet train and in front of us there’s an Australian family and for the first time in a long while I feel homesick for Australia which actually feels kind of nice, in a few months we’ll be there and I guess I’m starting to get in the right headspace.
There are moments here, that let you in – the peace of watching the carp circle in a Japanese garden – and there are at least as many moments when you feel as far from Zen as you’ve ever been (cycling through the centre of Kyoto along the “bike path”) – but my impression so far is that the Japanese culture is not as impenetrable as we’re led to believe. Having said that: I thought I understood the Dutch after six months of living with them – I was wrong… and they’re not a group known for their reticence.