Thursday, August 02, 2007

For Your Eyes Only

Postcard from Japan (#3)

Dear Rox and LLF,

Here’s an inconvenient truth: Kyoto is actually not a very attractive city. Someone here at the conference compared it to New Jersey, which was not intended to be flattering, though fans of Roxie’s World with New Jersey connections know well there is great beauty in the Garden State. Anyway, Kyoto: It has a hodge-podge, worn-out, architecturally dull look about it, as if it were thrown together without much thought and then left to its own devices. As you drive through the streets, however, again and again the dullness is interrupted by the unexpected loveliness of a temple or shrine. There are close to two thousand scattered throughout the city, so the eye is constantly surprised by these glimpses of quiet majesty. To the Western eye – or to my Western eye at any rate --, it is a jarring yet delightful experience. I said to a traveling companion yesterday, “I’m not sure what my expectations were regarding temples and Kyoto, but whatever they were they’ve been violated by the reality of the place.” My companion, an Asianist with thirty years of diplomatic experience, smiled and said, “You were expecting something a little more mystical, perhaps?” I had to admit I was, yet I also acknowledged there was something wonderful about seeing the temples so deeply embedded into the fabric of everyday life.

The great temple at Kiyomizu, which I visited on Thursday afternoon with my Asianist friend and an affable economist, departs a bit from this pattern in that it is built into the side of a hill on the eastern edge of the city. You approach it as you approach the cathedral of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, by walking up steep, narrow streets lined with small shops that cater to the thousands of tourists who visit every day. As our Fodor’s describes it: “Supported in part by 139 pillars, the temple juts out over the valley. Finding the courage to set out on a daring new adventure is likened to ‘taking a leap from the veranda of Kiyomizu.’” I like that expression, and I loved the way the bright colors of the temple stood out against the dark green background of the surrounding forest. The temple was originally built in 788, though the current structure dates from 1633. (For more information on Kiyomizu, click here. For more photos, click here.)

I know my modest attempts as a photographer can’t do justice to the beauties of Kiyomizu, but your kind comments have made me bold enough to subject you to more of my efforts. I like imagining that Katie will download these photos into a slideshow, with the perfect bit of Japanese music for accompaniment, as a special treat for her mom, our dear friend Jean, whose birthday is coming up in a few days.

Here then is my gallery of photos from Kiyomizu. I took all the shots, except for the one of a very sweaty me, which was snapped by Erland Heginbotham.

Love to all,

Views of the Main Temple Building, Kiyomizu

Looking Sideways

Getting Even Wetter

My Posse (Bob Pollak & Erland Heginbotham)

Looking Down on Kyoto

Sound of Feathers Waterfall (the water is drunk to prevent illness)

Random Pretty Statues


  1. My memory of Kyoto must be clouded by all of the wonderful temples! I'm glad that you and the other Dickinson widows/widowers are able to see so much. Please tell me you didn't drink the water . . . ;)

  2. Anonymous3:31 AM EDT

    Of course I drank the water, Mr. Germophobe! Not out of the communal cups at the waterfall in the picture because the line was too long, but out of another smaller pool. No signs of illness yet either, but I'll let you know.

  3. Okay, I've downloaded the pics per instructions, and selected some koto music to go with the slideshow.

    Now, do you want me to keep this up until Wednesday, the bd, then show it to my mom as a surprise from you?

    That would mean not showing her the blog until then.

    Or, should I be sharing the blog, downloading pics until you all leave, and then make that the slideshow?

    What does your fantasy entail?

    Love, Katie

  4. Anonymous8:42 AM EDT

    Your call, dear, tho I wouldn't want to deny Jean the pleasures of the blog as things unfold. We had a great afternoon and evening today (Saturday). Should have more great pics tomorrow.



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