24.06.2009, Kyoto, 3rd day


Today I did the philosopher's walk and more.  It had just stopped raining as I walked out of the hotel to wade through a troop of uniformed, happily bubbling schoolchildren. As I approached the crossing with the Oike Dori, one of the main East-West avenues slicing the grid, a new secret world of essential techniques for daily life was revealed to me. Elegant ladies on elegant, light bikes weaving themselves casually through the crowds on the pavement, had special brolly holders mounted on their handlebars! There weren't many; I counted no more than three during the whole day. I imagine it takes a certain skill to put the umbrella in the right stand and make sure it stays there. Nevertheless, it was a revelation. More of a revelation even than the discovery that many people here like wearing white gloves, especially cyclists. In fact there are elaborate lacy cuffs available for cyclists which you can have mounted on your handlebars. 

It was extremely humid today. I ascended towards the northern part of Northern Higashiyama and just as I was wondering where I might be and grabbed my map, a Frenchman, who had been watching me approach as he was smoking a cigarette, directed himself to me said that he hoped I was lost. I told him that I was, very happily so. This cheered him up. He was quite obviously in love with Kyoto. He quickly put me on the right track, gave me warnings of what not to miss and then wished me to get lost again  as it is the best way to explore the city, he said in his sonorous Francophone English. I told him I was a specialist, thanked him and walked on as he moved towards what I imagined was the entrance to his house. I had just passed a very chic residential street next to the temple of Shinyo-do, stretched with low garden walls and filled with villa's for what I imagined was old money. The Frenchman did not live there. His fence did not indicate his status. In any case it was rather more modest than the gorgeous low white walls covered in a slim long ridge of tiles from which emerged low tiled gables and carefully manicured tree crowns. I ascended a long staircase up the hill and found myself at the Yoshida Shrine, behind which was a sweet series of orange gates leading further up the hillside to another little shrine of which I do not have the name. That brought me near to the beginning of my philosopher's walk, the Tetsugaku-no-michi (which apparently means the path of philosophy) In spring, judging from photographs, it must look exquisite with its mile long track of cherry blossom, bursting from carefully tended, ancient cherry trees covered in a bright green moss and with their heavy branches supported by Bamboo struts. However lovely the trees themselves, it was not spring and the path, it has to be said, was rather less than astonishing in summer. At the same time perhaps rather more true to its name than a simple lovely walk would be. I think Heidegger became sentimental in his old age. Good philosophy is walking the problem and not escaping into the solution. This is a path for thinking hard and violently as one tries to reconcile the image of what once must have been a delightfully reclusive mountain stroll with the weird world of mass tourism and urban development. This truly philosophical path for dangerous thought leads the way of thinking between carefully manicured nature, commercial exploitation and indifferent growth. People trying to make a go of things. That made it quite a challenge. But I do believe philosophy is about thinking hard stuff without resorting to cynicism and sarcasm. That merely leads to bad digestion on the part of the cynic.

The first stop along the way of difficult thought immediately made me abandon my heady  task and let me wallow gloriously in the fabulous (in its literal sense) floating world of the Ginkakuji-Mo, or silver pavilion, which isn't made of silver but of wood. The actual pavilion is part of a villa-turned-Zen-monastery. I could be a Zen monk, living like that, easy-peasy! What makes this place special is not just the meticulous attention to detail in the garden and the house, the sheer delight in the technology of maintenance; it is also the way interior and exterior are separate by becoming aspects of each other; they do not merge but open out to each other and thereby create each other. The garden would not be what it is without the house and vice verse. They are separate domains but in the same way that auditorium and stage are separate. They would be lost without the other. Simply glorious. I followed my path after an hour or so, but all deep thought of violent logic and existential rigour had vanished and I walked along happily wishing I had a writing table like Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the Shogun who had the villa some 500 years ago. Mind you it is not just the writing table in an objective sense that I want; I want the writing table properly attuned to its surroundings and to my mood. The writing table has no separate existence as an object, it exists in my wish as the centerpiece of a whole world, a universe, which is best kept right where it is now, in my head.

As I said, I followed my way but found it hard to get such loveliness out of my mind. Temples and houses followed but none of them measured up to that one, until I got to two temples, at the end of the philosopher's walk, the Nazen-ji and the Konchi-In. I enjoyed their gardens so much that I spent much longer in them than I had planned to. Pluck the day: they were almost empty and I had them both to myself for a good half hour each. All the stuff I have already mentioned, I won't mention again, suffice it to say that these gardens were similarly set up to work together with the interior spaces of the temple halls and the wide verandah; at the same time they are also simpler than that; they are framed mis-en-scenes, quiet theater productions where you can sit watching very little happen for hours. Unfortunately the Leaping Tiger Garden, so named I presume because of the fantastic caricatural paintings in the adjoining prayer hall, although exceptionally beautiful, was slightly marred in the experience of it because of the endless loop of a recorded voice in Japanese, no doubt telling us very little more than what you could have read on the sheet provided to you as you paid your money. After I had listened to the mellifluous tones of the lady for a fifth or sixth time speaking into the void of my incomprehension and the empty garden, I felt that enough was enough and I moved on to the Konchi-in with its turtle and crane gardens. I sat there for ages in silence, contemplating the idea of lunch and playing with the idea of becoming a happily married monk. They lead a good life, monks. More of that anon.

