Kyoto Essence

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Today’s guide, whose name is Tatsuo but whom we have been told to call “Ted”, is very enthusiastic about showing us some of the beauty of his traditional culture.  He has put together a notebook with photos of what he hopes to convey to us about the highlights of historical Kyoto.  And his pleasure in helping non-Japanese navigate some of the unusual nuances of his culture is obvious and makes our day extremely enjoyable.

At Ginkaku-ji

A bus takes us deeper into the Eastern part of Higashiyama to begin the walk down the famous “Philosopher’s Path” named, we are told, for an old professor of philosophy who often walked this track along a small canal diverted from Lake Biwa.  This narrow tree lined street is now beautiful cherry trees which are unfortunately not in bloom now but form a green canopy over the walkway.   

Along the way are numerous old Buddhist temples and we start with the Silver Temple, Ginkaku-ji, and end with Nanzen-ji, each with its own beauty.  Ginkaku-ji has magnificent gardens and views from the highest areas of its land.  Next to Nanzen-ji is Konchi-in where we were fortunate that Ted reserved for us a tour of the very famous interior panels and paintings in the temple, including an exceptionally beautiful well-known one of a monkey reaching for the moon.  This was to remind the monks and all visitors through the ages of the insubstantial and temporary nature of our worldly connections.  Within these two very special rooms with tatami mats, we find an incredible set of decorated hand-painted screens which we were allowed to get very close to view.  There was a Japanese guide for the 4 other guests and we were on our own with Ted to explain what we saw around us.   

There were no photos allowed inside but here, as elsewhere, there were no security guards in sight.   This is probably the only place in the world where visitors are allowed up close by themselves to view and experience priceless antique art and artifacts without anyone nearby or even, as far as I can tell, security cameras.   Any of us could have accidentally sneezed or coughed on the precious screens and paintings.  It is unusual to be so trusted!

We pass a boys private school with long streams of carp flags, traditionally flown on Boy’s Day which is this week, blowing in the wind. Ted translates some of the posters on the wall which speak of the awards and achievements of the school’s students. Obviously, a high level and expensive private school which Ted remarked is only for the wealthy.

Our lunch today is at a well-known and very old restaurant specializing in Tofu and we are given a big pot in the middle of the table of simmering tofu along with an array of small dishes to enjoy.  Wonderful.

Our final excursion for the day is to the famous red tori gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, pictured in most brochures about Kyoto.  These are donated at a set price by people with names of companies or families painted on them, to be maintained over time at a cost.  The effect is dazzling but there is little spiritual essence or even long history involved with the site.  As Bill pointed out, they are a precursor to the artist Christo’s fence and post art installations. The photo below is misleading as this site was very crowded with people, despite the light rain.

The weather has been cloudy with occasional short drizzle but manageable.  We are all well and although some of us, myself included, are sleeping little.