Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Layers at the Western Edge


A woman had been singing since a few stations back. It was low, unobtrusive, yet added a sweet subtle melody to accompany the rhythm of a rocking train on a sunny day. As we pulled into Oyamazaki, I brought full focus to her voice, wondering if she'd continue, becoming more conspicuous without the cover of the throbbing of the rails. As we came to a full halt, I distinctly heard it, then quickly realized that what I was hearing was not her voice but the train at the next platform pulling away, humming toward Kyoto in the exact same pitch.


Miki and walked out into this small town, up leaf strewn streets past well-groomed homes. At the top of this meandering road was the Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art. It was housed in a lovely Tudor style home set against the hillside. We wandered the rooms, looking more at the details in the architecture than the works hanging on the walls. There were a few huge fireplaces, fine woodwork on the ceiling and eaves, plus massive windows, many of yellow stained glass making the interior forever 'magic hour.' Much of the furniture equally impressed, in particular one gravity-assisted clock hanging on the staircase. From the upper balcony we could see across to Iwashimizu Tenmangu, and below that the confluence of the Yodo, Uji, and Katsura rivers, where we'd left our Kumano Kodo Prequel walk a couple months ago. Behind the house was a small traditional pond garden, the surface completely littered with fallen maple leaves. This is acclaimed to be one of the best (hidden) places to see autumn colors, but the heavy winds and rain of the past couple days had abruptly closed out the season. We moved next into the large concrete Habitrail tube as designed by Tadao Ando. (I find the man's theory and philosophy to be incredibly inspiring, but I find his work to be pretty redundant. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, "There is none more grey.") Inside was Monet's Water Lillies, the definitive prize of this collection. There was also a Picasso, along with a few others. The theme of the exhibition was "Blue," and I soon found myself humming Joni Mitchell, though not as well as the woman on the train. I sat awhile in a funky right handed chair, looking over at Monet's genius. The frames of all these paintings were masterpieces in their own right, though nowhere was written the names of the people who laboriously carved them.


We moved up through the forest to Houshakuji Temple, where the Kamakura era statues sit in perpetual meditation. Up into the trees again, to a clearing where Hideyoshi celebrated his victory over Akechi Mitsuhide, shortly after the latter had cornered Nobunaga, forcing the latter to perform some impromptu soul searching at dagger's end. We had our lunch here, sitting in the sun amongst the ghosts of long fallen samurai. At the top of the ridge was Sakatoke Shrine, dusty and old, with unusual structures open to the elements. Standing here, I looked into the forest to see a warlord riding up on a white horse. A half second later I realized that it was simply a man in a loud jacket and his wife in a white hat, mimicking exactly the colors of the murals I'd just turned away from. The backdrop and the real forest matched up perfectly, all well disciplined rows of bamboo, mottled with light. Miki and I carried on down the trail. Needing to pee, I stepped a few feet into the forest, but immediately heard voices. Zipping up, I decided to wait, only to find a group of 200(!) hikers coming along the ridge. Miki and I moved on, against the stream, taking quite a few minutes before we were free of them all. We made our decent then, past a mountain biker carrying his machine on his shoulder, working his way up slowly. He was the first biker I've ever seen on trails in Japan.


We reached the road, crossed, and moved through stubbled rice fields. Ice puddles lay untouched by the low winter sun. We soon reached Youkokuji , a lovely complex of buildings standing as the focal point to a well-preserved village. The extent to which things were left untouched shows the pride in tradition that the locals here must have. We spent some time walking up and down the stairs between the buildings, giving ourselves to the atmosphere that flourishes so well in esoteric Buddhist temples. We took some of this magic back into the woods, moving as ever through bamboo. These mountains were alive with--well, simply alive, embodying legends long forgotten. Another, smaller village marked the opposite end of this realm. I can imagine the festivals this place must hold, and the mystical experiences of their centuries-dead residents which gave birth to such rituals. A half dozen houses stood around a tiny temple of a simple structure. Inside was a tremendous wooden Buddha nearly the size of the room itself. Miki and I sat a long while, taken in, taken in. When we were able to move again, we made our way back through more bamboo, slowly reentering the current century, where trains awaited to take us into hyper-modern Osaka and my reading for Four Stories.



On the turntable; Junko Onishi, "Live at the Village Vanguard"

On the reel table: "Go" (Yukisada, 2001)

2 comments:

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

A beautifully evoked winter walk. I have to say, I agree with your assessment of Tadao Ando. His Omotesando Hills project is quite possibly the blandest, greyest building in a city which doesn't exactly have a shortage of boxy concrete architecture. The contrast between it and the funky post-war apartments that stood there previously is quite tragic.

200 hikers. The mind boggles...

ted said...

I'm not a Tokyo-ite but, those old apartments were one of my strongest memories of Harajuku. The first time I walked Omotesando, I felt a little bit of Paris, to the point I grabbed a coffee and croissant further on.

Replacing the colorful, the asymmetrical, with grey concrete boxes cuts metaphorically too close to home.

200 hikers, I know... Like a bus queue. The fact that most of them were old timers made me wonder if the government has on new twist on the old Children's Crusade...