Last November my husband Rolf and I vacationed in Japan, the city I called home during my college years. We visited during autumn – that awe-inspiring season when maple leaves are a vivid crimson and the sky is as tranquil as a mountain lake. We spent ten wondrous days touring Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuyama and Kyoto, enjoying every moment.
Kyoto, one of my favorite cities on earth, was formerly known as Heian-kyō (translates literally to “tranquil and peaceful capital”). This was during the Heian period (794-1185), a time when the Japanese imperial court was at its peak and noted for art, poetry and architecture. It is difficult to find the right words to describe the unique beauty of Kyoto; everything about it is subtle and serene, as if time is flowing more slowly than anywhere else. Everywhere your eyes land they behold exquisite and precise beauty, crafted and presented in its most perfect form.
Late one afternoon in Kyoto, Rolf and I visited Nanzenji, a Zen Buddhist temple built during Japan’s late medieval period. Dramatically draped in the red hue of late afternoon sunlight, the temple brought to mind an uta (a thirty-one syllable poem) composed by Jōben, a monk of the Kamakura Period (1185–1333) whose poetic style is informed by the medieval aesthetic of sabi-yūgen, a combination of courtly charm and melancholic beauty. “A shower passes by— and the rays of the evening sun make the crimson leaves of Ogura Mountain shine with a brighter glow.” (Translated by: Steven D. Carter)
The timelessness of Kyoto’s beauty, unchanged from my time as a college student, was the pinnacle of our visit to Japan. We recall our experiences there fondly and will certainly visit again, but most importantly we have brought Japan, and especially Kyoto, back with us in our hearts.