Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Today I had a plan.  I don't most days.  After Japanese class I was going to see Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion).  This is in northeast Kyoto on the edge of the Higashiyama Mountains, a good distance from Kyoto Station.

I'd read about a cafe not far from Ginkakuji that sounded cool, so I thought I'd start with lunch there.  It is called Gospel and is perfectly un-Japanese.  The architecture is English, as is the eclectic mix of antique tables and chairs, lamps, tea service and imperial pints of beer.  Every city of any size is going to have an entrepreneur who has an idea to do something different.  It is always interesting to see an interpretation of something you know well.  Often it is better than the original, especially if it is done by the Japanese.  The music comes from an amazing vintage stereo system and an impressive collection of early jazz LPs.  I am transported to England between the Wars.  After my lunch of meatballs in gravy with rice I was ready for an afternoon constitutional along Tetsugaku-no Michi (The Philosopher's Path).  But first Ginkakuji.

It may say something about me, or my personality, but Ginkakuji is infinitely more beautiful and interesting than it's more famous sister pavilion Kinkakuji (see my post "Missing Something" from October 24).  I knew I was going to like this temple even before I entered the main gate when I read on the World Cultural Heritage Site sign outside that it was an "elegant artistic salon, thronged with artists and cognoscenti" when it was built in 1482.  But never mind its reputation, the actual building is so simple and unassuming.  It doesn't need 50kg of gold leaf, or silver leaf for that matter (it's not actually silver despite the name).  It relies on the gorgeous patina of wood that has aged for centuries and a thatched roof of Japanese cypress.

Then there are the gardens.  Autumn has finally begun coloring the trees of Kyoto and the reds and oranges of the maples were brilliantly contrasted against the white of the Ginshaden (Sea of Silver Sand) and the green moss covering most of the ground.

I made a note a couple of weeks ago that there is a point when you simply have to stop taking photos.  You will never capture it all, not what you are seeing and definitely not what you are feeling.  The best camera is always inferior to the human eye.  You have to take a mental and emotional photograph and hope it doesn't fade from your memory.

Tetsugaku-no Michi is the path along the Shishigatani Canal that connects Ginkakuji with neighboring temple Nanzen-ji where philosopher Kitaro Nishida walked and meditated.  Apparently it can be a nightmare during peak tourist season.  At dusk on this Monday it was wonderfully quiet.  There was a moment when a few scattered raindrops from the gathering (or departing?) storm clouds shone like gold in the dwindling daylight.  A little further down the path was a cat perched in a tree like the Cheshire in Alice in Wonderland.  I thought, come on, where is the film crew?  No.  No film crew.  This is Kyoto.

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