02.07.2009, Kyoto 11th day


Kyoto, 11th day

Today was to be the cherry on the pie. It was, but for all the wrong reasons. Not, as I had expected, because of the Rokuon-ji, or famous golden pavilion, which I had, quite by accident, saved for last. It turned out to be something of a disappointment: overbearing kitsch combined with the irritating logistics of mass tourism. That last bit can't be blamed on the pavilion of course. Take it as unsaid. By itself it is a rather lovely pavilion, but it has been made exceedingly garish and vulgar by being covered so completely in an extra shiny gold. Mind you Ralph thinks differently. He admires the way the gold looks so solid, so full, and thinks that gold as a material should be better appreciated on its own terms. I like that, but not enough to persuade me. It works well enough on pictures, but when I see it in real life it looks like a plastic souvenir scaled up Supersize. Maybe I m being unkind, but that is how it is. And when I ask myself why I don't like it, I have to be honest. It has, without doubt, something to do with the associative qualities of gold. After all I don't mind paint, or lacquer. Why is it I don't like gold? There you go, it is the crypto-calvinist deep within me crying to get out to judge the world. And even if I succeed in overcoming this crypto calvinist, I haven't got rid of the problem. Gold is a material that is extremely hard if not imporssible to extricate from its social layering. Something that wood or stone does not suffer from. And when you think you have succeeded, all you really have succeeded in doing is to have become part of that world that likes gold for whatever reason. It is best, for the weak-minded like myself to steer well clear of it, even if it is only for religious purposes. I choose consciously, indeed existentially, for my crypto-calvinism. And that does not mean that my judgement of the temple as garish and vulgar is misguided. I stand behind that description, for I cannot manage to dissociate it from that world, however sympathetically I try. It is an expression of misplaced garishness and vulgarity as far as I am concerned and its stature as a world icon merely reinfoces that, in fact makes it suspicious on those very grounds, while I am aware that another world icon of Japan, the Ryoan-ji is not a mile away, which is so completely different in my approach to it. That is fascinating, however muddle-headed my thinking about these issues.

The walk up to it and later the walk back down to the hotel afterwards were ample compensation however. On the way up I happened on a wonderful little enclave of hoity toity aristocratic Kyoto near the Hokyo-ji temple just to the northwest of the Imperial Palace. It was as if I was transported back in time: elegant ladies and forthright, steel-faced men in rich kimono's walking the streets to pay their respects to each other and to the temple. They were doing their thing because that is the thing they do. Wonderful. The walled, blind streets, with all sorts of patterns of well-cared for woods, occasionally opened up by way of a modest seeming, but very elegant and carefully tended gate, to show a path leading through a luscious garden to I know not where. The mind boggles. It was only a small bit of city, but it was magic as it was as unexpected as it was unstaged. And then when I came back down from the temple, which, as I mentioned is in the northwest of Kyoto very near the Ryoan-ji rock temple, I hit upon a larger artisan's district with lovely old houses from which came the distinctive sound of a loom doing its weaving here and there. That was fantastic. Then I went shopping&

So what happens when you attempt to compare the use of public space in Kyoto with say, The Hague? Quite a lot. The first things that one notices is that there is no graffiti and very little eroticism in the background scenery of Kyoto, against which quotidian life takes shape. The absence of both are rather refreshing. The one because it allows the curious beauty of a simple fence or a concrete pylon to speak for itself, without the banal and messy homogeneity of mediocre graffiti, which even at its best rarely transcends the level of the arduous and forced, and the second because one is not constantly thrown back on one's basic instincts. It gives the negotiation of the city a certain hormonal calm. What the women of the city feel about it I don't know and wouldn't want to speculate, but I do wonder what women do feel as they walk the streets against a constant backdrop of erotic advertising, of which they are, by proxy, the desired object in all senses. Ralph interestingly suggested that the lack of the erotic in Kyoto appeared to give the erotic back to the women walking the city. That is a nice thought. There is certainly no lack of the erotic in the streets of Kyoto and that eroticism is the electric charge between real men and real women, walking the streets. Every passing woman, however elegantly and soberly dressed, flashes her eyes quickly at the men passing the other way to see what they are looking at, and drawing their own conclusion from whatever they find. The men have their own way of looking which is inscrutable. Ralph's idea is attractive, but I am not sure that it is convincing, after all there is no lack of such behaviour in Dutch streets, although Paul Shepheard once recounted a story about a busty Spanish lady in Amsterdam who found it curious and rather upsetting that Dutch men did not appear to notice her magnificence. Whatever the case the ubiquity of erotic advertising in a city like The Hague does appear to make things just that much more gaudy, explicit and direct. It cuts away the distance and the rich world between the suggestion and the act of love itself. It is all "in your face" which constitutes an experiential impoverishment, whatever way you look at it. It leaves too little room for the rest as it demands so much of your attention.

Then there is the curious difference in Kyoto between the gaze down and the gaze up. The gaze down reveals immaculate street surfaces, kept clean by armies of old ladies and city officials. There is a surplus of men for all sorts of jobs connected with spatial orderliness, uniformed parking attendants, street cleaners, buildingsite guards who regulate traffic with starwars swords and warn you politely as you pass. There is also a curious policy with regard to public seating. There are very few benches and places where you can sit comfortably in the streets of Kyoto, which keeps people moving all the time, and keeps the tired from littering the streets with their sedentary presence. Is this policy or is it just habit? Terraces are rare and rarely make optimal use of their spatial possibilities. Restaurants are inside things, appart from the wonderful balconies over the river at the Pontocho, but even they open out over the river at the back of the buildings, and at a height that you can hardly see who is eating there, while the entrances to the restaurants are "blinded" by curtains carrying the name of the restaurant..

Then there is the gaze up and the delightful chaos of jostling buildings, which only rarely seem to take account of each other and the wirescape, about which Ralph rightly observed that it had its own beauty. After all it is an extremely sophisitcated and well-kept wirescape, with its own men devoted to its maintenance. Near building projects, for instance, the pylons and their bits and pieces are protected by a kind of gold netting to protect the builders. The lack of space has made the Japanese extremely inventive with regrd to parking their cars and bicycles. Japanese houses do however appear very inward looking, I am not sure I could live in such a way for long without going mad. They live according to the Loosian ideal: windows only to let light in, and no sight through, either in or out. I love the fact that the rooms bordering on the street tend to be garages or other hall like spaces in which all sorts of citynegotiating technology is kept ready for a sortee: welies, spare umbrella's, bikes, you name it. Then as you go further the floor is raised, shoes are removed, a corner is turned and the world becomes completely private. That same sense of the private extends to restaurants and cafe's


Anti-dog peeing machine
A letter like a map of the Kyoto grid or the grid like a letter?
Public Urinal near the Hokyo-ji temple, with postcards of the Fuji, which some enthusiastic person stuck to give the men a better view
Someone who has understood the medicinal value of a good hair day.
I dread to think
The best goods for you! This shop challenging to price broken in this campaign sale!