Why has no one ever told me about Kyoto? If I had to be reborn, I would ask for it to be here, a million times over.
Kyoto is serenity. (Run, don’t walk, here if you’re craving some calm.)
The legendary politeness of Japanese people is easily witnessed here. The ways of Kyoto citizens transcend mere etiquette, however. These people, from the innkeeper to the salesman to the old lady in the street, are operating at a different level than the rest of the planet. What else can you say when the city’s motto is “This is Kyoto: keep it clean, be graceful”? Graceful? I’d be happy with decent, these days, given the uncouth, selfish, and aggressive, often violent, behavior we’re seeing in practically every corner of the world.
Except Kyoto, it seems, where they are concerned with a higher order, more evolved state of being, grace.
Kyoto is, truly, grace.
I swooned when I saw the first poster exhorting this motto in a shop window. And then I experienced it, over and over. When my optician changed my new glasses without so much as a mutter (because the power felt too strong after the fact), I was convinced grace flows in their blood. They can’t think or act otherwise, it is inconceivable. They seem to be a mutant segment of the human race.
Kyoto is flowing with life the way we all are supposed to be.
The leaves on the trees sit in perfect harmony with their surroundings. The streets are spic and span, not a cigarette butt or wrapper to be seen. Undoubtedly, the work of a mindful sweeper or operator of the machinery that does the sweeping. Earlier in the afternoon, some men were repairing a small road. The way they were doing their job made me stop and watch. Each was absorbed in his particular task while being in sync with the rest of the band. Concentration married with connectedness, it felt. And so, the tarring and smoothening was happening in smooth coherence. It was poetry in motion, even such a banal, noisy, smelly activity as this.
I tore myself away from this fascinating scene and wandered into one of the historical temples that are scattered throughout the city, Higashi Hoganji Temple, which has been around since 750 years.
I don’t think it’s one of the more famous temples of Kyoto. Nevertheless, walking into the spacious grounds of this Buddhist temple felt like this is exactly what is meant to be, right here, in this way. The temple did not feel neglected or suffering from an inferiority complex to its more popular brethren. The main halls sit next to each other in coherent symmetry. The entry gate is massive, and, unlike other historical gates I have seen, non-aggressive. There are no spikes protruding, no ghouls carved into the doorway, no high thresholds to bar outsiders. Instead, it is gently carved with flowers, and only as many as needed to convey a welcoming air.
I am in the land of Zen Buddhism. The ethos is everywhere. Why can’t every place be like this?