The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Monday, July 09, 2012

Kyoto Part 3

On my third day in Kyoto, I woke up as early as I could (not very) and headed up to the northwest part of the city.  My first stop was Ninna-ji, which Wikipedia tells me is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.  Shingon is to Buddhism as Roman Catholicism is to Christianity in that it is comparatively old, it has a lot of ritual, and they believe in a lot of magical stuff.  (Really stretching an analogy there, but you get the picture.)  The temple was built in 888, although it was destroyed by fire (like a lot of things in Japan) and rebuilt.  Still ... pretty, pretty, pret-ty ... old.  The main gate below, contains the two Nio, muscular deities who guard the Buddha.

This poor guy's eye has cracked.  His mouth is open, forming the first sound of "Om".  His companion's mouth is closed, ending the "Om" sound.

Like I said, Shingon Buddhism tends to have a lot of ritual and like Roman Catholics, they get to wear cool robes and do processions and things.  I was lucky to catch a procession (who knows, they probably do a procession every hour or so).

Ninna-ji was wonderful, and I took a lot of pictures there, especially of the very nice garden, but I'm trying to finish this Kyoto trip (3 parts, already!) so let's keep it brisk ... On to Ryoan-ji!

Ryoan-ji is home to the most famous zen rock garden in Japan.   Answering why it is the most famous would be kind of like answering why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world.  Is it the "best"?  Who knows?  How do you even define that?  But in any case, at some point, it acquired the reputation as the being the representative zen rock garden, and since then people from Japan and around the world have been going to check it out, and (at the risk of blaspheming both Western and Japanese culture simultaneously) as with the Mona Lisa, most people have probably been a bit disappointed.

Well, I like it.  Again, lifting from Wikipedia: "[The fifteen boulders] are also arranged so that when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder."  That's pretty cool, isn't it?

After Ryoan-ji, it was off to Kinkaku-ji.  This place is kind of divisive.  Some Japanese people I've spoken to think it is gaudy and not really representative of the demure tastes of the Japanese.  (Little do they know that its style is typical of the Muromachi period's reliance on visual excess!  Thanks again, Wikipedia.)  The upper floors are completely covered in gold leaf.  I don't care what anyone else says, I think it is spectacular.

It was getting on and I was getting thirsty, so I took a bus downtown and dropped in at my friend Randy's tea and coffee shop.  Randy has been living in Japan for 30 years or so, maybe more, and is a martial artist and expert in the tea ceremony.  He decided to open up a tea and coffee shop in Kyoto a few years ago.  It's a beautiful little place call Ran Hotei, that captures the spirit of early 20th century Japan by blending art nouveau and traditional Japanese furnishings.  Here he is entertaining some customers...

One of his other customers suggested that, if I was on my way to Kyoto station, I should stop in at Nishi Hongan-ji.  I didn't know anything about it, but it was on the way, so I went in.  I was immediately told that they would be closing it up in a few minutes.  I dashed around and got a few pictures (none of which was very good) before getting kicked out.  I got this semi-nice picture of the guards shutting the gates on me.

I was then approached by a very interesting American-Japanese man, who works at the temple as a priest and as part of their outreach center, I guess.  He informed me (little did I know) that Nishi Hongan-ji is the main temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect, the largest Buddhist sect in Japan.  It certainly was immense.  Unlike some other temples in Kyoto, this temple is a functioning place of worship (respectful veneration?) in addition to being a historic site with a lot of unique treasures.  If I have the chance, I'd like to go back there again.

And so ended my Kyoto trip!  Just to try to balance out all that traditional Japanese culture I had soaked up, I grabbed a bite at McDonald's and hopped on the bullet train, which would take me back to the hustle, bustle, and (relative) rudeness of Tokyo.  It was great to get out of town for a while.  I really enjoyed the kindness and friendliness of people in Kyoto.  It reminded me that, pretty much everywhere outside of Tokyo, Japanese people are amazingly nice.  Maybe it's time to move out of this city?


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