Reflection on Japan


Little bridges, stone water features, big colourful fish, tiny silver coffee jugs, indigo dye and shibori pleating, and second-hand kimonos in Tokyo’s Nippori town. It is lovely to reflect on our recent visit to Japan.

When people say “Japan is different.” they mean that the experience of being in Japan is unique. Although it is modern, sophisticated, and civilized in our 21st century high-tech way, with shops, fast trains and modern architecture, the underpinnings of its society are non-European and based in a complexity of religion and culture that a non-Japanese person can only begin to perceive. Am I going too far? Our recent visit suggested that perhaps I am not going far enough with this understanding. And I was delighted to feel like Alice once again falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. I was intrigued, fascinated and inquisitive.

First stop Maizuru in the Kyoto Prefecture and the port for the historic city of Kyoto with its many heritage-listed sites. The town of Maizuru itself has a relaxed air about it, although still cold for walking through the tiny market street even in mid-March. Small cafe-type houses serving tea and coffee can be found throughout the town, and many restaurants serving traditional food. Fresh fruit and vegetables are displayed on the side-walk, and fresh fish can be bought from an open-air store. This delightful combination of shop/market stall was surprising to my Australian mind, used to shopping centres or farmer’s markets; the open air stalls within a shopping street provided a different sort of accessibility and openness. Add to this the stone water feature in the public space, and the Maizuru cultural centre, half-way down the relatively short main street, and I immediately felt at ease within the unfamiliar. What put me at ease here? I enjoyed the openness of the shopping space, the valuing of cultural heritage within the ‘market’ environment, the quiet spaces to stop and reflect within the commercial zone, and the abundance of fresh produce. As we wandered through the town itself it become apparent that the lack of high-rise buildings and the consequent availability of sky added to the ambience, also the lightness of touch of architectural style punctuated by shrines and temples and small bridges over the canals flowing into the town from the inlet, and one day of wandering became a delightful interlude. Of course, Maizuru is a port town and as such local residents understand the double-sided nature of visiting cruise ships and tourists, they bring commerce and also they can flood a small town with unthinking one day visitors. despite this we found the locals welcoming. The surrounding countryside of Maizuru is hillside leading to mountains with forests dotted with hot springs and spas (Onsen). The snow-caps overlooking the port still told the story of winter, but the little town was beginning to sing a Spring song.

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Copyright: Jessica Syme 2014