Pushing the Zen-button

Buggered.

The last night in Takayama was casually spent reading rather unsavoury reviews of the accommodation that had been booked in advance for the impending arrival in. It was quite enough to induce a kafka-esque panic and despair; it was also a great incentive to work on immediately cancelling (thank the lord for internet connection even in the mountains) my now dubious spot there and find a new one no matter the cost.

Now sequestered in some infinitely more expensive Kyoto hotel, I know I’ll howl quite loudly when the credit card statement arrives at the end of the month. But for now, I’ll willingly fall into the trap of playing the rich tourist, a role easily slipped into in expensive Japan which favours those with deep pockets.

Kyoto is quite rightly Japan’s treasure and with each passing minute, the stronger the temptation grows to call Tokyo quite a mistake of a city. Wandering aimlessly has been the theme throughout this entire stay so far and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Understanding any street direction takes gargantuan effort and navigating with some rubbish maps is like – quite crudely putting it – shooting blanks and knowing it.

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Kyoto is home to 1.5 million but its well-trodden tourist strip holds an indestructible dignity that served it well through the ages; the rush of the main road and shouts of vendors fade into a weighty hush of some back streets in the Gion district. In the blink of an eye, a maiko briskly turns a corner, disappearing just as I lift my camera to photograph the girls in this oft-misunderstood profession. Even at night, the streets seem secluded save for the numerous red lanterns.

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Gorgeous and spacious Zen temples are found in odd corners, tucked in side-lanes and some souvenir shops – and then fan out gracefully against the stunning backdrop of green hills and gardens. It’s eye-candy of a different sort, designed to soothe and induce a meditative silence. I decided to walk in the footsteps of so many who went before me along the philosopher’s pathway that stretched from the Gingaku-temple to the Nanzenji compound and petted cats huddled together for warmth on the way, finally but regrettably asking another clueless Japanese lady for instructions who pointed me simultaneously in 2 opposing directions for the way back into town.

The first thought that flashes through my mind however, is an irreverent one: I think of Bridget Jones’s “inner poise”.

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The temple and its garden are produced within the context of religion, literature and the reigning philosophy, reflecting a highly complex relationship that I can’t even begin to explain or appreciate fully – such is my shallow understanding of the architecture and layout accrued from incredibly superficial tourist-brochure readings.

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