Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kyoto's Tale of Genji

We should also celebrate the 1000th anniversary of The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部, a pseudonym) a masterwork of world literature and considered by some to be the earliest literary work in the form of the novel. The city of Kyoto, a world treasure in itself, is celebrating the millennial anniversary as the birthplace of Lady Murasaki and the setting for much of her famous novel (as the city Heian-kyo, Kyoto's earlier name).

Photo: Ishiyama-dera by Ko Sasaki, NY Times

I'd like to talk much more about Kyoto itself as it is a city so rich in history and beauty that it is a unique living monument to itself. Other cities in Japan are perhaps as historically important, depending on the moment in history, and as beautiful: Nikko and Nara in particular, to a lesser extent Takayama, Kanazawa, and Himeji (for its most beautiful castle), many beautiful small villages, and of course other Japanese cities for their role in modern history.

Kyoto's history, however, is richer, more condensed, and more awe-inspiring, at times its places of quietness literally taking away one's breath: the most famous zen rock garden at Ryoan-ji temple; Kiyomizu-dera temple and arrival through the old streets of the Higashiyama district; the geisha district of Gion, the garden at Nanzen-ji; the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji); the torii gates of Fushimi Inari shrine; the spectacular Daigo-ji in the eastern part of the city; Sanjusangendo temple and its 1001 stone statues of Kannon; Nijo castle, built by the great emperor Tokugawa Ieyasu; the gardens at Sento palace; the moss-covered Koke-dera; and hundreds of other sites.

While I'm in recommendation mode, let me also suggest the animated Japanese-produced film, "Murasaki Shikibu: Genji Monogatari," which was released in 1987. Haruomi Hosono did the soundtrack - an existentialist atmosphere of traditional instruments and discreet electronics - which I also recommend highly, although it's extremely difficult to find.

1 comment:

troutsky said...

Always enjoy these travelogues. Add to "things to see before I die" list.