31.07.2018 Byōdōin Uji to Kyoto Gion

Sayonara Hanayashini Ukibuneen … The cormorant fishing which happens every night did not over our stay and it was all right. The lady who had befriended J. on the return from Kurama Kibune insisted—to searching in her purse for a 10 yen coin—that we must, so we did, visit the Jodo style temple depicted on the coin: Byōdōin.

Jodo offers a vision of Pure Land Paradise. In my notes for Ayarashiyama “nothing for effect” (or should that be affect—since the intention is also absence of affectation?). I was there thinking of the ropes around the giant cedar trees. A thick gold rope, hung with prayer paper, might ring the bough beside a nylon rope meant for purely practical purposes. That is the gold rope has its purpose, its intended effect, as does the cheap nylon one. One is practical and one is … not for effect, not to give the aesthetic effect of a special marking out; the tree marks itself out, the rope is not a mark. The aesthetic value is not being signified. It is symbolic, the thick gold rope, with tasseled ends. But it does not symbolise aesthetically, or represent through a special aesthetic attention which cannot be mixed with more practical more mundane intentions. It is just a thick gold rope. So Jodo does not represent a paradisal scene, a heavenly vision imported brought down to earth, represented by the artists, the craftsmen, the gardeners, builders, painters, in a temple or in a floating island in a still and artificial lake. No special mark in addition to the precise and careful and attentive construction of the Jodo temple or island need be made. Nothing is for effect. And the plastic pipe feeding the lake is visible, doesn’t detract. There is no incongruity in mixing the practical with the visionary. The high aesthetic doesn’t suffer for having a low element. There is no difference in levels. Paradise is not artificial is Pound’s refrain throughout the Cantos. But the separation is not necessary: spiritual paradise need not be specially cordoned off from practical requirements and utility, even to those practical requirements and that utility of the artificial—to the visibility of the support, of the hose which keeps the flowers and moss happy.

We walked again the path beside the river and the workers were filling in the sides of the path, done centrally with large pavers. They were using cement and a brown and caramel gravel mixture, which was watered and then wiped back with a handsponge, to show off the colourful stones in the cement. The work was slow. And there were two security guards to a group of maybe half a dozen. It was like a community service crew. Yet they were so careful with the sponge work and the washing down, and the work was slow. That you might think this could not be a work scheme—where was the efficiency!? Where the productivity?! Why the care and artistry?!

Byōdōin temple floats above a lake. It is easily superhuman, for its symmetries, for its beauty. The fact of its reconstruction during the Meiji Restoration matters not—as it would, say to know Chartres was put back together during the mid-19th century. It is also superhuman for having spaces of which no human body could avail itself, could not float in at the second floor, or second floor and a half. Nobody could enjoy the balconies there, or be accommodated in the rooms that have no walls. It is perfectly useless, most of the temple, which makes it very moving.

Within the temple complex the Byōdōin Museum houses the “only existing group of Buddhist statues from the 11th century”, a collection of 52 bodhisattva floating on clouds, dancing, playing musical instruments, all of wood, each exquisitely carved and extraordinarily well preserved. The museum is by Akira Kuryu, I had to look, because it continues themes that are in the temple building itself, a weightless quality—like Ando’s concrete. A sign reads at the entrance: no sketching or photos.

There are also snaps of Koshoji, on the opposite side of the river, here above, before leaving for Resol Hotel in Kyoto, near the Gion. The Gion itself a strange contraction of Caesar’s palaces to the standard-sized allocations of land for building in Japanese cities, several metres across the front, rising in chrome and marble and glass, to 4 or so storeys. The vibe approaching something strangely unpleasant, awry, like a smell hanging over of emotional extortion. But we ate supremely well at a Ramen bar.

[for some reason the first of this day’s snaps have shuffled down and settled at the bottom]