When someone asks me: what is the best time to visit Japan? I’m very reluctant to give a clear answer since I’ve come to realize that Japan is beautiful in different ways depending on the weather and the season. Spring tints the landscape with sakura colors. During Summer, the rainy tsuyu gives everything a mysterious atmosphere. Un Autumn, it is the kouyou what makes Japan magic. But one of the most spectacular transformation happens in Winter when the snow covers more than half of Japan’s territory.
The Japanese snow was the main inspiration when Kawabata wrote his first novel Snow Country 雪国 Yukiguni. Later, he became the first Japanese write to receive the Nobel Prize. Not only Kawabata, the change that Japanese seasons cause in the landscape of cities and the countryside, has inspired artists since centuries ago. For example, haiku poems almost always have a reference to the time of the year or weather conditions.
Snow adds chaos to the tokyoites routine, who are used to everything working perfectly. When snow falls in Tokyo train become crazy and people’s behaviour changes (not necessarily in a good way 🙂 ). When the streets are covered by snow, the city is not only transformed in a superficial, I feel that I’m transported to a different Tokyo located in a parallel dimension.
There is a street I’ve known since more than 10 years ago. Today I’m walking through it and it feels like a new place. Why? I don’t know. It might be the tree that I never notice and now with the weight of the snow is tilting towards the street. It could also be the cables with their black contrasting with the white snow.
In a crossing near Harajuku there is a vending machine that I never noticed, but now the light from it reflects in a mysterious way on the night snow carpet below it. When I keep walking farther away from the station I see snowmen, many of them are trying to imitate the shape of Ghibli’s Totoro.
In the morning I decide to go to Meiji Jingu. When I enter this shrine I feel like I have totally abandoned the city, maybe I’m inside Kawabata’s Yukiguni 雪国.
Over the last 14 years I’ve visited the zen garden Ryoanji (龍安寺) several times. I love that every time I visit this beautiful dry garden (karesan-sui) it feels different. It is like watching the same movie while noticing that you are growing old, and each time you notice and feel different details.
The first time visiting Ryoanji I was twenty three years old and I had just finished graduating from computer science. At that time, my rationalistic approach to engineering made me try to explain the beauty of this place in a scientific way. I even wrote a long post about it in my Spanish blog explaining how you could mathematically divide the geometry of the garden by analyzing the empty space between the rocks.
I learned that the important thing are not the rocks but the space between them, but I was a fool thinking that we can explain beauty following a scientific approach. I think I fabricated all the mathematical explanation just to feel comfortable with the fact that an art piece so simple as rocks placed on gravel is of such beauty and importance for the Japanese people.
This time I visited the place with different eyes and heart. I just sat down and enjoyed the scenery without wondering why it is so beautiful and trying to explain it. Now, I’m 36 years old and I grasp the fact that art is never complete without taking into account the subject observing it.
It is my consciousness, through the act of observing the dry garden, who makes the place beautiful and unique.
Is not enough to explain the garden in order to understand its beauty, you have to know yourself.
Rotenburo 露天風呂 are outdoor hot-spring water baths. Usually, you pay an entrance that will give you access to the bathing area. An onsen 温泉 (Hot-spring) dedicated business, a hotel or a ryokan are most of the times managing the baths. But if you go to remote areas, sometimes you can find baths in the wild where you can just get naked and soak in warm water for free. Bathing in onsen waters is one of my favorite things to do in Japan, especially after a nice hike.
This is the exact google maps location (Shin hotaka yu, 新穂高の湯) (Gifu Prefecture) of the bath we found.