I needed money. All these temples had taken their toll on the cash-flow situation. I entered a bank and asked a very kind and helpful lady if I could use the ATM, she consulted with a kind gentleman and handed me a photocopied map which showed me to the nearest department store, which is where I went. To get money. I love the Takashimaya department store! Closely modelled on its French original, it sells everything with a great deal of panache. I saw ladies sitting in front of another lady giving lessons on some intricate aspect of the kimono and I was kindly directed to the seventh floor by a gentleman in white gloves who was happy to accompany me until things became obvious enough. Then I was made to wait in a long queue of old ladies, one of whom I allowed, because of a slight ambiguity in the situation, to join the queue in front of me. This may not have been the best idea. She kept on reminding me how kind I was and would look back and bow and make little exclamations. Anyway I got the cash and mistook the ground floor for the one I needed to get out of this enormous jostling labyrinth. That was wrong. The ground floor is below ground. I should have got out on the first floor. So inadvertently I had arrived at cave of wonders, an enormous food hall, the likes of which I have never seen. Aladin, eat your heart out. I am going back there tomorrow and the day after and possibly everyday I have left here. I don't need to describe it, as everybody knows a food court. But the sheer variety, the number of people helping, the number of shoppers, the quiet bustle, everybody's kindness and politeness, helpfulness, but above all the variety. It was an encyclopaedia of the possible, showing that in the realm of food, much is possible. The packaging, the presentation, the combinations of strange and familiar vegetables, cakes, sauces, unidentifiable things. It was ecstasy! You recognize art when you see it. Not only did it look beautiful in the love of its preparation, but it smelt divine and was so interestingly ordered. When I did eventually get out on the first floor I was dead tired so I walked to the hotel and had a quick rest and something to eat (bought from the Takashimaya of course)

I soon left again to walk to the Nishi Honganji twin temple towards the south of the grid, itseld twinned with the Higashi Honganji. I had come unprepared again. Of course I had seen the Higashi Honganji nearby in its scaffolding, but that was a sinlge building set in a group of smaller buildings. These two stand together, symmetrical, connected by a walkway. The size of the creatures is peculiarly inconceivable. They do not reveal their scale in photographs. There are signs of course, the size of the people, the size of the roofs supporting tons of clay tile, all of it meticulously arranged in falling lines like a wide skiramp supported on huge wooden columns sat upon acres of well-polished wooden floors, worn into a grained surface through centuries of barefooted monks and a century of tourists in socks. This was the umpteenth time I was told to take of my shoes and "be careful to thieves!" I have developed a way of doing it with great skill. Everything is beautifully tended and well-used. I watched an acolyte, watching an experienced monk beat a piece of wood with a hammer. As soon he was given the chance the young man proceeded to imitate his master with great enthusiasm so that my visit is full of the peculiar sound of wood being hammered in a a rhythm of varied urgency. I was one of the last to leave I am ashamed to say. The guard looked at his watch as I walked out through the gate with hordes of monks, jostling and laughing, carrying laptop bags, leaving the temple to go home. One young monk on a huge motorcycle cruised past me as I walked back towards the Pontocho, zigzagging the grid to reach the river where I sat, watching people watching birds and things that happen along the water front. That was lovely. As it became dark I walked along the Pontocho and saw a Geisha in full flower on tall slippers stepping with small strides to her appointment. People around me became hysterical trying to photograph her, Japanese people I hasten to add, but they were too late. She looked around almost as if she was afraid of being followed, flashed her white face and thin red lips at us before entering a narrow dark alley and she was gone. I walked home and started writing this epistle with a very nice glass of Sake in one hand& I think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so& .

Subaquaeus geography
Yes, a bit
Tree and wall, a study in surfaces
a man's villa is his temple
Street in Northern Higashiyama
Ginkakuji-mo, entrance
Crossing the threshold
Garden of the Ginkakuji-mo
Pavilion and garden
Same pavilion from the garden
The silver pavilion from the garden
Bamboo fencing and more bamboo fencing
Moss and roots (couldn't resist it)
Two versions of the same window of the Ginkaku-ji
Interiority and exteriority become much of a muchness
Door, wall and letterbox along the philospher's walk
Wall along philosopher's walk
This way philosopher
House with drying unit, along philosopher's walk
These are carefully crafted replica's of the menu. They are worth independent study, both from a sociological point of view and from a technical point of view. What, for instance, is the relationship between the availibility of the different menu's and their replica's. Who makes these things? Are they happy?
Street near the Nazen-ji, a lovely example of the low-walled street with sprouting trees and stuff
The veranda of the Leaping Tiger Garden. You cannot hear the voice of the lady reciting her story into the void
Leaping Tiger Garden
One of the enlcosed gardens in the temple
I desperately needed to go to the loo. So I did, in fitting footwear.
Be careful to stealers.
Bandaged tree
Over the threshold at the Konchi-in
The veranda and the turtle garden
The shoji and halftimber structure of the facade of the Konchi-in temple
Back into the city, the southern bit of Norhtern Higashiyama
The art of gardening and the art of parking are one. They are both an art of placing judiciously.
A door with letterbox
Sorry, but I can't help it. The world does not end at our feet. It goes deeper than that.
The side of a house
The pontocho, embodied narrowness
The side of a restaurant in the Pontocho
Boxes under police control
The main shopping street of Kyoto
Urban Tableau
Corners and lampposts with waterbottles
Rain & UV cut, safety reflector, otherwise know as a brolly holder for on the handlebars.
Nishi Hingan-ji, left hand temple
Both temples, from the right
The courtyard behind the connecting gallery. Right, The young acolyte learning how to hammer wood
Washstand in the said courtyard
The outside wall of the Nishi Hongan-ji
Shops on the street leading up to the temple, selling religious technology
The street with the entrance to the temple
A modern attempt to incorporate the qualities of traditional architecture. This is a row of about 6 houses
Bonsai border
Old and new
New on an old lot
The terraces of the Pontocho restaurants along the river.