Light-up leaves

Kiyomizudera, moments before the alien invasion began

One thing that I particularly admire about the Japanese is their ostentatious appreciation of beauty. People in the UK might glance at autumn foliage and say “Ooh ain’t it lovely!” and then whizz right past in their cars. You rarely get the whole hoards of people, slamming on the brakes and whipping out their cameras.

I’m being a little unfair. Japan is full of, surprise surprise, Japanese maples, which turn a vibrant red colour and make for simply stunning scenery. The UK doesn’t boast quite such a collection of colours.

But there’s another reason. The Japanese are obsessed with not just the casual observation of beauty, but with its creation. Rather than the often-used yet awkward juxtaposition of man-made = ugly, natural = beautiful,  the Japanese seek to improve upon nature, taming it into perfection. Temples gardens are wonderful examples of  an attempt to control not only the nature contained within them, but people’s own viewing experiences. Everything is laid out so as to create the most satisfying view.

Actually, when I say “everything”, I might be overstating things, but I’ve been paranoid ever since I read about Japanese garden planners’ clever designs. Breaks in the path or awkward stepping stones force the walker to look down and watch his or her footing, thus not observing their surroundings. This can be used to either distract the viewer from a less aesthetic part of the garden or to reward them or make a strong impression with a particularly spectacular view when they look up again. Now every time I walk round a garden, I deliberately look around everywhere in some kind of desperate attempt to objectify my experience.

Creating satisfying views is unashamedly and boldly the aim of the momiji (autumn foliage) night-time light-ups which take place at various shrines and temples across the city.

On a VERY cold Friday evening, I found myself being led up a poorly lit street by my endlessly enthusiastic friend Mimi to see the lights at Shoren-in. We waited in trepidation at the mysteriously lit entrance:

The mysterious entrance

The queue grew longer and the crew of the TV van next to us grew twitchier and twitchier. Until doors opened and we rushed forwards…

For those who have never been to Japanese temple garden walk, let me explain. First of all, you approach a wooden building and take off your shoes. Carrying them, you shuffle inside the building which takes you on a veranda walk with views of the garden. You then put on your shoes for when you actually venture into the garden itself. The garden is, of course, laid out in a way that makes it wonderful to view just from the temple building itself.

On our trip, we were greeted not only with an outdoor light up but some tie-dye bruvvas glowing inside the temple.

Tie-Dye Gang$ta

However, the garden really did steal the show. If only my photos could capture it. The whole experience was strangely intimate despite the crowds of people. The only thing that really intruded were the continuous camera flashes, which could have made a light show of their own.

Bamboo grove

Kiyomuzudera was an entirely different experience. It’s a famous tourist hotspot with in Kyoto and rather than being intimately tucked away, it sits boldly on a hillside overlooking the southern part of Kyoto. On the steep ascent up to the temple, the main building becomes visible, lit up in glorious orange with a beam passing straight through the upward protruding part of the roof. It’ss meant to make a statement.

Cameras flashing and sprawling landscapes, this is a place where I had to get your elbows out and squeeze into the gaps to find the view. Nevertheless, the colours are enthralling. And a night-time city scape always has a mesmerising quality.

Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

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