I was motivated to come back to Kyoto and visit after reading Deep Kyoto Walks (which was edited by a couple of friends) in which I realized there was so much more for me to explore. I also reviewed it for The Japan Times. This time I decided to stay in a machiya (traditional wooden townhouses found throughout Japan and typified in the historical capital of Kyoto), which is like a boutique hotel or furnished apartment in an old house. The one I'm staying in is Nodoka-An, which is located centrally in the Higashiyama area not far from the bustling Sanjo area. This is the small garden that can be viewed from the living room and shower/bath.
On my way to Nanzen-ji temple.
The Lake Biwa Canal Museum.
The main gate at Nanzen-ji temple. It was raining fairly heavily a this point that it detered me form exploring more fully had it been sunny-it looks as though I missed some interesting sights from the link above...I may have to go back since it's about a 15 minute walk from where I am staying.
I was planning on visiting Junichiro Tanizaki (author of The Makioka Sisters), which is one the grounds of Honen in, but didn't linger or check any notes due to the incessant rain.
On the Philospher's Path again.
It's been at least 13 years since my last visit to Ginkakuji (I also went there on my first visit to Kyoto in October of 1997), I didn't really feel the need to see it again, but since I was already there at the start (end of my journey) of the Philosopher's Path I made a brief visit.
Tokyo from Edo to Showa 1867-1989 (2010) may be the best comprehensive social history of Tokyo from the acclaimed translator of Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki among others, Edward Seidensnicker. There is a preface by film critic and historian Donald Richie as well as an introduction by Japanese scholar Paul Waley. This volume is essentially a combination of a two volume series on the social history of Tokyo starting with the first volume Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake: How the Shogun's Capital Became a Great Modern City, 1867-1923 (1984). The chapters in the book include: 1) "The End and the Beginning" 2) "Civilization and Enlightenment" 3) "The Double Life" 4) "The Decay of the Decadent" 5) "Low City, High City" 6) "The Taisho Look." Seidensnicker chose to use the Great Earthquake as a dividing point instead of the end of the Taisho era (which ended December 25th 1926) since it created an opportunity to rebuild the city anew and ushered in a new age socially and culturally. This in turn leads to the second volume: Tokyo Rising: The City Since the Great Earthquake (1990). This books has the following chapters: 1) "The Days After" 2) "The Reconstruction Days" 3) "Darker Days" 4) "The Day of the Cod and the Sweet Potato" 5) "Olympian Days" 6) "Balmy Days of Late Showa." I guess the main drawback for this volume is that it ends before "the Bubble" burst in Japan and Tokyo, but I think it was the earlier chapters that were really most interesting. Although I must admit it was interesting to see him correctly identify areas of Tokyo that would develop and become major centers of commerce like Roppongi, Shiodome, and Marunochi. It is clear that Edward Seidensnicker, like Donald Richie had great affection for Tokyo and it's traditions. One of my summer projects is to read Seidensnicker's translation of The Tale of Genji and then his memoir about this project, Genji Days.
I had originally read and enjoyed some excerpts from Donald Richie's The Inland Sea (1971) in The Donald Richie Reader (2002). I have always thought that Richie has done some of the best writing about Japan from a foreigner's perspective and have been sympathetic to many of his opinions about Japan and the Japanese. After reading his journals last year after his death, I decided that there were several complete works that are worthwhile searching out and reading and this was at the top of the list. However, there are still several others to explore. It is at once a travel memoir, a love letter to a region and way of life that no longer exists, and a mediation on life in a strange country that he was not born in but elected to live in despite the fact it would never truly accept him. Richie also has musing about life in Tokyo versus the country, puritanism, the individual's place in the world, and the things he appreciates about living in Japan. He also makes some revelatory observations about his marriage and sexuality. Some of the experiences he has with locals have to be read between the lines and are not explicit admissions of couplings, but obviously are. There was an interesting scene where an old woman in Miyajima tells Richie a story about a boy who is excommunicated from the village for cutting the fishing nets-an act synonymous with barn burning at the turn of the century in America.
Here are some of the more interesting observations that I largely agree with and find true even today some 40 plus years later:
So the people are indeed backward, if this means a people living eternally in the present, a people for whom becoming means little and being everything.
Words make you visible in Japan. Until you speak, until you commit yourself to communication, you are not visible at all. You might travel from one end and, unless you open your mouth or get set upon by English-speaking students, be assured of the most complete privacy.
But to believe this is to disregard a great truth that all of Asia knows: appearances are the only reality.
Japan is the most modern of all countries perhaps because, having a full secure past, it can afford to live in the instantaneous present.
I answer as best as I can, aware-as one is always in Japan-that I have ceased being myself. Rather, I have become-once again-a Representative of My Country.
The white man who goes native in Samoa or Marrakesh, the Japanese who goes native in New York or Paris-this is possible, but it is, I think impossible for anyone but a Japanese to go Japanese.
Japanese loyalty. I cannot approve of it, and I certainly do not like it. Mindless devotion-whether of samurai or kamikaze-leaves me as unmoved as does the less spectacular variety from I come from. It is actually a kind of laziness.
The Japanese carry it one step further. Nothing is anyone's fault. This is because no one will take responsibility for anything.
Asia does not, I think, hoard and treasure life as we do. Life, to be sure, is nto considered cheap, but at the same time, one does not see the tenacious clinging to it that is one of the distinguishing marks of the West.
There is no tradition of anything but a politely hidden suspicion of the unknown wanderer. To be anonymous is in Japan, to be nothing. Only after your name, occupation, family, history are known do you become real.
Here, I thought, is a glimpse into the real Japan. This is the way the Japanese mind works. Appearances are reality without a doubt, and if the reality is not sufficient, then change the appearances.
An early symptom (of the influence of the West) was that everything somehow had to become respectable-not according to Japanese standards, where everything was already respectable, but according to the half-understood and even the dissolving standards of the West.
(As someone has remarked, the Japanese have fifty-three words for "prostitute" and yet do not distinguish between "lock" and "key"-which must be a commentary of some sort upon the importance they assign to things).
This nightly closing of all forms of public transportation is, I suggest, but one of the many forms that Japanese puritanism takes.
Europe , America-these lands are also inferior, but their ideas and products may be put to good use if they are first run through the Japanese mill and emerge unrecognizableand therefore very Japanese.
I really enjoyed tagging along with Richie on his journey to the Inland Sea and within himself. Luckily, there is more by him for me to explore.
The Meiji restoration has always fascinated me since it was such a turning point for modern Japan, so I decided to try and get some more information on this momentous event. I thought a book on Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the most loved figures of the era would be a good place to start, so I started with Marius Jansen's book Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration (1995). I wish more of the book had been written in the style of Jansen's preface to the Morningside Edition, where he discusses how Sakamoto's reputation grew with the postwar democracy movement and was brought into the mainstream by the popularity of Shiba Ryutaro's novel Ryoma ga yuku (1966), which then spread to depictions in a NHK TV series and a host of films, where I got my idea of Sakamoto as an agent of change in films like Masahiro Shinoda's Assassination (1964) and Hideo Gosha's Tenchu! (1969). The tone of the book is very academic and the events that led up to the restoration are confusing since there are so many different alliances and figures that were associated with these epochal changes in Japan at the time. I guess my take away about Sakamoto's contributions that he was able to see past his initial radical viewpoints and make alliances that would be beneficial for the nation. He seemed to be charismatic person and a natural unifier. That being said it was a struggle to get through Jansen's turgid prose, so I will search for a more readable version of the restoration and Sakamoto's role in it.