Monday, May 21, 2012

A Day in Kyoto [ Japan III ]

One day the four of us go to Kyoto.

I have visited Kyoto before.  It is kind of where to go in Japan, if you have a choice, particularly during cherry-blossom time.   Set among hills, it is home to a variety of interesting temples and shrines, as well as other historical points of interest, and surrounded by natural beauty.  Its beauty saved it.  When the Target Committee placed Kyoto first on the list of potential cities to be destroyed by the first or second atomic bomb, Secretary of War Henry Stimson removed it from the list.  (One account claims Stimson had visited Kyoto before the war; another says Edwin O. Reischauer, a famous authority on Japan, burst into tears at the news, and that Reischauer's superior in Army Intelligence persuaded Stimson to save the city of temples from destruction.)

I have little to add to all that's been written on Kyoto, but a few photographs.   We walked extensively -- from the train station to _________, then along smaller streets, all of them far more crowded than I recalled from decades ago, to Kiyomizu-dera, around its grounds, and ultimately back to the subway, walking faster and faster as rain began pelting us.

Two visitors enjoy Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple from the Heian period.  The place is well over a thousand years old, although the existing buildings date back only to 1633, when Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (memorable to me as a major figure in the novel Shogun) ordered its restoration.  Not a single nail was used in the construction.
Posing by sakura
We see many kimonos.  Most are rented for the day.   Young women rent them as part of an outing to Kyoto to see the sakura.    A far smaller number appear to be high-quality, older kimonos that may be family heirlooms used now only for special occasions.  

A very few women -- including these two, I think -- are "actual geishas" -- whatever that means in this day and age.  They wear the costumes, and the white face-paint, as part of jobs in bars, entertainment, or historic  spots.  When other Japanese see them, they often ask to have their pictures taken with the geisha.

This lady is none of the above, but perhaps just a bit old-fashioned.

Her kimono is older, well-worn, and not at all flashy.

She projects a certain dignity.

This woman is, we realize as s/he draws nearer, not a woman.  It's refreshing that although a few Japanese shoot photographs, as I do, people are not in the least troubled by his cross-dressing, but rather compliment him or express appreciation if they comment at all.    Everyone's having a good time, and so is s/he.

How common it is for a man to appear as a geisha in Kyoto's streets I have no idea.

Random images from Kyoto

An unbeliever . . .

. . . just in case
. . . rings the bell . . .
Actually, posting these three pictures triggers a memory.  Folks were tossing coins up onto the stage, ringing the bell, and making wishes.  One fellow in a wheelchair kept being encouraged to do so by the woman pushing his chair.  It wasn't hard to guess what he might wish for; but each time she gave him the coin, and he tried to toss it, he couldn't manage that.  She'd pick it up and give it to him again.  She tried helping to guide his arm, but that too failed.  Finally I think she tossed it up there and he made his wish.   Sad.  Unless, as of course I hope, his wish came true.

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