Kyoto, Japan

Sunday, September 22, 1929

On the way to the station we bought some milk and sugar, then went in a small Japanese restaurant and had two bowls of rice. Missed our train by a delay at the ticket office so had to wait an hour till 9:30.

The way led inland from the coast but still near the pretty hills on the north—while a broad flat coastal plain swept away to the south. Half way to Kyoto we passed through Osaka, Japan’s largest city—a sea of gray tile roofs and smokestacks of the numerous factories. The whole two hours from Kobe to Kyoto we went through a very densely settled section. Three of Japan’s largest cities with more in between. It impressed me as being like one huge community, interspersed occasionally with a few rice fields. Nothing presents a more drab sight than that of a large Japanese city viewed from the level of the roof-tops. There’s no variation—just an expanse of dull gray tile roofs that stretch away in the distance unbroken save for an occasional taller building or a temple roof of the same material. But the gracefulness of these latter help a little to break the monotony.

From the station in Kyoto we took a tram up the fine wide boulevard past the Higashi-Honganji Temple almost to the Imperial Palace. The temple is a magnificent one, founded in 1602, but the present buildings were erected in 1895 at a cost of seven million yen. Going up Shijo Main Street, a broad bustling thoroughfare flanked by attractive shops and bazaars, fashionable restaurants and cafés, we finally located a small Japanese hotel across the river and not far from the Kyoto Hotel. It is very unpretentious on the exterior, but nice inside and clean. One must take off his shoes before entering, place them in a case of shelves, and put on leather slippers. After some bargaining we got two rooms at the back, overlooking a temple and the mountains to the north. After true Japanese interior decorating, our rooms have the floor covered with straw mats, a rack for clothes, a little wall stand, a mirror, a low table one foot high, and two cushions to sit on. The whole back side is made up of sliding windows and we also have a small porch across the back with sliding windows. Japanese paintings on the sliding doors that connect the two rooms, and a couple of long paper paintings hung on the walls complete the decorations. Though we do not take out food here, the geisha girl brings us tea in the mornings and evenings. The tea is plain, unsweetened and with no cream. The hot water kettle would make an antique collector look twice.

A geisha girl is a professional entertainer for men. She dances, sings, and I guess many are well educated and entertain also with intelligent discussions. She is not necessarily a prostitute though I imagine most all include this in their entertainment. They do not seem to be looked down upon—in fact I understand it is considered quite an honorable profession.

There’s much bowing here at the hotel (and elsewhere for that matter), and when the manager enters our room he falls to all fours and bows his head nearly to the floor.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 A.D. Its population is between 6 and 700,000. The city lies in a flat plain with wooded hills to the north, east, and west. Its main  streets are well paved, well lighted, and wide. Even many of the smaller streets are very well lighted, especially from the brilliant window displays. Kyoto is said to have had 3,000 temples and shrines of which 1,109 remain. “If you have not seen Kyoto, you have not seen Japan!!!”

Cecil and I first went to Maruyama Park, beautifully located on the slope of a thickly wooded hill, and is a popular resort for cherry blossoms and maple trees. Of course the cherry trees were not in bloom. The park is really a place of great beauty. There we found the Chion-in Monastery, the main temple of the Jodo sect and one of the biggest temples in Japan. The buildings were originally of 1211, but have been several times destroyed by fire and the present buildings are from 1639. Built of wood, it is in good condition and does not show the effects of its 300 years of age.

Putting on slippers over our shoes, we entered the threshold to find ourselves standing in a large mat-floored room in which some fifty worshipers were kneeling before a priest clad in red-and-white robes. He was standing behind a railing that divided the room, and was preaching in a very pleasant voice and manner. The altar was much decorated with silver and gold, candlesticks, posts, etc., but contained no Buddha as it was Shinto. At intervals, while prayers were being said, a row of drummers performed on queer wooden drums.

Nearby were other shrines and the pool of sacred carp. In fact the hillside seemed to be full of shrines and temples, approached through a gate or a torii. At a short distance we came upon another shrine crowded with people, many making offerings of money, etc. to a priest who knelt in prayer in an open gateway.

Coming at last to the famous Tea-pot Lane, we climbed up this long, narrow, winding road past the continuous line of small shops selling tea-pots, cups, rice bowls, and all other earthenware and curios, to the Kiyomizu Temple, dedicated to Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy, with eleven faces and a thousand hands. It was erected in 805, but the present buildings date only from 1633. This temple is much photographed and commands a wide view of the city. Being Buddhist, you find there the fearful guardians of the temple, etc.

Back in the city we walked through the Palace grounds, had a bite to eat in a Japanese restaurant, and strolled down Shin-Kuogoku (Theatre Street) after dark. It was a riot of lights and life—more so than Kobe’s Theatre Street. It is crowded all day and till late at night, the most frequented amusement quarter of Kyoto.

We went to a show. Saw Buster Keaton in The Cameraman, another movie called The Four Devils, a comedy, and some vaudeville. The latter was all done by two girls and two babies. It consisted of dancing various variations of the Charleston and singing. Both were flat; the two kids were cute though.

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