Monday, September 06, 2004

City of Wood -- City of Glass

I`ve been in Tokyo for a couple of days now, and have explored most of the major sections -- the famed downtown area, the Ginza shopping area, and Shinjuku, the "skyscraper district," etc. ... One of the things that came to mind is that while Kyoto is a city characterized by wood, Tokyo is a place defined entirely by glass.

This is, I think, both facially and symbolically true: Kyoto, the city of temples and shrines, is indeed built to a large extent from wood -- in spite of the fires that have razed the city and destroyed its castles and temples many times over, they have been rebuilt in wood and bark. Tokyo, on the other hand, is largely built from glass and steel, though primarily, visibly, from glass: The skyscrpaers of Shinjuku, the downtown galleries, most notably of course the ITC, one side of which launches itself into the city center like a humongous glass ship -- their mirror-fronts sparkle, reflect and reveal, in spite of the city`s propensity towards earthquakes and, as one guidebook puts it, "innumerable other disasters."

The cities share a predilection for fragility: Tokyo`s is one of delicate defiance -- a city that knows the price of everthing and denies lasting value to all equally. Kyoto`s fragility is more one of zen paradox -- the very destructability of the city`s organic foundation is the essence of its ongoing historical rebirth ... an architectural phoenix from its literal ashes. Tokyo is glorious -- vain-glorious: a city on display, hiding itself behind the very panes of glass that reveal it, reaching into the sky, shining fingers pointing up. Kyoto, for all its splendor, is both humbler and more beautiful -- to walk it is an organic encounter, just like visiting its castles and temples is a truly multi-sensory experience: The wooden beams, worn smooth by the hands of shogun, servants and visitors alike; the nightingale floors, designed to warn the castle`s occupants of sneaking assassins; the scents of incense and cherry-blossoms, a few scraggling trees of which remain even at this time of year.

So much for my musings as I`m making my way through the jungle that is Tokyo`s public transportation system. Tomorrow I may take the day to leave the city proper and head to one of the warm springs in its neighborhood. The accomodations turn out to have some distinct advantages -- mixed blessings, perhaps, but blessings nonetheless, like being woken at 5:00a.m. by large black birds perched on my tent (... I can`t say for sure, but as between ravens and crows, I put my money on crows ...) and alerting me to one of the most beautiful sunrises I`ve seen in a long time, the sky being entirely salmon colored. And yes, there *will* be pictures :)


At September 7, 2004 at 1:53 AM, Blogger Ella Quint said...

your descriptions are dazzling. i half wish i were there and half believe i actually am. :)

At September 7, 2004 at 6:10 AM, Blogger Paddy O. said...

Beautiful descriptions, evoking both sensory and philosophical images.

Ravens, by the by, are bigger, with a "roman" nose kind of beak, and have fan shaped tail feathers. They also have more varied vocalization. They are the size of hawks. Japan has both crows and ravens. Ravens in the States tend to be less people friendly, eschewing population centers, for the most part. So in cities it is almost always a crow one would see here. As ravens have regional dialect and culture (really they do), Japanese ravens may be more urbanized.

Found this about the two main species of crows (there are six species total):

"So how can we distinguish these two species of crows? The most reliable way is to compare their behavior when they caw. When a crow is cawing continuously and strongly, if it lowers its head and moves its tail up and down, that's a dead giveaway: jungle crow. If it pops its face up and down, no question: carrion crow. Such behavior becomes more apparent in a territorial dispute during the breeding season."

If they land on your tent and tell you the goings-on of the land, they are likely ravens.

--Your friendly neighborhood Oden

At September 7, 2004 at 4:47 PM, Blogger Expat Birds said...

Spider -- aww, flattery will get you almost everywhere ;)

FNO -- Interesting. I have some great pictures of what is almost certainly a raven sitting in a tree at the Koya-san burial ground, a huge Buddhist cemetary, at least a mile in length and probably another in width, tightly packed with Buddhist grave markers surrounding the mausoleum of the head of this particular Buddhist sub-group. The place is beautiful -- enveloped in moss and bamboo, very much alive in interesting ways, especially with the mists rolling in towards the evening. Now picture over all this a very large raven (complete with "Roman nose") sitting in a tree a few feet above my head, calling quite insistently. I was expecting him to say "Nevermore!" at any moment (... and for all I know, he said so, in Japanese dialect.)

The local birds are more likely crows; perhaps I`ll discern what kind before I leave. Very communicative, quite bright.


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