Monday, October 13, 2014

Kimonos at Kinkaku-ji

12 October 2014

We went to the National Museum of Kyoto on Friday evening, the one evening each week that the museum is open until 8 PM.  Always interesting to go to a museum in the evening, there's definitely a different crowd than you see during the daytime.

We attended a special exhibit called "Splendors of the Ancient Capital" which was interesting.  The exhibits included metal work, calligraphy, illustrated scrolls, kimonos, and both our favorites, giant statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  What I think was most amazing was that the artwork dated back some one thousand years!  Japan, and much of Asia, had flourishing cultures when Europe was in the "Dark Ages" and during the Medieval period.  We in the Western world tend to learn only the history of Europe and then more modern history (read, all the wars from the US Revolution onward), and rarely learn much about the history of other parts of the world.  So we don't always know about the rich cultures of Japan, or China, or India, or even Africa - cultures and societies that were much more advanced than our ancestors were at that period of time, some thousand or so years ago.  And even knowing that, sometimes it takes me by surprise.

Anyway, so it was incredible to see intricate paintings on silk that were 900 or so years old.  Portraits of former emperors looking like folded origami.  Buddhas made of wood, nearly 1000 years old, still looking imposing and serene at the same time.  

Here's a link to the museum's website: 

It was also interesting to walk around a different part of Kyoto, and to see the Kyoto Tower at night.  

So, Saturday was our last day in Kyoto.  We almost went to Nijo Castle, an old samurai castle not far from our apartment.  But Richard opted to just hang out, so I went to my favorite spot in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji.  Also, of course, known as Kinkakuji.  And probably some other spellings, since the English is a transliteration of the Japanese, and things aren't always exact.

Usually, we try to go to new and different places than we've been before.  If we just go to the same exact places we've been, well, what's the point of travelling?

I came through Japan in 1984, on my way home from my Peace Corps service in Liberia (yes, the long way home) and spent time in Tokyo with two families, and then came to Kyoto on my own.  I had heard about Kinkaku-ji, and found my way there by bus, in the winter.  It was cold, it was empty, the trees were mostly bare, and it was incredibly beautiful.  Heart-achingly beautiful.  Something out of a Japanese legend, or an Asian fairy tale, so beautiful it was unbelievable.  I loved it, and since we were back in Kyoto, I just had to go back and see Kinkaku-ji again.

A nice employee at Starbucks whipped out her iPad and found the bus stop I needed for the bus, I thanked her and we did our alternating bows, and I walked off down the road.  Bus came right away, I chatted with a few people who spoke English, and half an hour later there I was, in the foothills of the mountains, where the lush green that covers most of Japan was finally beginning to turn gold and red, and I got a hint of what autumn here can really look like, and why people travel to see the foliage.

Followed the crowd, many in kimonos (men and women alike, though the women are definitely more colorful), and walked through the outbuildings of Kinkaku-ji.  

Kinkaku-ji is also known as the Golden Pavilion, and has its own long and convoluted history. 

"Rokuonji Temple [the real name, Kinkaku-ji is the better known but more like a nickname] is internationally recognized as a place of exceptional and universal value: a cultural heritage site worthy of preservation for the benefit of all mankind. 

"Originally built in the Kamakura period (1185-1332) as an aristocrat's country estate and taken possession of in 1397 by retired shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the premises were turned into a supremely refined and elegant villa called Kitayama Palace.  Rokuonji's birth as a Buddhist temple occurred in 1422, when, following Yoshimitsu's death, it was converted into a Zen temple, with the monk Muso Soseki as its founding abbot.  The temple later fell into decline; however, the Golden Pavilion and temple gardens were largely restored during the Edo period (1615-1867).

"The temple garden was designed to incorporate Mt. Kinugasayama as shakkei or borrowed scenery.  In the course of creating the garden, various specially selected rocks were installed in the existing pond; the Shariden, better known as the Kinkaku or "Golden Pavilion," was constructed and a scenic lookout site was built on top of the mountain.  Overlooking the pond is the Golden Pavilion.  This magnificent structure, with its shingled roofs and with its second and third floors entirely gilded with gold leaf, epitomizes the so-called "Kitayama culture" of the period, and reveals Yoshimitsu's dynastic aspirations.  The Golden Pavilion was burned to the ground in 1950, and an exact reproduction of the original building was completed in 1955." 

Okay, I know there are a lot of photos.  I know.  And some of you readers are probably thinking, but it's the same building.  Over and over again.

Well, not to an art person.  Or a design person.  And it isn't the same building over and over again according to Japanese aesthetics and principles of design.

Each view is different.  The sun goes behind a cloud, the lighting changes, the color of the building changes.  I walk a few steps one way or the other, and the view changes, a tree frames the building or is silhouetted against the gold walls, and all of a sudden it becomes a totally different picture.  Sometimes there is more or less reflection in the pond, depending on the wind and the angle at which we view things.  Remember, the reflection increases the beauty of the scene, and is just as important as the object it reflects.

So while there are multiple views of Kinkaku-ji, think of the artist Hokkusai, whose "Thirty-Five Views of Mount Fuji" are still famous to this day - I saw his work in Tokyo, and it is wonderful.  So this is my multiple views of Kinkaku-ji.

I walked around the lake, then up the hill (which I suppose is Mount Kinugasayama) to the lookout site, where one is level with the golden bird on the roof.  It really is a gorgeous place, almost magical, and it was wonderful to spend an afternoon there enjoying the peace and beauty, despite the crowds.

I'm not sure if people come to Kinkaku-ji in kimonos because it is a special temple and thus they dress up in traditional clothing, or it it's because it is such a photogenic spot and everyone likes their pictures better if they look fancy in a kimono, or what the reasoning might be.  But I asked a few people pose for me, and others were already posing, or I caught their picture from behind (the best way to view tht intricately folded obi).  Just one more aspect of the beauty of the day.

As I said, achingly beautiful.

Tomorrow - on to Osaka!

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