Day 2 in Kyoto; Day 3 in Nara

Hi folks,

Typing this on a Shinkasen, a bullet train, on our way to Naoshima. The scene out the window looks like we're on fast-forward.

Kyoto is amazing. We keep saying we haven't a clue what is going on, but we love it. It is as if we are seeing only the outer layer of the onion, but it is wondrous.

Day 2 in Kyoto we went to Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple which is famous for its dry rock garden. Chandra, who is into quiet, calming art with a minimalist sensibility, has really been looking forward to seeing this. We figure she was Japanese in a past life. We also went afterwards to Daitoku-ji, which is in the same part of the city, Northwest Kyoto. Daitoku-ji, also Zen, has multiple temples, only some of which were open. The temples are all surrounded by gardens, and most have enclosed gardens also, both dry and green. They are breathtakingly beautiful. In fact, so many parts of Kyoto take your breath away. One temple in particular is surrounded by a bamboo forest, with a beautiful garden filled with Japanese maples, and a lovely teahouse, built by a Japanese lord, famous for winning battles in Korea, whose wife converted to Christianity at a time when it was illegal in Japan. Top photo of dry rock garden by Lewis deSoto, bottom photo of one of the main rooms at Ryoan-ji by Don.

Day 3 Darlene Markovich, who is one of the major movers and shakers of The Missing Peace, invited us to visit Nara with her. She, her husband Ron and some friends were being shown around by Hiroko, the wife of travel writer Pico Iyer. The Iyers live part-time in Nara, and Hiroko is a native of nearby Kyoto. Lewis and Chandra opted to take a little recuperative break, but Don and I woke up bright and early, activated our Japan Rail passes and headed off to Nara. Our instructions were to meet at the Nara Station Starbucks. As often happens when traveling, there was a slight mishap. The Starbucks was not at the station we came into, but another station. Dear Ron met us at the station, had a taxi waiting, and whisked us off to the right station. It turns out their traveling companion, Garry, had done a project at Magnolia, printing on mirrors, while Don and I were in Santa Fe. His sister, Lou, now lives outside London, but grew up in Palo Alto and was one year behind Don in high school. Hiroko is totally charming and unusually vivacious. She took us to see Kofuku-ji with its beautiful wooden pagoda and Todai-ji, whose main hall is still the world's largest wooden building, although my guide book says that it is only 2/3 the size of its original structure, housing Japan's largest bronze Buddha. It was built in 745 by Emperor Shomu, in an effort to ward off plagues. My guidebook tells an interesting story of when the giant Cosmic Buddha (who presides over all levels of the Buddhist universe) was dedicated in 752 by symbolically opening its eyes. An Indian priest stood on a platform and "painted" the eyes with a large brush; colored strings trailed down so that others below could participate. Ambassadors from China, India and places "further afield" attended. This is in 752, folks. We also went to the Nara National Museum to see Hiroko's favorite Buddha, a 6-armed and 3 faced bronze, which turned out to resemble Hiroko; (or I should say one of the faces and 2 of the arms). The Nara Museum has a stunning collection, each piece was a gem. There is a bronze Buddha head there which gives one a blast of energy when you stand directly in front of it, a mini Satori experience.

We have been speculating on how Kyoto, which is a very large city, seems so unhurried and calm. The Japanese seem so mellow and cheerful. I think it is more than everyone knowing their place and knowing what to expect, I think it is also the presence of literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of gorgeous Buddhist and Shinto shrines in one city and always the relationship to nature. The temples are usually surrounded by gardens and often, along with the shrines, have a very open design. You do not get the sense of a fortified citadel, but a gorgeously designed and constructed wooden structure, very accessible and open to the world.


Era (and Don)