This is a guest story by a friend I’ve been travelling with in Japan. Dieter is a Graphic Design Director from Brisbane, an enthusiastic traveller, a player of saxophones, and an admirer of architectural aesthetics. He’s also a cool travel companion. Kris
When I think of Japan, I can`t help but think of tsunamis, bullet trains, geishas and Godzilla movies. On the darker side; crazy technology crammed into the strangest of objects, adult manga and vending machines offering up delights to an underworld of fetish collectors. However, on my first trip to Japan visiting Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, while I was certainly going to search for these things; either to confirm or discard their existence to the urban myth basket, it was the underlying old world values of Japanese culture that struck me the most. The politeness of the Japanese people, their fastidiousness and love, or even cult like devotion, to craft.
Wood, paper and fabric seem integral to the Japanese way of life, and no where is that more evident than in the traditional architecture of their temples and ryokans. What amazed me as we travelled, was no matter how big or how small, the care and meticulous attention to detail was the same. What blew me away was that many temples were not only built once but in some cases built two or three times, as sadly, many had fallen victim to wars, fires and natural disasters at some time. I suppose that`s to be expected when you think many of these beautiful wood and paper structures are a few hundred, and in some cases, seven or even eight hundred years old!
Each rebuild an exact replica of the original taking many years and a hell of a lot of money from benifactors and the general public. Many temples being improved; insect proofed and netted (keeping pesky birds from messing up the beautiful and massive amounts of timber work) and of course to keep up with the mod cons Japan and the world have come to love; electricity & plumbing.
I imagine Japan faces huge challenges in the future up keep of so many awe inspiring old timber structures; well over 1,000 temples alone. Passing on the skills required to faithfully reproduce the level of workmanship to repair and rebuild, finding the funds to keep these structures as not only the reminders of Japanese spiritual connections to their indigenous religion, Shinto, and the imported Buddhism. And also reasons for the new generations to believe in the purpose of these structures, be they spirtual or cultural.
Really these temples seem like totems of a nations identity, imbued with the craftmanship of a people, meshed with their spirit. Even if there is a faster cheaper alternative, these qualities, these beliefs of tradition, honour and craft, to the people of Japan, seem to be their yard stick. Visit a temple or maybe a few, without soaking up these imense and overwhelming structures it would be like thinking all there is to Japan are tsunamis, bullet trains, geishas and Godzilla movies. It makes me want to take up woodworking!