(Oct 16, 9PM, in the small alcove overlooking ryokan’s garden)
Hunting for white dolphins
Many years ago I spent a week with my brother on the island of Lanzarote. Enthusiastic about all creatures living in the sea, we were close to jumping into the sea from aboard a sightseeing ship when a pack of dolphins appeared at our bow. Beautiful creatures, so far only known from mythical broadcasts called Avara Luonto or thereabouts, suddenly were very much real and present. We were lying on our stomachs on the sailnets and savouring every moment.
Marvelously we got the chance for the same island the next year, and planned a lot on the subject of dolphins. We took more than one sigh-seeing cruises, equipped with snorkelling gear if the chance to swim with dolphins would appear (completly ignoring the fact that the sea was approximately 15 degrees cold and not so inviting otherwise) and studied the signs for identifying the dolphin species.
Naturally, we spent most of our waking time eyes fixed on the sea, cameras always loaded and locked on infinity – and did not see half a fin.
Some time (years? Time flies, can’t remember …) later I was diving in the fabulous Red Sea. Fabulous for it’s coral reefs as well as for dolphins. And so, I was diving for a week, eyes taking in all the colors and shades of blue but ears tuned to the frequency range above the constant low rumble of my breaths escaping towards the sun – and, then, while crossing a 200 meter deep rift from one reef to another, concentrating on the depth meter so I would not sink unconsciously, having almost lost the sight of the rest of the group (only blue, blue, deepest blue in every direction, no feeling of weight, time, space or speed) their song reached my ears. I turned around wildly towards the open sea, but could not see anything except perhaps for some shadows of my mind… No dolphins.
Why these memories?
We walked today the narrow alleys of Pontocho and Gion in Kyoto, in the land where geishas lie (or dance, or whatever). Even though I don’t consider myself a geishaist, they are creatures of even more mythical aura than dolphins; I have not even seen them on National Geographic Channel. So, I walked, the camera pitifully in my hands, eyes straining to hear the click-clack of wooden shoes, eyes taking in all that could betray the movements of the floating ladies – but no.
There are said to be around 100 geishas in Kyoto; sightseeing for them for half an hour is a bit like going to LA or Beverly Hills, even, for half an hour to see celebrities.
We’re staying at a ryokan near the Nanzen-ji zen buddhist temple area, and visited the grounds in the morning. Blessing smell of cedar trees, blinding sunlight from unbelievably blue sky, the sound of wind and streams and waterfalls (occasionally mixed with a loud radio played somewhere) and not so many tourists. This being the first Zen temple I visited I was running around a lot, at least as compared to the stillness of everything even slow walking reminds of the shinkansen that brought us here.
Until suddenly, there was a sight that made everything else turn around it just like the whole night sky revolves around the Stella Polaris. In one of the main halls, behind half-opened sliding doors and under the shadow of great curved roof, human statues immovable as mountains – even though their college shirts with text like “Street Moses Rules!” and their Nike and Converse shoes in perfect order on the steps to the hall would contradict with the sounds of bell and wooden sticks, the meditation room was Perfectly Still – as if frozen in time, frozen in each consecutive quantum of time in succession…
I took a whole lot of photos of the temple and it’s karensui-gardens (“Zen gardens”), but found in the evening the photos were just … gone.
I guess it just fits. Every moment in the world passes, and will never come back, and all that exists is the Present. I should not have photos from past events any more that I should have from events that are yet to come…
Also, visited the Shogun’s castle (Nijo-jo) with the famous Nightingale floors that squeak under each step so that no assasins could sneak upon the folks holed up in there. Indeed, I found it impossible to move without making the floors sing; great design, working still today, but I wonder – did nobody ever freak out because of the constant squeaking?
