Burning Down the House

Posted: Dec 17, 2003 12:50:54 PM

Kyoto is a very noisy place.

This first became apparent to me when Charlotte and I travelled from Osaka via high speed train: arriving at every stop, the sound system played cheerful disembarkation music. Okay, I thought, a little strange, but not completely unknown. At the road crossing, however, the cross-lights played a cute jingle to inform people that it was time to get moving. I begin to sense a pattern. When Charlotte informed me that the garbage trucks (all seven kinds) play cheerful uplifting garbage-truck tunes, however...

It's not just the music. Standing in the architecturally awful Kyoto Tower's observation deck we were surrounded by extremely loud and enthusiastic arcade machines. My favourites were the Godzilla ones, which let out a piercing roar every few seconds. It must be hell working in the gift shop directly beside that. We have contributed our own noises via arcade machines, beating Taiko drums to a set tune (it's kinda like Karaoke, which I will be trying some time in the next few days). It was fun, and we gathered quite a large audience.

Some of the noises have a purpose. One of my favourites was at the Kyoto Imperial Palace: in order to disguise any potentially embarrassing sounds, the female toilets have buttons that, when pressed, trigger a recording of cascading water. How did I witness this? I was smuggled in. At the nearby Nijo-jo castle, the sounds of choice are the Nightingale Floors: specially designed floorboards creak noticeably whenever someone steps on them, in order to alert the castle's paranoid owner (Tokugawa Ieyasu) to the approach of any assassins. Very cool, but they must also be hell for the security guards that have to put up with tourists walking on them all day long.

You would expect noise in traffic, but perhaps not of the kind that you find in Japan. Here, police cars have loudspeakers attached, presumably so that the officers inside can chastise miscreants without bothering to get out of their vehicles. Vans drive past advertising internet access deals the same way. But the worst noise to hear when you are walking down the street is the ringing of bells, because it means that there is a cyclist behind you who wants to get past.

Oh yes, for those of you who have complained about the cyclists of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, Kyoto is much much worse. Because here, the cycles are all on the pavement, weaving in and out of the pedestrians, usually while talking on a cell-phone. Charlotte and I became so tired of this that eventually we decided to do the only thing we could: join them.

japan Many of the important sites in Kyoto for pilgrims and tourists both are the temples (Buddhist) and the shrines (Shinto), which offer considerable historical interest as well as strong aesthetic appeal. But they are relatively well spread out, so Charlotte and I rented cycles and spent the day bouncing from temple to shrine to temple. It was most fun, aside from those damn pedestrians...

Luckily, the cycle came with a bell.

The first stop was Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, mainly because the top two stories are plated in gold. Yes, it is a real gold house. We also visited Ginkaku-ji, which translates as the Silver Pavilion, but there was not a single sliver of silver in evidence. We visited the Heian-jingu shrine, which has an enormous red entrance gate (called a torii) but is otherwise most prosaic. At Kiyomizu-dera I tasted some sacred waters, and (as Charlotte has alluded to) ran into a gaggle of Japanese schoolgirls who repeatedly chanted "You are very handsome!" until I let them take our picture and they went away.

The temples and shrines of Japan are made of wood and paper, and so they are rather susceptible to deliberate or accidental fire. Fortunately the tradition when this occurs is to rebuild the buildings, exactly copying the originals. Kinkaku-ju was burnt down by an obsessed monk in 1950. The current version of Kiyomizu-dera dates back to 1633. Nijo-jo castle was struck by lightning in 1858. You would think they would learn and build these structures out of stronger materials, but no.

Kyoto Imperial Palace was originally a temporary residence for the emperor when his normal palace was burnt to the ground (an event that apparently happened very frequently). But of course they eventually got tired of this and didn't rebuild the normal palace. Which must have seemed like a huge mistake when the replacement palace ... burnt down.

All the temples, shrines, castles, and palaces have some very impressive and meticulously constructed gardens, but for me the most tranquil was the Shosei-en garden, which had a fantastic pond full of tame carp (tame because they followed us around the bank hoping for a snack). The Shosei-en garden has been around for a while, but is actually rather new seeing as at some point in the past it, you guessed it, burnt down.

How does a garden - with a large ornamental pond - actually burn down anyway?

In fact, one of the only large buildings in the Kyoto area to survive the centuries unscathed by burning is the Hoo-do of Byodo-in temple. Although every other building in the complex has at some point been razed to the ground, Hoo-do remains completely intact in its original form.

Hoo-do translates as 'Phoenix Hall'.

Anyway, we are having a great time here in Kyoto, and this is mainly thanks to the wonderful organisational, orientational, and linguistic abilities of my guide Charlotte, who can find us when we get lost, apologize when I say or do something wrong near (or to) the locals, and generally keep the trip cheerful and effervescent almost constantly. She's just great. I hope she doesn't burn down.

Tomorrow we are going to take a day-trip to Nara to see some very famous temples:

Todai-ji, which houses a very big bronze and gold Buddha in the largest wooden building in the world. The building dates from 1709, but the Buddha was originally cast in 746. Why originally? Well, I presume that it had to be recast after the hall that contains it burnt down. Which it did.

And Horyu-ji, which is the oldest temple in Japan, dating back to 607. It is the oldest not because of aesthetic appeal or historical significance, but due to the fact that it has never actually burnt down!


