July 3 – Kyoto

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Kinkaku-ji Temple or Rokuon-ji Temple, or Temple of the Golden Pavilion, as seen in Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name and in the movie called Mishima, where it appears as a model on a sound-stage. The novel follows the story of Mizoguchi, a young buddhist monk, who, haunted by the beauty of the temple, burns it down, who burnt it down in 1950, six years before the novel was published, in 1956. Who knows what the young monk’s motive could have been? Perhaps it was nothing.

Kinkaju-ji had stood intact since before 1400, a villa converted into a temple in an act of filial devotion and piety – the son honouring the father – in one story or the conversion of a guest-house simply in keeping with the previous owner’s wishes in another story, whose given name for the next world is Rokuon-in-den, from which the alternative name for the temple, Rokuon-ji, is derived. The temple, Kinkaku-ji, contains relics of Buddha: it is a shariden.

After the arson, Kinkaku-ji was rebuilt exactly – as they say, painstakingly – to the model of what had come before, so that the model in Paul Schrader’s film is just as much a model of the original as the golden pavilion we visited today, that is, apart from the pains taken. What then happened to the relics of Buddha? The brochure doesn’t say. One thing it says of the grounds: “Rocks donated by various lords of the period are placed throughout the garden.” When you are next visiting, for birthdays, high days and holidays please bring a rock.

Seeing this model – quite a reasonable admission price: I wrote something earlier about the Japanese relationship to money and nudity but this has less to do with ethnicity or nationality and more to do with Buddhism – what is more, there obtains a relationship to rubbish, garbage that is equally as intriguing, in so far as rituals for its concealment and removal are concerned – rubbish bins are a rarity on the streets – and the observable fact that it is so effectively concealed and disposed of as to not obtrude on the streets or anywhere else, which must be a challenge, since everything is packaged, skinned, prophylactically separated, the mayonnaise in a bun – lest it sog the bread a plastic sheet is inserted, items of food and drink, all sorts of products are wrapped and cushioned, dressed in plastic and protected – accumulating masses of packaging is unavoidable, disposing of it difficult – seeing the Golden Pavilion was like seeing a dream.

We could have gone to visit another cinematic dreamscape, the bamboo groves out of Arashiyama, familiar from Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger. Instead, we visited Oioi Marui and Takashimaya and … Teramachi, the former two department stores, middle of the road, but excellent stationary, the latter a veritable arcade-project, a terrible endless corridor of shopping, that made us so disorientated, even with Kyoto’s grid layout, we got lost on our way home.

Lunch was a ‘sushi train’, conveyor belt of sushi plates, and brilliantly inexpensive, many dishes for 1800 yen. The highlight of the terror shopping arcade was a store selling paper and ceramics and yukata and textiles and incense and obi and kimono and hair-pins and … miniature folding screens, the smallest only five centimetres tall, boasting four panels. The ‘Japanese album’ finally makes sense as a paper screen of multiple panels able to be folded down into book form; but then the screen, the large piece of furniture, suddenly makes nonsense as an over-sized and impossible book: so that the dressing screen, the screen behind which one would undress, becomes a book to hide the body in, a book in which the body is hidden and to the pages, panels, of which it is exclusively revealed.

We dined in Ponto-Cho, following the river up towards Kawaramachi, and crossing into the haute cuisine zone, late, hungry, but seeing geisha for the first time was exhilarating: some businessmen, an older one – as guide or liability? – was having some kind of interchange at the doorway of a geisha house, perhaps negotiating with the proprietress of the place, and two faces in the doorway. And then, a minute later, a group of men with a geisha, who was clearly leading the conversation, and in charge of the situation, came in front of us and disappeared into the labyrinth of alleys.

We ended up eating on the river, in the windows snapped, several new things, kaiseki, haute cuisine: eggplant balls Kyoto-style – delicious; namafu – some variation on tofu, done three ways, each one tasting like warm gooey plasticine with a green-tea, hoisin and sesame topping; sushi Kyoto-style – balls of rice with a topping; sesame tuna – dry but tuna and tuna is good; and a salad, with wild mushrooms.