<<  Kyoto, 3-Mar-2014  >>

Close encounters with Japanese kind I.

Japan. Japan! Kimonos, temples, shrines, food, and first impressions from Land of The Rising Sun. Kyoto, part I.

We landed at Kansai International Airport, I got out of the plane, get through a border control and went to collect my baggage. I thought I had seen the world’s most ridiculous “jobs” in India, with its insane over-employment and business creativity of Indians, but heck no! The world’s most ridiculous job must be this one in Japan: a Baggage Aligner. Baggage that comes from the plane out on carousels for collection by passengers was neatly aligned into perfect 90 degree and always turned in such a way that handles would face the passengers by a Baggage Aligner. What? It would take every passenger 1/2 a second to get his baggage, but here they introduced a Baggage Aligner, to centralize the process and make the carousel look nice and neat. Wow. Having my baggage I went to a toilet, and next to the door there was a room plan of the toilets, with arrow “You are here” pointing to the entrance. That was indeed very useful, I could pre-select my urinal even before I entered the toilet :-D Then I got through the customs and went to a train station to catch a train to Kyoto. When the train arrived and all passengers got out, I was eager to get it, but for some reason nobody was entering the train. Everyone was waiting for something. I was bit nervous (could it be that they are all waiting for other train?), but I decided to wait as well, and suddenly a cleaning lady appeared and put “Please wait, cleaning in progress” chain on every door of every car of the train and started to clean the train. What? They clean trains after every ride? Oh my god. I bet that in India they clean the train once in its whole lifecycle: when it’s manufactured. I also noticed, that I was the only person not waiting in a queue (because actually I was the first person to arrive to the platform, but I sat down on my backpack and I was reading something). Sure, also in Slovakia we concept of queue (again, unlike in India), but Japan must be the only country where people are really waiting for train in a perfect, one-by-one queue, following a line that is drawn on the platform. And as I was standing there, not aligned with the Japanese, when the cleaning lady finished her job, suddenly, all the seats in the train started turning. They automatically turned around their axis, to face forward, as this was a terminal station and the train turned its direction. And looking at all of this, I knew I had arrived to a spectacular country, even before I got out of the airport :-)

And spectacular country it is. Even until now I had tendency for buying Japanese brands (my cameras, car, TV, all electronics), after seeing Japan, I will never ever touch any European or American crap :-) The Japanese attention to detail is insane. From art, through architecture to food, it’s amazing. And I bet that this I what makes Japanese products so superior when it comes to quality. You will also notice this on my photos. Majority of the photos are not wide angle pictures of buildings or streets, but close-ups of some beautiful details.

Apart from omnipresent attention to details I continued discovering Japanese weirdness. Later I realized that all is interconnected. The obsessiveness by details and Japanese weirdness are both symptoms of higher over-concept, uniquely Japanese. It’s difficult to describe it, my brain was not able to formulate it in words, but closest I can get it its verbalization is striving for perfection. Train being cleaned after every ride has the same roots as Japanese gardens, where nature was perfected and this in turn has the same roots as absurd world of manga and Japanese perversions. Nature cannot be beautiful enough to satisfy Japanese striving for perfection. Nature needs a little help from hand of a skillful Japanese master. The rocks in the garden must be gathered from other side of Japan and aligned to perfection, because how could a stone lay just where it wants to? Branches of trees must be bent with help of ropes and pillars, so that their shape perfectly represents dramatic but harmonic beauty. And for the very same reason, tits of manga girls must be size XXXXL, Japanese girls dress like dolls, guys wear impossible hairdos. How could something natural be beautiful enough? No way! All together it creates a fascinating world of Japan. If you think about the Old World, Japan was/is the most distant country from Europe, and therefore before discovery of the New World, it simply had to be most different one from our European world. In a way it still is, especially because New World was completely wiped out and turned into perfect mirror of Europe.

Despite all that I just wrote, my first encounters with Kyoto were a bit disappointing. Kyoto was Japan’s capital for 1000 years (before the capital was moved to Tokyo in late 19th century) and because it escaped total destruction during World War II air raids by Americans, it has best preserved historical monuments and historic feel as such. According to Lonely Planet Kyoto was spared from bombing to ashes (unlike Tokyo which was virtually turned to dust by Americans) because of its historic value that appealed to Americans. In Hiroshima, few days later I read a more down-to-earth explanation: that American spared Kyoto so that it could serve as a headquarters of after-war administration center of Japan, since Tokyo would cease to exist as a functional city. Reading up-front about Kyoto’s dodging of full scale bombardment and its historic ties I was expecting to arrive to Japanese Rome, where centuries of cultured aging are falling on you from every street, every building and every stone. Oh, those expectations again! They have tendency to ruin even most beautiful things. To put it short: 90% of Kyoto is rather dull, uninteresting modern city, with architecture from 70’s to early 90’s, which translates to AWFUL. Also it is a modern world (naturally, as we all know that Japan is ahead of us), with normal cars, normally dressed people and normal shops. This is not India which spits its full-on exoticness right into your face. The historic monuments are concentrated in 2 main sightseeing areas, but they are peppered among very normal surroundings. Therefore the atmosphere is bit like in museum. You go from one thing to another, but generally the streets are not alive with genius loci, like Rome or Venice. At least this was my feeling at the beginning. Going from temple to temple I always witnessed beauty of them, but then returned to the normal world as soon as I left them. Luckily, later I changed my mind, as during exploration of the city I found few streets, and patches of whole quarters, which oozed historic Japan. Void of temples and shrines, but full of locals, restaurants and shops. And with nicely and carefully reconstructed (or simply well maintained) historic houses. These streets were my favorite part of Kyoto. By the way there were very few white tourists there. In some places I almost felt like in Timor :-) I stayed in an interesting part of town, previous (and partially still) Geisha district, and right on my first evening when I went to check the streets at least for 1 hour I met a geisha walking down the street, going for a meeting with some potentate. To my great delight, Japanese girls, mostly those aged 15 – 25, LOVE promenading in kimonos, sometimes joined by their costumed boyfriends, so often the atmosphere in these pseudo-historic streets it wonderful. Too bad that ALL of them are non-stop staring into mobile phone (pretty much like everyone in Japan), so taking a picture including a face is almost impossible.

When it comes to phone-mania, Japan is out of this world. They are sick! When I was younger I was always scared of the moment when we will live virtual lives with our brains connected to computers, enabling us to live our fantasies to their fullest at minimal cost and risk. By your brain force you create the tropical country of your dreams and you can go there for vacation for nothing at all, do the job of your dreams or not do anything at all, fuck the most beautiful girls in the world with bodies that nature could never create and perversions society would never accept, visions, smells, tastes, sounds whatever your mind desires… I was always scared like shit by possibility of this virtual world, which as fantasies-fulfilling as it could be, simply would not be real. After seeing Japan I changed my mind. When it comes it will be a blessing! It will be redemption from this idiotic intermediary phase, when people live in their mobile phones, but still have to walk in the real streets. The fantasy world is here anyway, no turning back, so let’s take it all the way and drop that complication of presence in the real world.

[To be continued in the next post. I split one long post into two shorter ones, only because this way I could post more photos, as 49 photos per day is my self-decided limit]

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak