Kyoto. Bathed in sunshine or dripping with a fresh fall rain? It holds all your senses and spirit the same: as you search its nooks and crannies; its alleys and streets; its foggy windows and shadowed doorways for the secrets it hides away.
It is one of the most culturally rich cities in Japan – and even the world – possessed as it is with 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, and over 2000 Buddhist or Shinto temples.
A few days only let’s you scratch the surface as you scurry through cobbled streets and forest lined paths in search of the next surprise.
And it is in the surprise that Kyoto’s real magic lies. Laden as it is with cultural richness, you don’t have to stumble far before you are confronted with a spectacle you didn’t expect…
… From a busy food market and into a rambling clothes market an accidental glance at a temple in the middle of all that’s commercial. Weary feet demand a rest and so you take a seat and just gaze at the cacophony of colour and satiate your spirit. This is all that is expected. All that is required. And then, as you raise once more onto barely-rested legs – ready to leave – monks march out from hidden alcoves. 1 becomes 2. 2 becomes 10. 10 becomes 100. And still they come.
And as you gaze, perplexed and bewildered at the unexpected turn of events; they chant. The hums echo and recoil from the walls and fill the modern day streets with an age old sound. And you feel your soul recharge.
… From busy streets; traffic lights; cars; contemporary clutter. A right turn here. A left turn there. Straight ahead. Up a hill. And before you lies a different land. A refreshing lane. No people. No rush. Just backstreet Kyoto. Kyoto.
But mysteries, treasures, secrets and surprises are not just for the lucky few (…who go and get lost); they abound on every corner and at every sight.
Whilst not hidden from view, the real meaning – the real mystery – is only there for those who sit and stare. Who concentrate and contemplate…
…Which meant I was out.
A garden. 15 cold, black rocks stand adrift surrounded by a white sea of stone. The designer? Unknown. The explanation. No one knows. And yet they speak to you. As you sit on the viewing platform you only ever see, at most, 14 stones. 1 remains hidden. Always. Does this speak of life? That we never truly see, we never fully understand?
A walk. Through thousands of red gates. A shrine to the gods of rice and sake. To the things that natures provides for life. And yet as you walk through the endless gates, warmed by the richness of their colour, the forest lies behind hidden, unseen, a mystery. The gates feel so permanent and yet they are nothing against the force of nature. Still, strangely, the power and glory of red gates soaring overhead, shielding the slinking shadows behind; You feel safe.
A forest thick with bamboo. No gates to hide the view. Yet you are apart from it. Separated. A path keeps you moving in the right direction. You can’t get lost. Yet this time the bamboo – like an army of spears – creates an impenetrable barrier. You cannot see what lies beyond as the light fades. It is a realm of shadows; where darkness rules and light fights a losing battle.
Another temple. Another shrine. Yet nature feels so much closer to that which is man made. Moss creeps over stones towards the house; trees cast gentle shadows over hard wood floors; rain drops drip from leaf, to roof, to grass. Man and nature intertwined. And all around the air is thick with the shadows of the past. Footsteps. Voices.
And as the rain continues to fall umbrellas obscure the people, their thoughts and feelings; their mobile shelters hiding them away till they reach their destination and disappear behind curtained doors.
A last sideways glance. Was that a geisha?
Too late. Its time for a drink! For whisky. For Yamasaki.