Culture

I Hear Kyoto Calling: The History, The Future, The Splendor

During Superstorm Sandy, us New Yorkers experienced a level of unease that was peripherally related to the storm.  Our trains stopped working. And they stopped working for a while.  How could that be, we would all thought.   The subway system is part of our lifeline, it courses through our veins.  It was a hard lesson to learn: New York’s subway needs major updating and we may not be the best anymore. Sigh, what a sad thing that was to learn. What will happen in the coming decade as global weirding continues to occur with increased frequency?

This all got be thinking about Kyoto. Yes, the lovely and vibrant city of Kyoto, Japan.  Besides being noted as the 11th most livable city in the world by Monocle magazine in 2012, Kyoto has been praised for its compact city solutions such as its own subway system that seems to be able to withstand natural disasters such as cyclones. There is also a little something called the Kyoto Protocol named after the fact that Kyoto hosted a global conference that resulted in the protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

During and since Superstorm Sandy I have thusly experienced what I have labeled “Kyoto calling.”  The singer Falco had a song called Vienna Calling, an ode to his hometown making him the only artist whose principal language was German to score a number-one hit in the United States. Part of the lyrics (one set of translations) of that particular song includes:

Hope your stay in Vienna will be a pleasant one
Welcome to Vienna!
The prides of Austria are very old

Throughout the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but substitute Kyoto for Vienna. The energy, the majesty and the sense of tradition one feels in Kyoto definitely are grand enough the invoke Falco’s sentiment that the prides of Japan are very old and can be found in large part in Kyoto!

Kyōto (京都) was the capital of Japan for over a millennium, and has a worldwide reputation as one of its-if not the- most beautiful city.  Did you know that Kyoto has 2000 religious places- 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, and gardens.  A stroll through Kyoto is like walking through a living, breathing, splendor-driven museum.  Supposedly, 20% of Japan’s National Treasures and 14% of “important cultural properties” exist in the city of Kyoto. Taking in all the sites will make you punch-drunk happy.

While we visited Kyoto, we also happened to notice many university students milling and biking about. Apparently, Kyoto houses 37 institutions of higher education, making it one of the academic centers of the country. Kyoto just invokes a sense of the old and new co-existing under one roof. That is actually the sense one gets in Tokyo as well. You can have an old shrine sandwiched between two skyscrapers. That scenery can be quite jarring to the senses but I do believe that it gives you this ability to experience two simultaneous emotions: awe and nostalgia. It also prods multiple frames of reference and thoughts: what was it like and what will it all be?  Both Kyoto and Tokyo are emblematic of where we have come from and where we are headed.

Thusly, Kyoto was perhaps a perfect place to hold the global conference on greenhouse gases and what we need to do to protect the future.  The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  that was meant to set binding obligations on the industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.  Accordingly, the UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty whose goal is the “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” It was adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on 16 February 2005. However, there have been some snags along the way that continue till this day. For example, the United Stands as the only remaining signatory country not to have ratified the protocol. Which puts the United States in the company of Afghanistan, Andorra and South Sudan (as other non-ratifiers).  It is interesting that in December 2011, Canada withdrew from the Protocol. So, North America is not part of the Kyoto protocol.

I am not writing to endorse or not endorse the document but just to wax nostalgic. Kyoto is a city full of charm and history that in its very way makes you wonder about your place in the world.

I had the good fortune to be there during Cherry Blossom season this past year.  And, the beauty of the city was even more astounding and pronounced.  In particular I was captivated by the cherry blossom trees near the bamboo forest. Again, what a city of contrasts.  The bamboo forests with its giant bamboo trees makes you feel small and think of the earth’s past and history. The Cherry Blossoms make you feel grand and happy and hopeful.

Considering the international crises that are currently ongoing such as the conflict between Israel and Hamas; the financial fiscal cliff that is eminent in the United States or the extreme politicization of news coverage; perhaps we should round up a few world leaders and place them in the middle of Kyoto and get them to re-think their place and our collective role in the world.   If they can’t feel humbled by the history and beauty of Kyoto then maybe we should fins some new world leaders.

All this to say that Kyoto will make you feel inspired and creative. Go ahead and enjoy it if you can!

P.S. Three recommended places in Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms included Arashiyama, Daigoji, Ninnaji.

4 replies »

  1. Sandy reminded me of Kyoto as well, but in a very different way. Houjouki, an essay written in 1212 by a Japanese Buddhist monk, Kamo no Choumei, discusses the disasters that ravaged the city of Heian-kyo (as Kyoto was known back then), such as fires and earthquakes. I read it in the original classical Japanese, but there’s a free online English translation that’s a quick read, if you’re interested: http://www.washburn.edu/reference/bridge24/Hojoki.html

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