Kyoto: an inspiring muse

by on Tuesday, 20 April 2010 5482 hits Comments
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The Japanese poet Ariwara No Yukihira wrote: “Spring wears a cloak of mist. A thin fabric, that the mountain breeze would, doubtless, disarray.” Undoubtedly, Kyoto is never more beautiful than during spring and its poetic side is never more obvious than under a snow of blooming tree flowers.

 

Throughout its history, Kyoto has underwent many trials such as fire and wars but the city always recovered its splendor and never lost its poetic aspect. Today, Kyoto is considered as one of the best preserved cities in Japan and I would say its is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.

When the city was founded in 794, it was named "Heiankyo" which means "the capital of peace" and this name has not been usurped in the years since. Indeed, one of the things that surprised me the most when I visited Kyoto was the peaceful atmosphere.

I remember that the weather was hot, the sun was shining and I could hear birds in spite of the traffic.
I also remember the strange feeling I had when after walking five minutes through the city, I saw two maiko (young geisha). At this moment I felt like I had jumped back at the Heian era! The Heian era (794-1185) is known as a golden age for Kyoto: temples and palaces were built with an extreme refinement and the art of poetry dominated others kind of art.

[inset side="right" title="Matsuo Basho, 1685"]            Another year is gone                a traveler’s shade on my head,         straw sandals at my feet [/inset]

The poetic side of the city immediately appears to me in the shape of all these amazing temples and palaces. Though I am not familiar with poetry, I really felt something in the air that touched me deeply. The beauty of these old buildings, the well-maintained gardens and the persuasive quiet, all invite you to stop for a while and think. Kyoto has the opportunity to preserve this environment, one that made me feel like I was not in a city of one million inhabitants. After arriving in Kyoto, I first visited a private Zen garden and spent more than one hour listening to a Japanese man telling me how men used to hide their sabre in each room of their house, how the emperor encouraged artists to write poetry and other stories about the lifestyle during the Heian era. After this first stop, I was totally charmed by Kyoto and absolutely wanted to continue my discovery of the city and its history.

Japan is well known as an old country with a tradition of considerable refinement and despite its modernity, refinement is still a big part of Japanese culture. Culture and art have always been an important part in the Japanese life and during the Heian era, poetry was the most appreciated art and developed consideraly. But the most popular form of Japanese poetry appeared later ,in 1500, and is called Haiku. Haiku is a short poem in 17 syllables, composed of three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Most of the time the Haiku is use to describe a feeling, beauty or an atmosphere. The master of Haiku poetry was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) and like a lot of artists at this time, he lived in Kyoto. His famous style of Haiku, called Shofu, is still appreciated because of his sense of humour, his sense of simplicity and his sense of suggestion. His most famous Shofu is:

[inset side="middle" title=""]The old pond;          A frog jumps in —               The sound of the water.[/inset]

 

Visiting the Kinkaku, or Golden Pavilion, I came to know what "refinement" and "peaceful" really mean. This temple is made with real gold and sits in the middle of a pond inside a lovely garden, it is truly enchanting. I also visited different temples and palaces, like the Silver Temple (which is not made with real silver) and the Shogun house. All these places have a strange atmosphere that moved me. In spite of my non-Japanese culture, the impression of purity mixed with the smell of the nature made me feel like I was in a safe place out of civilization. As well, when I visualized Matsuo Basho writing his Haiku, I could see him in a Zen garden on a sunny day, sitting on a bench, contemplating a cherry tree with the sound of a small fountain for music. With this image in my head, I understood why the city and its thousands of temples have inspired poets so much. With so much beauty around and the peaceful atmosphere, Kyoto is a gift for who want to create poetry.

I only spent a few days in Kyoto and did not have enough time to visit the 2000 temples ( a lifetime is not enough to see all the beauty of the city) but I feel like I understood the poetic side of Kyoto. Because I visited in September, I unfortunately did not have the chance to see Kyoto in spring when all the cherry blossoms are in flower.

The next time I will go there it will certainly be in spring so I can appreciate even more the spirit and the beauty of this amazing city.

 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:34
June LEE (李禮君)

Former Managing Editor of Renlai Monthly (2004-2009). Board member of the Taipei Ricci Institute.

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