Sunday, 8 January 2012

PanJapanter - Episode II: "THIS IS BEAUTIFICATION ENFORCEMENT AREA" (28th December 2011)

The place where I was being hosted was near the huge and impressive « Nijo-jo » (Nijo Castle) which was unfortunately closed because it was a holiday. Leaving my host’s place in the morning, I had to walk past its probably artificial façade to get to the tube station to meet up with Henry and Rob. There I saw a wonderful sign with the following prescriptions: “THIS IS BEAUTIFICATION ENFORCEMENT AREA: NO PETS, NO PHOTOGRAPHS, NO SKETCHING”. I’m not sure memories are allowed either, so I apologise for implicating you in my delinquency here.

I took the Kyoto subway, which like all subways in Asia is clean and smooth and reliable, to meet the other guys at the Tô-ji (東寺) or “East Temple”. It was, and I’m already finding it difficult to find original ways to describe temples, beautiful, of course, charming and quaint. There was a very big pagoda which you only catch sight of once you’ve crossed the shinkansen tracks: quite the time warp. I liked the smell of the place – a lot of incense – as well as the liveliness and the huge coy carp in all of the ponds. I’ve no doubt you can see some very pretty piccies on

Our temple trek continued with a trip to the north of the city to the Daitoku-ji (大徳寺) where we saw lots more prettiness. The peace of the beautiful gardens is only spoiled by the violence of the beautification enforcement, but, heck, that’s the price we pay to live in an aesthetic society.
The walk to the “kinkakuji” (金閣寺), the « Golden Pavilion » - one of Japan’s prettiest and most famous sights, littered with French bakeries though, being philistines, Henry and I got some of the standard “taste-the-quality” choco-bread from a Lawson convenience store for something like half a yen.
The Golden Pavilion is worth a mention: the thing is smothered in gold leaf (though, like most of this “historic” stuff, it was rebuilt in the last century) and the gardens around it are very peaceful and manicured.
By that point, temple fatigue had well and truly set in so we took the bus back into town, though not before visiting “ryuuanji” (龍安寺) or “Peaceful Dragon Temple” which was, you’ve guessed it, nice and pretty. There was a very impressive zen garden there, constructed with white stones and larger boulders arranged in such a way that you can never see all of them from one vantage position (and it’s upon that point that the monks used to meditate). Henry loved it so much that his usual kanji name (変理) - which means « Strange Logic » or, as I prefer, the « Edge of Reason » (he did do a MMaths after all) – became “禅理” or "Zenry", the much more new-age “Zen logic”.

That night, we sat with Rob as he ate his regulation udon in soup (it’s hard being a veggie in Nippon), and then gorged ourselves on grilled octopus and other such kansai delights in a restaurant my host showed us to.
Rob went to bed and Henry, my host and I stayed out for some drinking. One perfectly nice bar was passed up because “it’s too full of gaijin freaks”, and we spent half an hour being turned away from a number of bars because they were too full.
Eventually we found a very nice, smoky place, that you would never ever find if you didn’t know where you were going (very Japan) in an unsuspecting building by the river. The place was owned by an ageing rocker with a Rolling Stones obsession. I can’t remember if he actually looked like a Japanese Ronnie Wood, or whether that was just the atmosphere of the place.
Henry, as is his wont, talked about leaving for a while and then left to get the underground. My host decided he “needed” another drink so we went to another “secret” bar for a while, and so had to take a taxi back to his place.

First day in Kyoto: a resounding pleasure. 

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