I wrote Kyoto…a love story on November 12th, 2008, a few months after I arrived in Japan. It personifies the Japan the world once knew (not the heartbreaking images of a broken country), the Japan I love and, the Japan that would soon return.
Kyoto…a love story
I remember once walking up my grandmother’s taupe coloured concrete staircase and there she was, sitting on her half broken wooden rocking chair with her aged hands clasped over her face. She had tears meandering down her face.
Heartbroken, I hugged her and asked, “What’s wrong granny?” She whispered through an endless stream of tears, “I miss your grandfather. I feel so alone.”
He had died fifteen years earlier.
About a year ago, when I was in Belize, near the Guatemalan border, I saw a refugee, sitting on the bare, dirt ground, wearing a torn red veil cradling her little child, sheltering him from the scorching sun. She displayed such stoic endurance, I recall.
I felt horrible because there I was with a full stomach, draped in comfortable clothing and a wired fence away was a woman and child suffering.
And then two months ago, while biking to the train station in Namerikawa, I stopped at a traffic light. There I saw a little Japanese boy, no more than three years old.
He stared quizzically at me. I am quite sure I was the first foreigner he had ever seen in his young life. I smiled, bowed gently and waved at him.
Shocked, he looked at me with a perplexed look plastered on his face and then started giggling, heartily tugging his mother’s shoulder to show her what he had seen. She smiled at me and I bowed in respect.
These are some of the distinct images that have now become part of the tapestry of my memories.
They say some images resonate in you. They stir untapped emotions. They become forever imprinted in your soul. I for one have grown to truly believe that.
I once read in Paulo Coelho’s TheAlchemist, “It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life so interesting.”
Kyoto has always had a sentimental place in my heart. I did my masters in climate change and elements of the Kyoto Protocol had been rituals, more so the poetry of my postgraduate life.
I had always dreamed about visiting this historical city, and little did I know that a young man’s fantasy would in fact become reality and, soon enough Kyoto would become one of these defining images.
Kyoto, much like most of my experiences in Japan thus far had been a delightful accident.
A British colleague had organised the annual autumnal trip and somehow owing to my clear idleness, procrastination and perhaps a little bit of ‘trininess‘ I missed the deadline for signing up.
Saddened, I comforted myself in knowing I would visit it in the near future. Fate, however, would have it that an American would decide not to go and I would take her place.
The departure date had come at long last and after driving for almost five hours we finally arrived in Kyoto at the stroke of midnight.
From the onset the place felt magical; the air seemed to hug you; the moon somehow shone more brilliantly; it was as if I was a character in one of the great childhood fairy tales told to me by my mother when I was young.
Perhaps it’s a juvenile analogy but it is what I honestly felt.
I am tempted to say that there is a certain je ne sais quoi about Kyoto but quite frankly there isn’t.
It is utterly charming, it oozes subtle sophistication, there is a gracefulness to the city belonging only to a Julliard ballerina, but most of all, there is regal beauty that draws you in, to the point of being completely immersed, almost hypnotized, by everything.
Kyoto is unequivocally the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Walking through Kyoto is like stepping back to a more peaceful, romantic period in time. You instantly become lost in a fusion of colour and world wind of elegance.
On my first day, and now forever etched in my mind, against the backdrop of a spectacular blue sky, well manicured trees and perfectly placed clouds, lay the Golden Shrine.
My jaw dropped and all I could muster up was an inarticulate, “Wow!”
One would think that this Trini-boy had a very limited vocabulary but the astonishing beauty had in fact stifled my ability to construct a proper sentence.
The golden temple appeared to float on still waters. It was as if that one place, that specific spot had been carved into the earth for that shrine. Calling it breathtaking would have been a terrible understatement.
The next day my journey continued.
As I trekked up the mountains with friends, it was evident that autumn was near. Trees were in the early stages of their metamorphosis, leaves were making the transition from emerald greens to spectacular shades of orange and yellow.
As we continued our discovery of Kyoto, we came to the Kompon Chu-do shrine. I will admit truthfully that this shrine was not on my list of things to see in Kyoto.
It was a humble shrine with varying shades of green moss creeping from an intricately built roof that was supported by faded red columns.
Before I entered, I lit an osenko (incense), placed my hands together, closed my eyes and then I made two simple wishes.
When I was finished, I bowed my head, took off my shoes and proceeded into the temple. Inside was dimly lit with candles and incense from those who just like me had made their wishes- perhaps for hope, for safety, for love, for happiness.
As I walked on, not much further, I saw scores of people, sitting on the ground listening attentively to a Buddhist monk. I too stopped and listened.
I had not the faintest idea what he was saying because he spoke in a foreign tongue but he spoke with such humility and conviction I could not help but be moved.
As he continued to speak, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. When he was finished, I followed the queue and realised that my eyes had become glossy.
I quickly wiped my tears. What happened to me then and there reminded me of an earlier conversation I had with a British guy.
He was recollecting his journey to Hibiya Park in Tokyo and said that he was so moved by that immaculate beauty there that he was moved to tears.
I remembered thinking, “What a loser! Crying over a well groomed garden.”
And, here I was moved to tears by a monk, speaking a language I did not know and in a place that that was far from being grand.
I felt like a fool.
I had suddenly become him- vulnerable yet strong. There was something paradoxical about what I was going through and I finally understood what he had meant.
Day three came too quickly.
As my discovery continued, I walked to the Fushimi Inari shrine made famous by the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
There stood a million vibrantly coloured red wooden pillars that seem to rise to the heavens. I climbed this seemingly never ending staircase of red for what seemed like an eternity and at the end, what awaited me was simply stunning.
It was the most glorious sunset ever, a palette of vibrant oranges, rich blues, golden yellows and intense purples.
I thought to myself “Da Vinci I’m sure, could not have captured the incontrovertible beauty that stood before me.”
I then looked to my left and saw my friends, a young married American couple, kissing ever so gently.
I smiled and thought, “This is what great love stories are built on.”
The dreaded day came too soon.
Leaving Kyoto was painful. My heart ached immensely.
It was very much like unrequited love. I loved her deeply but my unselfish love was never reciprocated. I was just one of many that came and fell in love and soon I, not her, would be a distant memory.
My British friend called and indicated it was time to go home. My heart sank. The end was inevitable but my only comfort was that I knew I would someday return.
As for my wishes, one had already come true. I was happy.