Sunday, 15 January 2012

PanJapanter - Episode III: "The Birds" (29th December 2011)

My previous entry about my first day in Kyoto, though accurate, omitted one slightly strange detail. As Henry, my host and I were wandering around looking for a bar, there was a commotion going on around the river.
For some thitherto and hitherto unknown reason flocks and flocks of small birds had congregated noisily on the ubiquitous aerial cables that scar all of this country. They were flocking and screeching and it was very strange. Crowds gathered below but no explanations were offered.

When I woke up and left my host the next day, I made some noise about joining the other boys out in east Kyoto where the temple touring was continuing earnestly. I decided I would rather a walk: I scoffed some oden and shuffled my chilly way down to the station. That took around forty minutes, by which time my zeal for temple spotting had waned sufficiently for me to opt instead to sit and write, which I did. I wrote most of a short story in a café near the station.

I wandered a bit more, though the cold had really set in by then and the dark was coming too. The air was still crisp though, and I walked to a very big temple called the Higashi-Hongan-Ji (東本願寺). The main temple building, encroached upon by a yawning modern monster on its right shoulder, is the largest wooden construction in the world. I took off my shoes to go into the main chamber, which was carpeted in tatami and was peaceful. I knelt in my unpractised western way and looked at the gold and the glory at the far side. To my right an old woman was wailing and crying but for all her volume and tears was dignified and I found it moving. I stayed for a while.
As I went back down the stairs in front of the main building, I noticed, with the rest of the tourists, that the birds were going crazy again. Crowds of pigeons, the same pigeons you see at every open air tourist site in the world, were flying in unison, swooping at people. They made shapes in the air around the old buildings which may not have been as old as their shapes suggested.

Later I ate a pain aux raisins in a Délifrance nearby and thought of some of the people I know, and that crying woman.

In the evening, I met with Henry-san to have dinner in the area around the riverfront. We found a charm filled and small restaurant in a place we could never find again and sat next to a Japanese couple who lived in North Carolina and they told us what was good, and the man let me taste the sake he was having. It was bitter and I liked it so I ordered some.
I received a rude phone call from my host and we went, around an hour later, to meet him. He took us to a party where various couchsurfers had assembled. We drank some beer and paid a lot for it. Again, the host decided it was necessary for us to stay out very late. The night was farcical and not altogether pleasant, and Henry left after a short while.  Despite better judgement I stayed at the host’s place and left early in the morning.

Kyoto has its beauty, but temples and trekking to them can be tiring. I was excited for Tokyo.  

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