I was walking through the sultry day. Walking, while too many things were growing inside me, many of which I didn’t even know how to name. I was out since I have arrived in Kyoto, and that was that morning at half past 6. My feet were hurting from walking whole day, I felt that with every step the new blister was sprouting on my feet. Kyoto is beautiful, I understood that, but I didn’t have time to think about it in that moment. Arturo Bandini was arising in me, I wanted to sit on the canal bank and to draw ships – failed, I wanted to buy a notebook – and to became a writer. To write page after page, to create characters and their decomposition lives, and then to decide to bury all of them, while going to infinity, as the day goes on.
Everybody sometimes has their bad days. My bad day was the first day I arrived in Kyoto. I do not know if the anger prevailed, or it was disappointment, hatred or fear of being alone in an unknown city, as I’ve lost a place to sleep for the next eight days.
I continued walking without a map and without the Internet, I just wanted to sit down somewhere and to find inspiration for enjoyment from that feeling and the bad day. So I did. I sat aside of the sidewalk of one path where I was in that moment, and forced myself to start enjoying my own trip. “I will handle later where I am gonna sleep” – I was thinking.
T: “When you close your eyes and think of Japan, you’re probably picturing Japan in two different lights; the fast-paced city of Tokyo with its narrow alleys and thousands of bright signs, and then there are the images of old world Kyoto where red lamps hang on the ends of small wooden buildings and stores and where traditional geishas walk down the street wearing white makeup and everyone sits on their knees at the tables.” – someone was talking to me.
K: “I am sorry?” – that’s the only thing I could say in that moment.
T: “When you close your eyes and think of Japan, you’re probably picturing Kyoto: sublime Zen gardens, mysterious Buddhist temples, colorful Shinto shrines, graceful geishas.”
K: “Something like that, yes. But I didn’t have time to experience that yet.”
T: “Did you know that Kyoto is the only major city in Japan that’s inland and is surrounded by mountains. The emperor decided on this to help prevent the city from attacks of evil spirits.”
K: “Sounds like Japan.”
T: “You know the famous story about evil spirit and the princess?”
K: “I know Sleeping Beauty…”
T: “Do you know the story of the emperor who bears an entire city on his head? It was once upon a time, in the time of dragons and princesses and all of that. This emperor was in love with the most beautiful girl of this city, and because of that, he was the rival of the dragons’ king, who wished the most beautiful girl for himself.
The emperor was coming here every day, he used to walk here for hours, dreaming about her, writing the most beautiful love poems for her, and creating the greatest works. He was also a great thinker, struggling with particularly difficult ideas and struggling with love.
And how we know that the dragons can be very almighty, a dragon king, using evil forces, made the emperor very ugly looking. As the years were passing, he became even uglier – truly ugly, and his father decided to bury him in the deepest depths of the earth. Because, as successor, he mustn’t be so ugly!”
K: “And where has the beautiful girl disappeared?”
T: “Soon after, the girl has a dream that the prince tells her to dig his body, to burn his remains, and then to take his ashes and sprinkle them on the cherry trees through this path. The girl follows the instructions, and when she sprinkles the ashes, the bare cherry trees burst into flowers. From then on, this is the most beautiful part of Kyoto, where you can enjoy the most beautiful cherry trees view. And because of him, this place got name Philosophical path.”
K: “I didn’t know that”
T: “Of course you didn’t know this, cause I fudge this story. It’s just about some guy who devoted his life to creating a unique philosophical system which married Western rationalism and Buddhist insights into the nature of existence. He was a great man. But I like better fairytales.”
K: “I also like your fairytale. And I love this path. It is a real green oasis of calm. And helped me forget the hustle and bustle of the worlds outside and set my mind at peace.’
T: “Once you start wandering around the city, your mind is trapped by the harmony and peace that dominates. Kyoto is a city that is unique and has a special soul. Majestic and delicate, friendly and proud, deceitful and kind, haunting and serene, modern and classic, simple and ritual.”
When I finished talking to myself, I left a philosophical path behind. While walking I arrived to simply magical district – with an abundance of low wooden houses, narrow streets, which today’s roam should be similar to how it was done centuries ago, including transiting of geisha and maiko-san through them, making it even more special and unique.
After leaving Gion, stories of the past came to mind, thoughts of distant times, pictures of people who lived in the neighborhood since ancient times.
I continue to see the famous bamboo forest. Bamboo is so popular in Asia, that it even has many symbolical meanings. In China, it stands for longevity, in India – for friendship. And in Japan it is believed that bamboos save against – what do you think??? Yes, – evil spirits.
With its 2,000 religious places – 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact – it is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan. Among the most famous temples in Japan (and for me, the most beautiful one) is Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain.
And as I walked the streets under the shadow of the ancient capital’s eastern hills, while pairs of slippers were neatly lined up at restaurant entrances and while hearing, through an upstairs window, the bare, plaintive sound of a plucked koto, I found my place to sleep. An amazing, Japanese traditional wooden house.