No leaning on paper doors
(Oct 17th, 8:50PM Shinkansen nozomi 252 Kyoto-Tokyo)
Another day in the ancient city added one temple (the golden one, Kinkaku-ji) and a movie theme park (Eigamura) to the sight-saw-list. The golden pavilion was truly remarkable, so much that quite many other tourists had remarked it and were apprising it the same time we were, so I felt more like seeing a rare panda in a zoo than anything related to history and spiritual life. Took quite a few photos, but did not manage to come up with any original shots and so I just repeated framings I could have obtained by buying a postcard… (there’s something wrong with the metering of my camera, so the shots seem to be all overexposed despite many efforts to underexpose… also, I have now evidence n=2 that changing lenses in mountain areas is very harmful for SLR cameras – last time when hiking up on the Mt. Kenya, something went wrong with the communication between camera and the lens, and the focusing system never recovered. I performed the same thing last month in the mountains in Poland and the 70-200 refuses to autofocus anymore)
Did not see any more karesansui gardens. I guess it is to further accentuate the memory of yesterday morning …
Some observations on Kyoto:
There are absolutely no people there. For some reason, the officials give something like 1,5 million inhabitants.
The people have not decided on which side to stand in the escalators;they honk the horns of the cars occasionally; smile and laugh and talk more than the Tokyoites. They speak in partly non-understandable dialect (I guess this means I have acquired some skills in the language as I can notice this.. I also very bravely conducted several discussions in japanese, eg. with the taxi driver, trying to explain where our ryokan is as I had no idea of what was it’s name) – but, it does not matter, because EVERYBODY seems to know at least some english and more importantly, do not hesitate using it! Many times I started communicative efforts in japanese, only to find out that the other participant could well make things clear in english. I wonder if this is due to the less strict rules of behaviour in Kyoto, better education or – maybe the city just is such a world-scale tourist attraction that the people have learned to communicate already hundred years ago… Sty says that Kyoto is the most difficult place in Japan to find a job, supposedly just Everyone wants to live and work there so the companies can allow for choosing those japanese that do speak english (and thus do not need gaijin who’s speak japanese any more than gaijin who’d speak nothing else than gaijinese). There were so many foreigners everywhere that at one point I was startled to see suddenly a japanese face.
The city is laid out in perfectly straight and right-angled streets that have been very often (gasp) named. Even with such logical names as ‘the first streer’, ‘the second street’ etc. They have only two subway lines but many bus lines and also trams which seem to have chosen their routes according to the major tourist attractions. The subway trains and stations are frighteningly clean and new – as you know, Tokyo is not known to be an especially dirty place either… It might be that the city lives off the old stuff that the americans chose not to utterly destroy in the WWII (and the koreans had no chance so far to repay their works on their home peninsula;) – even though the ntrance fees are quite low for most of the sites, with over 2000 (yes, two thousand) temples and shrines and several great castles with a stady flow of tourists it might be enough.
In any case, slept extaordinary well for two nights (even though could well have slept longer; the breakfasts were at 8 and 9 in the morning…) on the soft futon on the old tatmi floor, breathing the smell of grass and paper. The room was more or less warm as one’d assume for a house made of paper, meaning, my nose was probably brightly pink, but the thick down covers and yukata worn assured a warm sleep with no dreams. The ryokan’s staff was extremely polite and courteous; it is quite nice, for a chance, to stay at a place where your wishes are taken into account, there is someone who puts your slippers ready at the door step before you leave and the breakfast is tailored to your tastes. The only thing that keeps on nagging, scratching in my mind is the knowledge that, when the room is cleaned for the next customers, they will find one small square in the paper sliding doors punctured by me. So clumsy and inconsiderate gaijins.
— later, arriving in Tokyo
… I’ve been wondering, had I the chance, would I move to Kyoto. To savour the temples and have time to see geishas, breath the history… I guess not. I think the formal, reserved, business-like, efficient Tokyo suits me better; I don’t need the space for getting emotional. It is easier to lose onself in the whirlpool of 40 million Tokyoites minding their own business, and I have no aspirations for ‘finding myself’ in Kyoto.
(Oct 16, 9PM, in the small alcove overlooking ryokan’s garden)