a masochist in tokyo

Sunday, May 28, 2006


if we are to understand tokyo as the flaming center of japan's look to the west, then the area of kyoto we explored represents nothing less than the polar opposite of that, an insular community that feeds on itself for its culture and heritage. most of kyoto is not like what we experienced...but what we did see and feel was "old japan." this is in stark contrast to the kinetic energy of japan's center of industry, and purely represents the strange dichotomy that exists throughout the whole of japan. the temples and valleys and simple but bold architecture calmed me in ways that i never would have thought i would experience in japan given where i've spent the bulk of my trip. where tokyo is all push and pull, the ryokan and the temples visited in kyoto and nara represented stillness and acceptance. the most elaborate of structures exuded a sense of peace, along with a silence uncharacteristic of the bustling metropolis. and yet, like elsewhere in japan, there is a strange sense that everything you see is guided by the hand of man...that here, there is no accident, no unshaped beauty. everything, even the most peaceful and earthy elements have been manipulated to create what ritchie refered to as the japanese concept of nature. for the japanese, he says, nature is not by chance but by choice, and through manipulation reaches its potential. i saw seemingly natural elements throughout the temple areas and gardens, trees, rock formations, and the like. however, the trees were too perfect, creating (for a western eye) unnatural geometric shapes, becoming architecture of a sort to support and enhance the main structure they surround. the rocks were shaped to represent mountain formations and to facilitate eye movement around a carefully created stream. even the trees in the distance on the mountain had the odd peculiarity of not having their leaves start until very high on the trunk...had those at one point been pruned and formed into those shapes? for someone like me, it became impossible to tell what had been enhanced and what had been left alone...i just began to assume at one point or another everything in that place had been touched by man. in that context, that which is intended to calm and enlighten in the japanese culture isn't a nature that exists of its own volition...those are only elements. the work and hardship that goes into creating a peaceful garden is a metaphor for the whole of japan, i think. even moments of serenity are carefully calculated and controlled.

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