7.12.2006

Kyoto: East Side

Every other week I go to Kyoto to attend the Christian Science Society, which is located a kilometer up the road from the Imperial Palace. From the train station, it is a 6 km walk that takes about 45 minutes (maybe it's longer, but I've never measured). I often take it so I can walk through the Palace gardens before the church service. After church, sometimes I visit the sites of West Kyoto, such as Nijo Castle. But I have yet to visit the temples in the East side of Kyoto, which I hear are the most spectacular.

So when Chuck was in town, I decided that this area would be the best to take him to. We took the walking tour recommended by Lonely Planet, which was about 5 km long. As you can tell, I do a lot of walking in Kyoto! The rain was falling pretty hard when we left in the morning, but the skies cleared by the afternoon to give us a clear view of the city below the hills. Our first stop was to Shoren-in, the residence of the chief abbot of the Tendai school of Buddhism. The grand main building contains gold and black statues which have an impressive, yet calming impression on visitors. The cool breeze flowing through the building was a reprieve from the heat outside, so Chuck and I sat down to relax. As we sat, a Buddhist priest chanted sutras for a family worshipping at the front of the temple. His voice was creating almost a double resonance like the overtone singers from Tuva and Mongolia. As we reflected in the peaceful atmosphere of the Temple, I thought about what my world view would be like if I grew up with only the artifacts, typography, and beliefs available in Japan. How would the American views and behaviors that I express come across to someone who'd never had any exposure to them?

I didn't get too far along that thought track, but waypost by waypost I am beginning to make progress in understanding the Japanese world view. Chuck and I moved on to see some other temples along the well-worn walking path. One dedicated to the unknown soldier of WWII. A serenely faced statue looms over a reflecting pool. For the price of admission, we received an incense stick to place before the statue. History is written by the victors, it is said. Here we experienced a chapter written by those who lost. And the story is no less important, I think. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine can be seen as an effort to write a different perspective on that history. Gilda and I read the book, Embracing Defeat, by John Dower. It sheds light on an era of Japanese history that we don't hear a lot about in the USA: the 7 years of Allied (US) occupation of Japan. I remember hearing that the US Military was planting positive stories about Iraq in the press; during the Occupation of Japan, it was illegal to criticize the occupying forces or even to admit that there was censorship!

Anyway, I'm digressing. But these were my thoughts as I stood by the reflecting pool of this monument. Any further thoughts I had on the matter were scared off by this statute at the exit: Don't worry! I'm leaving! And I didn't pinch any yen out of the collection box!

Our last stop was Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It commands a stunning view of Kyoto and features a verandah that juts out over the hillside. After the morning rain, the view from here was quite clear. Most students are very shy to speak English with foreigners they meet in Japan, but every once in a while I meet an exception. Usually it is in famous tourists locations with students on school trips. Chuck and I chatted for a bit with these students, who begged us to take a picture with them. How could we turn down such genki students? By this time, we're both getting pretty tired from walking in the sun, so we head for home.

Just as the clouds open up with a strong downpour of rain, we reach the train station. It's a different line that I usually take, but what's a vacation without adventure? We hop on and head into Osaka. There, we debate seeing a castle with the skies clearing up and the afternoon light soft for stunning pictures. But we were already tired and it was time to get some rest because tomorrow we have to catch a west-bound train: to Himeji.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Oh, that WWII memorial looks really interesting! What is the name of it, I'd love to check it out. Also, the Dower book sounds like a good read, I'll add that to my list.

Glad you're enjoying my blog as well, yours is very fun to read!

Cheers,
-->Amanda

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