Thursday, July 21, 2005

Modern Kyoto

Beautiful gold temple at Kinkakuji

Back in Osaka, Kyoto is only a 20 minute bullet train ride away. Now for some reason, foreign tourists seemed to outnumber Japanese. Kyoto must be the Waikiki of Japan – people from all over the world come here. Ironically, this city, which is supposed to represent the traditions of old Japan, has probably become its most cosmopolitan, as it is on every foreign tourist’s travel agenda. I guess now is the slow season of Japanese tourism and foreigners come now.

First of all, we sped to Kinkakuji, the famous gold temple of Kyoto (pictured at the top of this page). Foreign tourists were oohing and aahing, and it is a very pretty and serene sight. It is also a replica of the real thing, which was burned down by an insane monk in 1958 or so. So what is the difference between this and Tokyo DisneySea (see my previous post)? Both are replicas. In fact, this temple replica was constructed around the same time as California Disneyland. Still, I enjoyed wandering the temple grounds and felt surprisingly at peace. I will come back again despite what I just wrote as that's how beautiful this place is.

Time was limited so we could only visit a few places. We entered Ryoanji, a temple created in the late 15th century, to see the famous zen garden of fifteen rocks set in a sand garden. This is supposed to be a place of meditation where you look at the rock garden and the more you look at it, the more the meaning shines through. Now the Lonely Planet guide recommended that you go in the morning since the crowds of tourists can be unbearable. When we arrived at 4:45 pm, the only other people were a British family and a Japanese couple.

So that meant that we could enjoy the quiet and tranquility of the rock garden, right? We forgot about the “Ugly Brit,” the European equivalent of the “Ugly American.” This British woman let her kids run around screaming in a place of quiet and meditation. I could hear them yell, “I can’t count fifteen rocks!” The kids then jumped off the viewing platform down into the prohibited area (right next to the garden) despite the English sign warning them not to, and started running around. I glared at a kid and gently scolded in English, “What are you trying to do? Count the rocks?” but the kid just smiled and kept running around. Mum kept yelling, “How many rocks do you see?” (I have blurred their faces for privacy reasons).

I wanted to scream to the mother, “HELLO? HELLO? Get it through your thick English noggin that this is a ZEN TEMPLE!” Then again, they could have been Australian given my inability to distinguish the two accents. In the end, I decided it would be un-Zen like lose control. Rather I decided to meditate upon the cause of my anger – why was I so provoked by this display of cultural insensitivity? Then I looked at the sign in the background telling you to be quiet: it was written only in Japanese. The family probably did not know that Zen Buddhism is about meditation and quiet. So to the kids it was just a bunch of rocks in the middle of sand. Now I understood them, but still, I wished that they learned more about this country before coming here. Can you imagine screaming Japanese kids running around in the middle of British churches? Well, perhaps it has happened countless times so I can`t complain too much about them.

The loud screaming family left, and after the Japanese couple left, we had the entire rock garden to ourselves! Can you imagine being the only people in such a world-famous place? We sat there for a long time meditating since this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Here is a photo composite I shot.Yoko is in the distance meditating.We really liked being able to sit there and meditate in quiet.It was time to leave this oasis of tranquility for the hustle-and-bustle of Osaka. But on the way home, I managed to stumble across BEARD PAPA, the famous cream puff bakery! It is a franchise chain all over Japan, but when they set up temporary shop in Hawaii, the line stretched all over the store. Yes, it is that delicious.
Finally, I had to take a picture of the sleeping men across from me. They appeared to be strangers, but both swayed together in unison. First to their left...
And then sway to their right...

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