I believe every cultural stereotype the world has about Japan can be found in Kyoto. Once the imperial capital of Japan, this city is presently and understandably a tourism hotspot. Come visit Kyoto in the Spring and be enthralled by the blooming cherry trees that line the magnificent palaces, shrines, and temples. To see these flowers in person is to understand why the sakura is a national obsession.
I’ve read that the cherry blossoms represent many things, from love to Spring to affection to rebirth. But my favorite analogy is to the fleeting nature of life; the flowers have a very short blooming period and the story is that a cherry blossom was painted on the side of war planes by pilots about to go on kamikaze missions to represent how quickly life can come and go. So the blossom then took on new patriotic meaning. It was a stirring reminder of blind devotion to country. Leave it to the Japanese to relate serene beauty to something as violent as death in battle. This is the incongruity that I sense in quite a bit of their culture and history. It’s complex, hard to decipher. I can’t get enough of it.
In ancient Kyoto you can walk through the Gion or Pontocho geisha quarters and soak up the history of days gone by…
In fact, if you don’t have a lot of time but would like to catch a show that includes 6 or 7 of their national art forms, stop by the Gion Corner (Kyoto Traditional Musical Theater) and get a taste of Bunraku (puppet play)…
Chado (tea ceremony)…
Kyomai (dance)–here is the Cherry Blossoms dance:
Here are some videos of the dancing–I think they should be called the Kyoto Rockettes:
Two short videos of another performance. Too bad lack of planning gets me cheap seats and the performers look like ants, but check out the killer kimonos:
Then there are the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto (collectively designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site) such as the amazing Nijo Castle built by shoguns (more sites to come in later blogs):
Don’t even get me started on the history of shoguns! Perhaps their legend has been romanticized too much in film, but it is the power struggle that plagued each shogunate that I find so interesting. It is not much different from the fierce battles we find in corporate America (and the world) today. But in lieu of assassination attempts on theÂ life of a competing shogun, the corporate world now wields just as sharp a sword in taking down the reputation or power of modern moguls. The code of the old boys’ network remains the same, as does the paranoia. Speaking of paranoia, in the Nijo Castle above, they installed a nightingale floor (uguisubari) that “chirped” when walked upon to alert guards to any intruders. Is that any less efficient than today’s alarm system? I have to say, though, that the armors worn by shoguns back then were way cooler than our power business suits:
I am certain that in one of my past lives I was a shogun who got to ride a beautiful white horse through the evergreen forest that I blogged about yesterday regarding the Meiji Shrine. How else could I explain feeling such a profound sense of connection to that place the first time I set foot there? Well, I named one of my cats Shogun. Does that count?
I’ve saved the most beautiful sight in Kyoto for last. Kinkaku-ji (or more formally Rokuon-ji ) or Golden Pavilion Temple is covered in pure gold leaf and probably one of the most photographed temples in the world. It sits inÂ a pondÂ surrounded byÂ an idyllic strolling garden and, to me, captures the very essence of Japanese aesthetics, bringing sky, land, and water together in perfect harmony: