Friday, May 28, 2010

A Disparity of Beauty

When I arrived in Japan, I was fairly certain that I wasn't laboring under any false assumptions about the culture or country; I was proven wrong within a few hours, as we were being driven through Osaka to Kyoto. Nothing was as I expected it, and everything that I saw was disappointing. Through the night, all that I could make out were the neon lights of the big cities and that was, shortly, not what I had hoped or imagined these places to be like; they were somehow supposed to escape the classic features of metropolises. I couldn't see any nature or any ancient architecture, which was what my mind had been focusing on, and there was no identity to distinguish them from the cities of America other than the sparse signs in Japanese, and even then there was plenty enough English everywhere to subjugate this inkling of a foreign identity.

I didn't like what I saw, and I had the initial, impulsive thought of: What am I doing here?

However, things got better. Myoshinji was far closer to the images my mind had been forming, and in them was the beauty that I was expecting and looking for. There was that sense of sabi, of beauty in age, and the onlooker couldn't help but marvel at the sturdiness of these architectures. All of the temples and shrines that we have visited have this feeling: when we were led to the backrooms of Ryoan-ji, to the podiums of the Buddha and his disciples, there was a heady sense of the uncanny; looking into their ancient faces, I got goosebumps. It felt like the world was a moment away from animating these figures so that they may recount their tales.

But there's a stark divide between the astounding magnificence of these ancient infrastructures and the modern buildings that crowd them in. The latter are haphazard and grey, worn down, exhibiting sabi in what can only be called its ugliest incarnation. The outskirting commercial streets of Kyoto are the worst, flat and pitiful in their facades and looking for all the world like forgotten -- yet still habitually-used -- boxes. It seems as if the Japanese are so obsessively focused on the past, on the beautiful creations of their ancestors, that they have completely abandoned the modern world: it must serve its purpose, but they will not try to make it, in its own right, into a place of grandeur. Beauty is reserved for the ancients.

I don't understand this, not at all. How can there be such a gulf between these two worlds? Maybe I simply haven't seen enough of this country to understand, or to find the bridging element, but for the moment, I am perplexed by this place.

No comments:

Post a Comment