Thursday, May 27, 2010

Juxtaposition of Old and New

While shopping in an arcade next to Nishiki Market, I came across Seiganji Temple, an old Buddhist temple in the middle of the shopping center. It was the last thing I expected to find while shopping for souvenirs, and it was amazing to find something so old in a building so new. The temple and the shopping center were only seperated by a doorway, but once I stepped inside the temple gate, it felt like I went back in time. I gazed up to see the giant ornate Buddha sitting in the center of the temple, then ascended the stairs with the incense getting more intense as I got nearer to the room. A priest came out and chanted and a man came in to pray.

I thought it was strange for a temple to be located inside a shopping center, but then I kept on seeing more old religious sites throughout the arcade acting as quiet spiritual havens in the middle of hectic, modern life. There was a cemetery, shrine, and temple where people could step in to pray and then walk a few steps out and buy some shoes. The materials clash, but in an interesting way with aging wooden structures and tiled roofs next to slick glass facades.

After thinking about it, the whole city of Kyoto is similar to that shopping center. It seems like everywhere you go there is a temple complex surrounded by modern buildings. Along the skyline you can see modern boxy high-rises alongside sweeping temple roofs. This preservation of the old while developing the new is connected to the Japanese respect for tradition and the sabi in Japanese aesthetics with appreciation of time and aging. Compared to Japan, the United States doesn't have the long history or the integration of the traditional into our culture. The combination of old and new is obvious in the architecture seen around the city, but is also seen in other aspects like women in trational kimonos riding the subway and old men using the latest cell phones. You can read Melanie's blog about other dualities she found in Japan.

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