This is Life

Monday, November 28, 2005

You gotta go to Kyoto

This past week I was fortunate enough to have made a journey to one of the world`s most historic and remarkably intact cities - Kyoto. It was a trip that I will never forget and that city made quite an impression on me. From the grandeur of the ultramodern Kyoto Station to the understated beauty of the ancient temples and from the stunningly landscaped gardens to the class and style of the people of Kyoto ... I was impressed. From top to bottom, I was impressed.

I think that for the first time I realized that it might actually be possible for me to live here. I know it is wildly premature to make such a statement, but at least know it is an option. In my eyes, this city is the Asian equivalent of Florence in Italy. While I still call Calgary home, I wouldn`t have that much of a problem living in Tuscany, Hawaii, and now, maybe even Kyoto. I am at the stage where I feel that the language barrier is finally starting to crumble, slowly as it may be.

So, let me begin to tell you about my time in Kyoto. First, I must concede that this may sound something like a travel brochure, but I am fine with that. Anyway, I arrived here at 2PM on Wednesday and was greeted by Allison, a friend of mine that I met under the most extraordinary circumstances while at the airport in Calgary, en route to Tokyo (but that is another story). She is also an English teacher here with the JET Programme and she came from the southern island of Kyushu to meet me in Kyoto, which is about half way between us. Anyway, she`s a lovely gal and was a great companion, although I think she must have gotten more than a little tired of my incessant picture-taking.

You see, at the mid-end of November, Kyoto is in Koyo season (which basically means fall colours). I was really looking forward to it and I must say that it is the most beautiful autumn foliage you could ever seen. I do me YOU because unless you have been here you have never seen anything like it. I know Eastern Canada is nice, but its nothing like this. Its a bold statement, I know, but you`ll believe me when you see the pictures. Ok, well, that is the setting. Combine it with perfect weather, more spectaular history, artifacts, and architecture than you can imagine and the classiest people and culture this side of Italy and you have Kyoto.

Ok, since Japan doesn`t believe in daylights savings time the days here can be a bit short, so by 5:30PM, at best, you don`t really have enough light to see many of the temples (although some are lit up at night). So, the first day was a pretty casual stroll through Gion (the geisha district) Pontocho Alley, Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, and the surrounding area. Now, despite what you may have heard, geishas aren`t anything like prostitutes. I could go into it, but you can look it up yourself by clicking the link if you are interested. They are also very rare and there are only about 180-200 giesha and maiko (apprentice geisha) in all of Kyoto. In fact, here are only about 1000 left in all of Japan, so when you see one you feel really honoured and it is a bit like seeing a celebrity. The first night we were lucky enough to see three or four and the next day we saw a couple. I was hoping to just see one, but we got really lucky. There is a special atmosphere that you could feel and I kept imagining myself there 150 or even 500 years earlier walking down those same streets. I don`t think there is anywhere else where ancient and modern are so seamlessly blended. Kyoto`s charm was starting to take hold.

The next day was going to be a long day, hitting as many sites as possible. The first one we went to (Fushimi-Inari shrine) is famous for its paths, which are lined with thousands of gates. It creates a really interesting effect and you really feel like you are a hundred miles from the city, when in fact you are right in the middle of it. That would be a defining characteristic of Kyoto for me. Tokyo is an amazing place too, but for different reasons. In Tokyo you never feel like you are out of the city, whereas this freedom easy to achieve in Kyoto. Anyway, the next stop we made was our first real taste of Koyo. The temple was called Tofukuji and the colours were breathtaking. I didn`t think they could get better, but at every turn I found myself taking more and more pictures, no matter where I was. I suppose I do regret not taking more human photos, but I was completely distracted by the reds, oranges, yellow, and greens.

Now, as for the people, well, everyone I met was unjustifiably friendly and helpful and just a pleasure to talk to. They are also noticably well dressed (even the children) and do seem to be enjoying life more than most other Japanese. I also felt that Kyoto could be the most romantic city I have ever been to, maybe even moreso than Florence, and I even surprise myself by saying that. I don`t know, maybe it was just the season, but there were couples everywhere and it just seemed that love was in the air, as cheesy as that sounds. I decided I am not going back until I have a girlfriend (or at least someone that will pretend to be for a few days).

And then there is the shopping. You see, I do enjoy a good shopping trip now and then, but I really had to restrain myself. As I said, they are good dressers in Kyoto and consequently, there is not shortage of nice stuff to buy. All in all, the damage was fairly minimal, but I did need to find myself a "genuine" Japanese souvenir. I am not a big fan of cheesy and cheap souvenirs that make the rest of your house look pretty gaudy when you put them up so it was a bit tough to find something suitable, but I was not going to leave Kyoto without buying a kitana (samurai sword). The shop I bought it at had a slightly older model (made before 1470, in fact) and it was going for about $45,000 CDN. I didn`t bother ask if they accepted coupons. Mine wasn`t quite that much and hasn`t killed anybody before, but I like it. It was a pretty cool shop because it is the only sword shop in Kyoto and it lies in the shadow of Nijo Castle. The other thing I picked up were a couple of bonsai trees. These are those miniature trees that look like full-sized trees, but are about 1% the size. I went to an exhibition on them and some were over 700 years old, which is just plain unbelievable. It is pretty overwhelming when you see something in front of you that is alive that has lived through so many important events throughout history. I mean, think about it, some of these trees were already 200 years old before North America was settled by Europeans. When you have that all within your field of view it is a bit difficult to comprehend. While mine aren`t quite so old, they do look pretty darn cool and I just hope I don`t kill them (see pictures).

Anyway, I could go into more detail about all of the sites we saw, but unless you have some scope of Japanese history it may seem irrelevent to you. The truth is that you have probably seen pictures of many of the places I visited, but as they say, pictures speak a thousand words, so I will post a million or so words for you to have a look at (maybe not quite so many for those of you who actuall did the calculation). Nevertheless, here is a short list of the places I made it to. Click on the links for more information ... Honganji, Nishiki Market, Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizudera, Kodaiji, Chionin, Heian Shrine, Nanzenji, the Path of Philosophy, Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion), Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) and Eikando (temple of the maple leaves).


At 3:06 AM, Anonymous Crustytuna said...

So you haven't been to eastern canada, and I've gotta say, it's comparable, just without the rich history. beautiful shots though. (what camera was it again?)
Glad to see you're having a good time, shamelessly advertising for your blog, and inserting time-consuming links to your blog and emails too! =) If you move out to Japan, no joke, you will have at least one visitor fo sho fo sho.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger erin said...

Ah Dean, you crack me up!
Colours are amazing...ya, what are you shooting these days?
Pics are looking sweet.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Jae'than R said...

I comment, because I care...
sir, your pictures have greatly increased the chances of me coming to visit you. take great care sir.


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