The second city we wanted to visit was the ancient seat of the imperial court… which moved to Tokyo a century ago, leaving Kyoto to maintain respect for deeper history…
‘Seems a map might be useful to show the three major destinations on our travel.. As I wrote in the previous post, we landed at Narita [just east of Tokyo] for the first night, then on for 3 days in that city. Now the narrative picks up with a week in historic Kyoto.
Celebrating contrast to the exciting modernity of the newer city we were leaving on the very[!] fast Shinkansen… the “bullet train” from inside which the view was passing too quickly for my camera to catch anything… it was almost too fast for even my eyes!
Trains run PRECISELY on time… here is the crew of cleaners waiting… bowing, actually… for the passengers to exit before they cleaned in only minutes so we could board. At exactly the time printed on our tickets we began moving.
Glimpses only: rice fields flashing between urban areas; tantalizing views of the coast; quickly visiting a cemetery hanging above a seaside resort; patches of peeking tea, growing in tight rows; numerous tunnels through ridges of mountains giving me irregular periods of shade to more easily see my computer screen [I’m sitting at a south window seat]; tightly clipped gardens whizzing so I could not see what was planted; many greenhouses… mostly smaller home-sized, but some were quite large operations; a huge wind generator; numerous large solar panel arrays; largish factories labeled Toyota or Mitsubishi, surrounded by residential areas, no doubt for the workers; mostly modern homes, but a few looking quite traditional; high net-surrounded driving practice cages [we’ve seen several bits of evidence that golf seems to be popular]; a European inspired church tower of open-worked stone or concrete; contrasting numerous traditional temple roofs; many. many! power lines… this is an electric culture;
Then… suddenly, unexpectedly… Mount Fuji… peeking into the window on the other side of the train! I am so happy to have noticed her… we’d neglected to note Ryan Shaffer’s suggestion to reserve seats on the right [also correct] side of the train… I scrambled to get some fair snapshots.
THAT made my day! We live communing with with one of her distant cousins, so I passed along Tahoma’s greetings to what is indeed… even at such speed… one gorgeous lady!
Kyoto is like arriving in another country… it actually is more “country” in the sense that it contrasts the ” megalopolis” of Tokyo, having no skyscrapers. The train station is an amazing contemporary construct of spaces where interiors of rail concourses open to a series of seemingly endless escalators going up/down toward each end of a vast architectural “valley”… recalling that the city lies inside its bowl of mountains. A broad, long stairway lights up into images, including Halloween greetings with spiders as yet another culture celebrates a becoming-universal holiday. The complex contains a huge department store & a big glitzy hotel… Dozens of small restaurants & shops scattered on every level of this urban extravagance… Presided over by the Kyoto Tower… a colored light mushroom lofting.
Bells began to find me…
The city is the ancient Imperial capitol… like more than a thousand years ancient! It is built on a plain in a bowl surrounded on three sides by mountains… not the Rockies-big… at the junction of two small rivers…laid out on a grid with the Palace near the center.
We stayed first at the Westin Miyako Hotel, famous from the late1800s & built onto enough to now comprise hundreds of rooms, but with all its added-on parts, over a century it has become too big for its britches. It was quite a contrast to the Andaz, but served us well. It offered a birding trail & a garden I never got to see, because we were constantly running to meet the times we’d reserved at the Imperial Household Agency on the first day… four tours.
Each tour began with admittance 20 minutes before the tour time… after we’d stood waiting for the reliable precision outside a gate in the walls surrounding the Imperial acres inside. Our tickets were checked by the guards before we were allowed entrance to where our passports were examined to match the information on file from the IHA. Verified, we joined our group… usually several dozen folk, mostly Japanese.
First, a video of the route we were to take through each of the gardens, with some bits of history, all in Japanese except for a few breezy English subtitles… not terribly useful. The guides spoke only Japanese… the headsets we were given in English were not much more informative…sometimes offering a bit of helpful information.
I studied methods for propping-up trees as pertinent to supporting our own recumbent native cherry.
Each of the two palaces… & the two villas, which were retreats overlooking the city… were situated inside a complex garden, which is what we wanted to see.
