Friday, July 26, 2013

Japan #1: The 800 Year Old Men


Fifty million people visit Kyoto every year, according to the city.  That’s 15 times more than visit Yellowstone.  Almost all are Japanese but 100,000 are American.  So you probably know someone who’s been there , you’ve have been there yourself, or know a fair amount about its history and temples.  It is one of the world’s iconic places.

So it seems presumptuous for me to add anything more to billions of words and images that come out of Kyoto each year.  You don’t need to see another temple, such as this one, just because I got there and you didn’t.
 

You already know about white stone gardens and don’t need another one from me.
 

I could not show you anything unexpected that hints at what is here, which is splendid with simplicity, that you don't already know. 
 
 
You don't need to see a sculpture outside the Kyoto Museum just because it's color is the same as the nearby Heien Temple.
 
 

Visiting the nearby city of Nara—which was the capital of Japan for less than a century around 750—on my first day I didn't even take a camera.  So I have no picture of the world’s largest wooden building or of the Buddha 30 meters high or of the two fierce warriors guarding his temple who are 15 meters high.  In fact, pictures are forbidden in many of the buildings.

But I'd like you to meet four 800 year old men—two holy men, one warrior and one impish servant—who reside in the museum of the ancient seven-story pagoda.  They are preserved in wood and bear evidence of their age.  The only way I could introduce them is by taking pictures from a souvenir book with my I-phone.  I hope to substitute better images later but I'd like you to meet them now.  With apologies for quality:
 
 
 
 
 
 

The book I’m lifting them from is in Japanese but I believe they were carved in 1012, making them actually 900 years old.  A half dozen others holy men sit with these, each with different expressions, all the same size and seemingly by the same carver, who surely must have been a wise man himself.   

Images of the Buddha are less approachable.  The Buddha may have a slight smile but he is ineffable and, it seems, removed.  Certainly a Buddha who is 30 meters tall.

But not these men.  Are they not as human and as alive as if living today? 

I’d also like to introduce a young woman who has three faces and three sets of arms.   I hope to add a credible picture of the full statue, which is in bronze and, I think, of an earlier era.  Here is one of her faces.
 

 
These are my favorite images from four days in Japan. 

 

 

 

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