Kyoto Travel Notes

So I went to visit Yutaka (himself visiting from LA for the holidays) at his family near Kyoto and came back just in time to spend NYE in Tokyo. There are lots of pics below and on the right side, taken both with my little keitai camera and with Yutaka’s camcorder using this nifty “stitching” feature to create panoramic views.

Overall, not much comments are needed, as Kyoto is mostly about temples and zen gardens. I tried not to overdo it and kept it down to four or five sites, including the super-famous Golden Pavilion (part of Kinkakuji), of which I learned the day after that it was actually a reconstituted version following its burning to the ground in the 1950s. Also rather famous is Kyomizudera, perched high above on an elaborate web of logs, with a breathtaking view of the whole city.

Then Ryoanji and its Zen garden, the ultimate achievement in zen minimalism, since it’s basically fifteen rocks surrounded by white gravel raked in simple patterns (forming some sort of airwaves around the rocks). I am ashamed to admit that I was not really overwhelmed by the Zen serenity of this garden; but to my defense, it requires some skills to meditate, when surrounded by dozens of tourists from all countries rather bored themselves and trying loudly to figure out what’s the deal with this bunch of stones.

On the other hand, the visit of Zuiho-in, located inside Daitokuji (a large complex of temples and garden, of which only a few were open to the public), proved fascinating. Since it was a day away from NYE celebrations, with a freezing cold outside (it had snowed most of the week), the temples were nearly empty and only a handful brave tourists were roaming around. In these conditions it was much easier to appreciate the calm and beauty of Zuiho-in’s garden, which was of slightly less abstract style, featuring different sorts of natural elements (stones, moss, flowers…) to depict a zen vision of the entire world in a self-contained space.

We were the only visitors when we arrived to the main side of the garden, and were doing the usual touristy thing: reading the leaflet, looking around and about to keep going on the very short tour of the temple, when one of the monk (he turned out to be the one in charge of this temple) came out to the gallery and invited us to sit down in order to fully appreciate the view. After showing us how to sit properly and hold our hands in a meditation pose, he quietly chatted away with us for a little while, asking all kind of mundane questions about our life while pointing out small details about the meaning of the place. Emphasizing the importance of taking the time to sit and watch things from the ground over standing or trying to rise at all cost. Eventually, he wished us a good day and went back to his occupations. I was insanely happy that I had progressed enough in Japanese to understand most of his talking, luckily done in a rather slow, simple diction, as I feel I would have missed greatly, had I only gotten second hand translations afterward.

What a great way to finish my visit to Kyoto. the traditional and spiritual counterpoint to busy Tokyo metropolis.

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