We were brought up only to the “porches” of any of the buildings to be able to peek through the open exterior screens into the interiors with noteworthy painted screens. Much became repetitive & thus familiar, but the gardens, while equally true to some forms, were quite different in terrain.
Gardens are part of what we especially anticipated seeing. We visited so many… including those in numerous temples… that I felt almost as exhausted as if I were in my own garden trying to keep up with Tom!
These are immense landscapes … tightly planted, designed with amoeba-like waterways into ponds; bridges of wood or stone, sometimes earthen topped, create walking paths of rocks & various rustic pavements meandering over small islands to arrive at teahouses placed for spectacular viewing… so many artfully placed stones!
Those light & fragile buildings, honoring wood from the forest & paper from the field, are well grounded with stone… communing with its garden… well watered all this evolves into quite a fantastical version of nature.
We are here too late for most blossoming plants yet too early for the full autumnal color… which is just beginning to tinge the maples. One can imagine the coming glories, however the basic sculpture of the trees is a study in & of itself. All have been tended… if not almost “tortured”… carefully from early in their lives so that they are sculpted to dance with their siting & with each other, inviting transitory compositions opening to vistas long & short. Many become steep in places rising toward spots of choice overview. They are places of very long-term fantasy resulting from years of labor in pruning alone! They are the bones of these gardens.
The Imperial taste was seemingly “simple”… refined toward an appreciation of natural beauty… not gaudy or gilded in the European manner. The palaces & villas are thatched or shingled wooden structures with paper shoji screens & shutters to enclose/protect as well as to boldly expose/open to the gardens. They seemed quiet, private places not much made for show in the usual sense. Of course, one knows there were many additional aspects to the Imperial life which would add the color & pattern of robes & kimonos, sounds & rhythms of ceremony, which are not evident to us as later tourists… who were constantly in each other’s way as we all were shooting our cameras at every turn…not really enjoying anything “natural” about where we were.
So I must enjoy being the tourist & trust my memories as they mature with the images’ help… I’ve done this before. My new fancy camera is not yet comfortable… I must continue enjoying the full plate of learning… Learning life.
Speaking of plates: I will make a post about the fabulous food fun, but this morsel for now. We walked a lot & once got happily lost in an unexpected… color-coordinated… urban rice field.
Netsuke are intimate personal objects, meant to be held… fondled… which freedom I know to be impossible in a public exhibition. I have seen other museums show such collections at eye level in thin glass cases… so they can simply be viewed from both sides with much more clarity & ease.
It was very frustrating to this jeweler already suffering from loss of too much of my youthful visual acuity. Photographs were not allowed.
I tried to console my disappointment by moving through the opened screened spaces between the actual objects to a series of videos featuring the techniques of some of the contemporary artists being displayed. Those offered some tighter viewing, but would have been much better had they been edited so as not to be so tedious, sometimes even silly. By now I’ve been around filmmakers enough that I recognized these to be almost amateur.
The saving grace was the building, complete with the kitchen… which functioned as the video theatre. It featured a huge black cooking stove, its pipe soaring into the two-storied space… served by a steep stairway. A water well or cistern was covered with sturdy bamboo laced to roll back…. with a crane to lower or raise the wooden bucket. Clay pots were covered with wooden lids, two parallel bars for handles… All a bit over-sized.
More netsuke were much better displayed up in what must have been the bedrooms of this large home. I’m glad to have seen it all, even as I wish I had been able to actually see what I’d paid to see. Ahhh, life!
The better experience, later that same day, was the International Manga Museum. I knew very little about this particularly Japanese art form… Thinking of it as “comics” because it is usually drawn like that… pages of cells with words, often in “balloons”.
That will serve as a light dessert to our deep appreciation of the old city’s charms… we have many more photos, of course, but… enough for now.
Our last two days in Kyoto, we moved closer to the train station, first in an urban, rather vertical ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with tatami mats where you sleep on futons. The last night, we moved across the station to another hotel which allowed us to catch our train the next morning to the island of Kyushu, where our friend Terry Welch had arranged for us to stay in a real ryokan!