Even after 6 months of travelling I am still suprised every single day about the cultural revelations and insights into different societies that I have. Today was no exception as I completely understood something that has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries that I previously dismissed as something merely for ‘nerds’. On to more of that later.
So today was a day of culture and as we got up ready for a day in Central Kyoto we looked forward to what the richness of Japanese history and tradition had in store for us.
We began our journey towards the National Gyoen Park. As we walked through one of the parks famous, wooden gates we were greeted by the outer walls of Kyotos Imperial Palace. As some people may already know, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years before what is now known as Tokyo replaced it in the 19th century. In 794AD Emperor Kanmu began building the capital in Kyoto City to what is now known as the Imperial Palace. The political and cultural centre of Japan was recurrently destroyed by fire and reconstructed again until 1854 when it was rebuilt to how it stands today. I shall take you around briefly on a tour of this impressive free attraction you can visit in Kyoto.
First you see the Okurumayose which was the entrance used for official visits by courtiers who had been granted to visit the palace.
Secondly you pass by the Shodaibunoma which was used as the waiting room for the courtiers. 3 rooms were allinged parallel to one another, each one more hierarchical than the previous. The highest rank was the ‘Tiger Room’, medium rank was the ‘Crane Room’ and the lowest rank the ‘Cherry Room’.
Thirdly you come across the Shishinden which is the most important building within the Palace as it was a ceremonial building used for the enthronement ceremonies of Emperors Taisho and Showa.
Next, you visit the Seriyoden which was once used as the Emperors residence. Built in traditional Shindin style the building has many partitions which made it appropriate for residential living.
The Kogosho was used for ceremonies for example when the Emperor received shogun and daimyo.
Ogakumonjo which is situated North of the Kogosho was used for study and occasionally when the Emperor received courtiers.
The beautiful Oikeniwa Gardens encompasses a wonderfully large pond bolstered by an artificial shoreline. The arch shaped Keyakibashi Bridge makes it a perfect place to view from every angle.
Finally, the Otsunegoten is the largest building in the palace. Built in Shoin style, one of the rooms called the Kenji-noma houses the sword and seal, the symbols of the Imperial Throne.
A true National Treasure that Japan should be proud of, the Imperial Palace is a must visit when taking vacation in Japan.
Up next, something that I thought I would never enjoy, be interested in or come to appreciate, Manga.
Manga is the Japanese cartoon books which have been made famous in the West through anime films like Spirited Away and the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh series. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is the epicentre of a wide collection of everything Manga. It is has been playing a significant role in Japanese culture through its many mediums for centuries, even as far back as the Heian Period between 794-1192ad.
The museum has a library of nearly 300,000 items related to Manga, a learning and workshop area for events and classes, a research centre on manga culture, many galleries, exhibitions and reading areas. My favourite exhibition was on a guy called Eguchi Hisashi who I have considered now one of my favourite artists. He is the pinnacle of what Manga is all about, the story telling of Fantasia through the medium of cartoons.
After working through all of the impressive galleries and exhibitions I sat my self down with one of the thousands of Manga books the museum has on offer and read the whole thing, although it was weird starting from the back page and reading right to left!
After reading it and looking around the room at the wide diversity of everyone, pensioners, young couples, mothers and sons, teenagers, toddlers and grandparents all sitting together, silently reading these fantasy stories it really opened my mind how important Manga is in Japanese culture and that it isn’t just for ‘nerds’ at all. It brings people together, it showcases the amazing talent Manga artists have and it introduces the art of writing, drawing and storytelling at a young age. Go Manga! I’m a true convert.
Afterwards we headed to Kyotos Municipal Arts Museum. It had an exhibition on ‘The Glittering Heritage of Beauty in Kyoto’or a Salvador Dali Exhibition. Seeing as I already have been to a Salvador Dali exhibition in Bruges I decided to go for the local one. Although it was good and had some pretty nice paintings I wish I had gone for Dali. I’m much more of a surrealist than impressionist and I think I would have preferred it. Also, every time I go to an art exhibition I always get reminded of how much I prefer photography galleries.
After dinner, our last cultural activity for the day was to see Nijo Castle at night. For the first time ever the curator of the Castle decided to exhibit its beauty in the dark with bright, illuminating lanterns showcasing its historic grandeur.
During the day you have a much more flexible route to take with much more information available. The night time exhibition which was very beautiful didn’t fill me which too much history behind the castles origins.
In my next blog post I’ll be writing about why Osaka is a city of hits and misses