Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kyoto, Japan Part III: Bamboo, Baby!

Welcome to the beginning of the third part of the only three-part blog I've ever written. Surprisingly, these three posts are focused on a period of only about three days. Evidently, three is the magic number today. More than anything, the short visit translated into a slew of blog posts is indicative of the kind of city that Kyoto really is. Although it's small in stature, it's incredibly rich in history while containing unparalleled depth for those with a keen eye. That, or it's indicative of the way in which I've fallen in love with this city, longing for just one more symmetrical rock garden with lush green hills in the backdrop. Nonetheless, I've taken more pictures of Kyoto than National Geographic, so in a moment of nostalgic despair I'll always have those. More realistically, I'll just haul myself back to Kyoto at some point, as there's still a large portion of Japan that I'm aching to see. Alas, I'll now recount my final day in Kyoto just weeks ago. I'm sure the Korea Blog will be enthusiastic about the fact that I've finally stopped talking about Japan, and will continue to focus on Korea. Don't worry, Korea Blog, I promise I haven't forgotten you. But I haven't forgotten me, either, so for my sake, welcome back to Kyoto for one last roll of the dice.

Arashiyama Mountain across the Oi River
What at first appears to be a Japanese Eden far away from the city turns out to be a Japanese eden within the city. That's the name of the game when it comes to Kyoto. This particular Eden or district, if you will, is known as Arishiyama and is located on the Western outskirts of Kyoto. Arishiyama Mountain ("Storm Mountain" in English) manages as a gorgeous backdrop for the whole district, while gives the area a noticeably peaceful aura. Arishiyama contains many notable sights, but we accepted the long bus ride on the pretext of a visit to a particular temple and bamboo grove. Our first stop was to the renowned Tenryu-ji. You get a virtual high five to be sent via e-mail if you guessed that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site on your own accord. After you're in Kyoto for a few days, you start to wonder if by chance the bus you took to get to the site also somehow managed to be blessed as a world heritage site itself. The moral of the story as far as UNESCO is concerned, Kyoto is a city worth preserving. That's an attitude I'd pleasantly adopt.

Ohojo Abbey at Tenryu-ji
Tenryu-ji is an extraordinarily important temple complex in Kyoto with a storied history. It's considered to be one of top five most revered temples in Kyoto, as it sits as the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The temple was founded and constructed in the middle of the 14th century, but the present day buildings are considerably newer due to a multiplicity of fires throughout the years. While I was researching a bit about this temple I came across a peculiar tale. Tenryu-ji managed to cast itself into a close relationship with China's Ming Dynasty in the middle of the 15th century. Essentially, the deal was the Chinese would have a say in the succeeding chief abbot of the temple, and Tenryu-ji would enter into a formal trading relationship with them. It's quite a bit more complex than that, but ultimately this gave them a monopoly of legitimate trade with China. I can only assume that this is yet another reason that Tenryu-ji is held in such high esteem. Bri and I both really appreciated the large abbey pictured above, but The Sogen Pond located directly in front of it was also a highlight of the complex. I'm afraid Kyoto turned me into something of a garden aficionado.

The real treasure we were searching for lay beyond The Sogen Pond in an area that was seemingly straight out of Harry Potter. Only a few minutes away from this pond lay the Arishiyama Bamboo Grove, which transports you into a world of mystery, accompanied by some of the largest and thickest bamboo you'll ever see. After being surrounded by concrete for so long in our Seoul suburb, it was nice to be surrounded by something else, namely bamboo. It was a unique experience, which Bri and I are always quick to welcome with open arms. Photos don't adequately convey the feeling of the grove, but I'm sure you'll be able to envision what emotions a place like this could conjure up.

Our time was short until Kansai International Airport would be beckoning us back to Korea, so a bus swiftly took off from the western outskirts back to the central area. The last destination would be Nishiki Market, also known as the "Kitchen of Kyoto." Nishiki Market has housed traditional Japanese items since the 14th century, but came into its own in the Edo Period in the 16th Century. It's actually a tremendously long and narrow market that looks more like an extended alleyway than anything else. The market extends about 400 metres and is a fairly narrow 5 metres across. Along this distance there are more or less 125 shops that offer anything and everything Kyoto will put on a plate. Personally, I delighted in the fact that the roof of the market was comprised of stained glass. The reflective products, such as plastic wrapping, flickered with the stained glass design high up above. I never really feel like I've seen a city unless I've visited a market or two, and it was the same with Kyoto. The variation of products, as well the manner in which they are selling them, are always indicative of cultural norms. Thus, Kyoto's market was logically planned, contained a smorgasbord of variety, and the products were sold by venders who weren't overly aggressive, and tended to have a smile.

Alright, so it wasn't as exciting as my second day in Kyoto, but few are as far as I'm concerned. Moreover, I'm not sure how many days a year you walk through a bamboo grove with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company. Overall, the sum of the trip Bri and I took to Kyoto was incredible and it will surely be something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. However, you can't spend too much time cherishing these memories now, when there are more to be made in the meantime. Thus, it was back to Korea for more escapades and the meantime. 

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