2014
07.20

SYNOPSIS:  About Nara archaeology at Nara Palace Site.  Transit to Kyoto where I will be living in a kitchen…!   About the downfalls of booking accommodations from afar.

 

If you have nothing but time on your hands in Nara and you have seen all the temples and shrines of significance, head out to see a big wide open field with some shrubs and yet two more vermillion-white buildings which by now will look a lot like all the other stuff you have seen…

Well, I had 1/2 day to kill and did just that.  This is the final part of the world heritage cluster of buildings in Nara.  Nara Capital was only the seat of power in Japan for about 85 years.  Because the Buddhist temples had gained too much power and many Buddhist monks were actually quite militant, the government had no choice but “to run”.  They settled in Kyoto next where they remained for over 1200 years before finally ending up in Tokyo.

The area of the Nara seat of government, 1 x 1.3 square kilometers in the North-West corner of the city, gradually was taken over by rice fields.  I guess that is one reason that recently sparked interest in archaeological research.  There were no buildings to clear, nothing was in the way.  But all that was left was… nothing above ground.

I have always admired archaeologists who can turn shards and splinters, a few foundation stones and bones, into full-scale models of what once was.  In my field (art history) I fully rely on their work.  But I can’t quite get excited over shards and bones.  I need the real thing or the computer model to relate.  But for what little there really is, the site is quite impressive.

First you enter exhibition halls that have been built over partially excavated plots.  TV monitors start from what you see now — a variety of holes, for example — and you walk, color-coded, through various stages of development.  Once it is presented like this, it all makes sense and you can almost picture the 7000 government workers who must have hurried about their tasks, and the imperial family which lived in Nara Palace in the midst of it all.  To make it even more tangible, four buildings have been rebuilt full scale.  But since all of this is located on a 1 x 1.3 kilometer square site, even these big buildings look rather forlorn.

One thing I found ingenious — where there used to be houses, typically pillared halls — and the ground had to be covered again after excavation, for conservational considerations — cone shaped shrubs now indicate the floor plans of many buildings.  If you speak Japanese, the Nara Palace Site Museum comes highly recommended, but I was forewarned — no labels in English, so I skipped it.  That was probably a mistake since a lot of these computer recreations speak for themselves, but I had to move on: transit to Kyoto, my home for the next 10 days.

I like to be near a train station, for it helps with transporting heavy luggage and it usually insures that there is a lot of public transportation departing from nearby.  Well, in my hurry at home, the train station I picked was a way-the-heck-out stop of a private line, not the JR national rail.  When I finally arrived at my guest house I was quite in shock.

I knew nothing would soon come close to Nara, but so far away…  Kyoto — I could see that already — was much bigger than I had envisioned it.  It would be time consuming to navigate the numerous sites as they are spread out from one end of town to the next.  But it was too late to change anything.  I remember that I changed my original booking from a more central location where I would have been in a dorm, to this more remote one, where for the same price I could be on my own.  At the time that seemed to make sense.

In the very fine print of the booking which I had not read, there was a mention that there was no window in this room.  And there was a mention that the room had a kitchenette.  I liked the sound of that, but what turned out to be was that this former single family home had been chopped up into so many guest rooms that some of them, like mine — was a former kitchen, transformed into a bedroom, not the other way around.  Who knows, other guests may live in a hallway or a closet, for all I know.

The setup of this “guesthouse” qualifies it much more as a minshuku which is a typical Japanese style of accommodation where you live with a family in their home.  When kids grow up for example, bedrooms get transformed into guest rooms.  In my case, the family has maximized this transformation to the point of compromising the basics.  There is no common area.  That means, that each of the guests is completely confined to his/her room.  I have yet to see a single other guest.  I only hear them through the cardboard walls…  The once spacious bathroom has been chopped up into three coin-operated shower stalls.  There is no TV in my room — not that I need one — but if I were not as busy as I am with the blog and the images, there is nothing to do here.  You can’t even hang out with other travelers, which is the hallmark of any guest house.  Kazu in Nara had taken what little space he had and made the most of it to facilitate communication.  The reception turned into a table at night, the breakfast area could become a hangout and the computers could be used for games, etc.   Here, I feel like I am in solitary confinement.  Perhaps, I deserve punishment.

The host of the house, Kaiza-san is a boisterous woman my age.  From her loud and frequent laugh you can tell that she has been a smoker all of her life.  She has been kind enough to bring me a few treats — home made sushi, cucumbers from her brother’s farm.  And she always slaps me on the back in excitement when she tells me something.  I will have to get used to this.  I will be here for ten days…

Kamikatsura is a suburb where you might want to raise your kids.  But there is hardly a store besides the flower shop, the 7/11 and a few hair salons.  There is no public park, no culture of any sort.  You definitely don’t want to be here if you have just a couple of days to spend in Kyoto as a tourist where you might want to step out at night to experience the night life.  I have to commute to that and transfer in between!  Aghh.  I can see that I will have to make a consorted effort to get out at night.  In Kyoto, night life is a must, of course!

Well, if I had ended up in the dorm downtown, I probably would have lamented the lack of privacy.  So, I will stop complaining.  The train runs literally every seven to 15  minutes day and night.  It reaches the middle of Kyoto in 15 minutes if I don’t miss the connector train, or in 30, if I do.  I can live with that.  And the isolation — well, it will keep me on track, on the blog, and focused on processing my images.

That’s not so bad either.  Good night.