Rimmers   Dec 17, 2003 1:54:23 PM

first one muahaha

Fraz   Dec 18, 2003 4:17:36 AM

times almost up .. is this the untimely end of damons travels??? hmmm

lian   Dec 18, 2003 12:22:19 PM

awww, I loved this report. Very insightful, also. Maybe I should go back and re-read the earlier reports, but could it be that, now that the journey is coming to its end, you have found your true form?

Phoenix Hall...LOL!

Agnes   Dec 19, 2003 3:04:30 AM

Damon, Xmas is coming soon, wish ya merry Xmas... when r u coming back btw??

Fraz   Dec 19, 2003 11:36:23 AM

http://www.mike.net.nz/stuff/42below_mao ris.swf

Sahi   Dec 19, 2003 8:30:04 PM

Cool report as usual. :)

David   Dec 21, 2003 2:52:45 AM

I saw a stage production of Little Shop of Horrors last night, and it occured to me, it's essentially the same story as Lord of the Rings. Both are about the 'little guy' who must fight the corrupting influence of ultimate power. Sure the metaphor for this power is different (a ring vs. a plant), but there other similarities. Seymor was an orphan and a florist -- Frodo was an orphan, and Sam was a gardener. And who can miss the obvious parallels between Mushnik and Boromir?

Damon   Dec 21, 2003 5:59:01 AM

Okay, I am on the plane in four hours. Much much more to come once I get home!

Fraz   Dec 21, 2003 8:37:39 AM

hee hee, i know that you wont see this untill you get back to old nz so im gonna say it now. It was'nt Morgan who had your Tomato Sauce, ... yeah you guessed it it was the cat for some reason .. i dont know funny story. hmmm well maybe not as funy as much as long. have a good flight.

Charlotte   Dec 21, 2003 1:05:48 PM

Yay for super large electronic stores! (Yodabashi Umeda for those who know!*wink*) So anyway Damon made it safely to the airport with only minor drama and is at this very moment winging his way back to NZ. I, on the other hand am strolling around Osaka killing time until my bus leaves in another few hours.

The week in Kyoto/Osaka has just flown by and of course this was mostly due to the excellent company I had. I will leave it to Damon to write up the details of the last few days, but I will just say that I have no idea how Damon managed to see so much of Europe because his sense of direction sucks! I had to say a number of times "No, it's this way". *chuckle* Although I will confess to nearly being lost in the Osaka underground shopping area on my way back to the bus station.........

Captain Roberto T. Fruitbat   Dec 21, 2003 7:04:07 PM

So Damon survived the potentially fatal dead fish body parts or is there something you´re not telling us?

Btw, the being smuggled into the ladies room part - I want details, details!

lian   Dec 21, 2003 9:06:33 PM

*dreads damon in a dress*

Damon   Dec 21, 2003 11:28:08 PM

A quick word is all I have time for: I'm back in NZ! Killing time between flights in Christchurch Airport.

I had forgotten how goofy-looking our money is: I withdrew a $20 and just stared at it for a couple of minutes, wondering how I could have completely erased the memory of what it looked like. I expect that there will be many such moments in the next few days.

Binky   Dec 22, 2003 3:42:41 AM

Welcome back! I saw a book yesterday and thought of you: The Simpsons and Philosophy - the d'oh! of Homer.

Now you'll get a whole new way to develop DVT at Return of the King.

Tiny   Dec 22, 2003 6:03:58 AM

He's back!

What will our intrepid hero be doing next?

Peter   Dec 22, 2003 7:50:12 AM

He'll probably try to forget his heroic adventures as fast as he can ;)
Glad to hear you made it back home, despite Europe, Japan, Smarchers and all the other stuff... :)

Damon   Dec 22, 2003 11:14:31 AM

Undoubtedly someone will buy the book for me!

Actually, I have a lot to think about now that I'm home; I'm moving house this week, for example...

Oh, and a Final Report coming up in the next day or two.

Charlotte   Dec 22, 2003 2:37:42 PM

@Fruitbat - I tracked down some Fugu but the ungrateful sod didn't like it. Too fishy apparently!

Amd as for smuggling Damon into the women's loo, well that's a story and a half: Damon wanted to wear some of my lippy as a disguise, but I wasn't having a bar of it; and then the security guard started to get a bit suspicious at all the lipstick brandishing and protesting and came over to investigate, so I had to clunk him over the head and then haul a struggling, undisguised Damon (he refused to go in without some sort of cover-up) over my shoulder and into the women's loo. All that macho fuss over a toilet flushing sound. Heck, it would have been so much easier if he just could have waited until the coast was clear and surreptitiously sidled into the loo without all the disguise nonsense. That's how I would have done it, anyway. *laugh*

@Lian - I have a photo of Damon not in a dress, but in a Kimono. But before you get too excited it was the male version of the kimono.

Damon   Dec 23, 2003 9:21:22 AM

Yes, yes, I like my hakama a lot *grin*
and it would have been far easier to get into the toilets that way, so of course I couldn't!

The final report will take a bit longer, as I have an insane amount of stuff to get done in the next few days (all Christmas- and moving-out-related) and I have a lot left to write. Apologies for the delay...

fangler   Dec 29, 2003 10:56:39 PM

Best Report Ever!

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