Friday, November 26, 2010

Kyoto - fifth day

I'm settling in well after nearly a week here, finding my way around the city and the mentality. I noticed yesterday a particular sign of the process of getting accustomed to the place: People in the street don't look "Japanese" any more, they just look like people. I still have terrible trouble judging ages (at least from a polite social distance), but then that sometimes confuses me in Germany* too.

I haven't had a Lost in translation moment yet, but that is probably due to having Piet and Eiko as my hosts and guides. It would be much trickier were I on my own. Yes, fewer Japanese speak English than I expected, and (more significantly) many of those who can are reluctant to do so because they fear embarrassing themselves or inconveniencing me by their mistakes; but on the other hand I've managed to buy food, books and batteries for my camera, and take the subway, a bus and a taxi by myself without causing offence or laughter. I'll expand on this at another time. (The Japanese love that movie, by the way, they recognize the truth of Bill Murray's confused isolation and their inability to help him. I like it too, and would recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.)

I haven't really done very much, mostly just walked around and looked at stuff. I haven't yet been out of the city, for example, nor out to the suburbs to see Katsura-Rikyu (by appointment only, booked out until after Christmas!) or Ryoan-Ji. My plan for the remaining time is to keep my room here in Kyoto as a base and do day trips out, with at most an overnight stop in Tokyo.

The temples are beginning to merge in my mind, or at least their names. I'll remember the Buddhist prayer ceremony I happened to see (and hear) at Choin-Ji, and the hanging terrace above the woods at Kiyomizu-Dera, and the sand garden at Ginkaku-Ji, and the mirrorlike reflection of the illuminated autumn leaves in the pond at Eikando Zenrin-Ji last night, and my feeling of awe in the shrine at Kennin-Ji. On the whole, Kennin-Ji was probably my favourite so far, for the beautiful painted screens and because almost all of the shrine complex is open to visitors. It reminded me of the courtyards and ambulatories and ancillary spaces of the European cathedrals (though entirely different in scale and materials, obviously). Kennin-Ji is one of the few shrines I've seen where you can actually walk into the building and approach the altars; Choin-Ji is another.

Time for a walk in the garden at Heian Jingu, before lunch and more discussion with Eiko.

* I first typed "real life" instead of Germany. Japan is very much like Second Life!

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