This past weekend we traveled down to Kyoto. It is an absolutely ancient place, with human civilization having been established there as far back as 10,000BC. The prosperous city that we see today is the modern-day version of Heian-Kyo (peace and tranquility capital), seat of the Imperial Court in 794. It is absolutely full to the brim with culture–tourists are numerous. Kyoto is magnificent because one can truly see so many different cultural aspects converging; the city itself was built as a scale replica of the Tang Dynasty’s capital, Chang’an. I will do more features in this blog on Japanese history and the significance of the Chinese and Japanese relationship over time, but for now, just a brushing on Kyoto. It is very Nihon-rashii (Japanese-like), and another interesting thing is that the people in the region speak Kansai-ben. I recognized it instantly as I heard a few older gentlemen conversing in the train station.
What in the world is Kansan-ben? you might ask. In Japanese, many different dialects are used; with the exception of the extreme north (Aomori, Akita) and Okinawa, most dialects do not largely differ. The standard on television and the news, of course, is the Tokyo dialect, “Tadashii Nihongo.” Kansai-ben changes some words and emotion-enhancers, and is super noticeable to Japanese people (and for some reason, really entertaining to them). So Here is an example of standard vs. Kansai dialect:
Standard: “Hontou ni?” (Really?)
Kansai: “Honma ni?” (Really?)
Standard: “Kyo, hontou ni samui da ne.” (Today is really cold, isn’t it?)
Kansai: “Kyo, honma samui ya ne.” (Same meaning as above)
I don’t know why, but this sounds really funny to Japanese people. Most big comedians are from the Kansai region.
Friday evening we tooled around Gion and were able to spy a few Geisha running here and there to appointments; sadly, as I frantically tried to snap photos with my camera, I didn’t realize I had turned it off and somehow couldn’t manage to turn it on. My friend was able to steal a lovely photo; I’m honestly surprised we saw so many (2 or 3), considering there aren’t many left.
We sung karaoke, walked around, visited a temple in the snow (too dark for good photos), and ate at a delicious ramen spot called Ippudo.
The next day we headed out early so we could get in as many sights as possible, starting with the famed Fushimi-Inari shrine.
The shrine is dedicated to the deity, Inari, who is sometimes male, sometimes female. Merchants pray to Inari for wealth; hence the famous “thousand torii gates” (they are dedicated by businesses and merchants).
After we left the Shrine, we made our way toward Ryoanji Temple. Ryoanji is known for its zen rock garden, which may imply a deeper meaning behind the arrangement of the garden. You can read more about it–> here.
Finally, after Ryoanji, we headed up to the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion complex.
Kinkaku-ji originally served as a villa for a wealthy statesman, and eventually was purchased by the Ashikaga Shogunate and transformed into the complex. It has a somewhat odd history; in the 1950s a mentally unstable novice monk burned down the pavillon and unsuccessfully attempted suicide. The structure that stands today is from 1955 (the original was not actually gold). The gold was added to the current temple as a physical symbol of purification from any negative thoughts toward death.
Visiting Kyoto felt like going through an old photo album; I was there in 2005 with my classmates from Johoku High School on our class trip. At first it seemed like an unfamiliar place, and then slowly, as I went to these same places–through the streets of Gion, in front of a school for young Geisha, walking on the cool wooden floors of the Ryoanji Temple, standing before Kinkaku-ji with the sunlight illuminating its golden walls, the memories came flooding back and it was familiar once more. There is an imprint with everything we do; these ghosts that roam the streets remind us of who we once were and how far we have come.