Manny Pacquiao’s decking Morales in the 3rd didn't make any dent here

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
KYOTO, Japan – The sports pages here in Japan paid no attention to our champ, Manny Pacquiao, knocking down challenger Morales in the third round – a cause for national rejoicing back home. This just goes to show that nations live in different worlds, islanded in different centuries mentally and psychologically, despite all the fine speeches about APEC, global concerns, and the so-called global war against terrorism.

I know quite a number of attestedly well-educated folks back in Metro Manila who switch channels and abandon CNN, BBC, and Fox News because they don’t want to hear that endless doom and gloom reporting and chatter about the woes, and killings, bombings, and open-ended carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi, our own La Presidenta looked like a Vietnamese doll in her silk old-fashioned Vietnamese "senior official" costume designed after the GQ styles used by the Imperial "Mandarins" in Vietnam’s royal court. Indeed, America’s George W. Bush and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin appeared sheepish and self-conscious in their flowing aquamarine robes, but hatched a trade deal anyway. In sum, the APEC gathering was a grand costume party. Whatever La Gloria said and did, although she did get one picture in "The Japan Times," an English-language daily established in 1897, was totally submerged by torrents of prose reporting what Bush did, Putin remarked, Hu Jintao stated, and the pow-wows between the Big Boys.

The APEC finally issued a joint declaration expressing "strong concern" over North Korea and its nukes, and ritually called for a study of a Free Trade Area in Asia Pacific which would encompass all 21 members of APEC. Judging from the European Union’s example, this will never happen – but the recurrent dream gives the APEC junketeers something ponderous to talk about.

They didn’t make such a big deal of Bush, hangdog at the edges over the defeat of his Republicans by the Democrats and the virtual repudiation of his Iraq policies, except to carp that former US President Bill Clinton had received a more rousing welcome when he arrived in Hanoi in the year 2000 as the first US head of state since the end of the Vietnam War to visit Vietnam. Much was made of the fact that Clinton went everywhere gladhanding and munching local food. Bush, in contrast, the critics carped, saw Hanoi mostly from a car and only emerged to help inaugurate the Ho Chi Minh city stock exchange – Saigon’s and Vietnam’s great leap into Capitalism.

Even Hillary Clinton, the locals mourned, came shopping but not Laura. Oh well. What’s an American President and his First Lady to do? Danger lurks everywhere. And besides, the mantra is the same wherever an American President travels: Even the nastiest anti-Americans, in the end, ask the inevitable question: "How much Aid will you give us?" In the old days, it was "Yankee go home. But leave dollars."

After APEC, Mr. Bush hopped over to Jakarta, then choppered to Bogor Palace for a meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whom he had seen only a couple of days before. I don’t know why the Americans keep on insisting on calling Indonesia one of its strongest allies in the global war against terrorism. Hours before Dubya’s arrival, thousands of rabid Muslim protesters and demonstrators marched through the streets howling that Bush was a murderer and brandishing posters depicting victims of violence in Iraq and Palestine. The fanatical Jemaah Islamiyah, hatched there, has been targeting resorts and hotels and embassies frequented by Westerners and representing Western interests – with 240 persons slain in those attacks, mostly foreign tourists.

They keep on saying that Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims are moderate – but what’s in the streets and on TV don’t say so. The government had to field 18,000 rifle-carrying troops in Bogor where SBY and Bush were meeting. We old boys remember Bogor Palace very well – one of the late Bung Karno’s favorite retreats a few score miles outside of Jakarta. Sukarno used to hang dozens of portraits of ladies on the Palace walls, and in it was contained his, well, "porno" collection. Bogor also produces the best kropek – so crispy that friends of mine regularly import it for their tables.

But an "ally" in the war against terrorism? Just consider Dulmatin and Umar Patek, those Indonesian JI terrorists our armed forces are kept busy chasing in Sulu. Of course, the Philippines, too, is the weakest link in the anti-terrorist struggle.

Why doesn’t Bush come to Manila instead or better, Cebu where our "angry" demonstrators only perk up when they see the television cameras focused on them? For starters, our Villamor base and NAIA airport are too small. The last time he came for a visit to La Gloria, his US Air Force One had to make a difficult short runway landing and had to be "guarded" by battalions lest one sneaky Abu Sayyaf or JI intruder do a bombing run on it.

Bush had to be hustled through narrow streets to Malacañang, looking handsome in a Barong but very jet lagged and sleepy throughout the state dinner – but he perked up when the Bayanihan singers went into that rousing, hand-clapping, "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

Right now he’s deep in a blue funk. Indeed, but I’m not urging him to do it in a condescending manner, he needs to land sometime in the Philippines (even braving the roof perils of Cebu) so he can, for a change, spot a few smiling, friendly faces. Condi Rice, naturally, would thumb down the very idea. Dunno what’s eating her, but she doesn’t like us.
* * *
Kyoto is world apart from Osaka.

The former Imperial capital of 1,000 years, with a population of just 1.7 million, remains a spot of respectful pilgrimage – with Japanese flocking there to recapture the essence of what used to be Japan. In short, to get back in touch with Yamatodamashii, and the traditions of the good old days.

At the Gion Corner where the Geishas are (Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed in part there), a traditional music theater offers the Kyomani, the Kyoto style dance performed by gorgeously kimonoed ladies expressing everything with their flawless turns and pirouettes and their stylized, utterly graceful hand movements speaking to the audience of the old Japan.

There’s a tea ceremony, then some koto music keening about "The Moon over a ruined Castle" and that never-failing standby Sakura (Cherry Blossom). There’s a comic play with the three fellows probably inebriated by too much sothu or Santori whisky to give their performance an air of realism; a tea ceremony, a flower arrangement, and that much-loved but boring Bunraku puppet play where a deranged lady in kimono scales the castle wall and bangs the bell to rouse the villagers with a false alarm. If that’s zen, then leave me out of it.

The puppet, though, is cleverly manipulated in its lifelike movements by three black-hooded and garbed puppeteers. In Japanese plays, as in Chinese opera, if you’re dressed in black you’re regarded as completely "invisible" to the audience.

Things were more lively in our younger journalistic days when Kyoto was less modern, the narrow cobbled or graveled streets were still there, and the traditional wooden town houses. The Geishas would do that marvelous dance with the fan, then play the koto with haunting effect, or fiddle the samisen (which they got from Korea). Then, in a tribute to those more raucous American occupation days, they would go into a snappy rendition of "Beisboru Gayumo" (Baseball Game), replete with "sotoriku!" (strike) and "aotu!" (out!). Another Geisha rendition was the "Tanko Bushi," the Miners’ Song. Geishas, however – like most of Japan’s population – are growing old. They’re an average of 50 to 55 years old today. The young ones you see are Maikos – the student Geishas. It’s only Kyoto’s three Geisha schools which remain dedicated to that traditional service of the floating world which used to characterize Japan.

High school students from all over the country converge on Gion Corner on organized study-excursion tours, so they can discover that Japan is not just PlayStation 3, or computers, or all that gadgetry in Akihabara – and rediscover their roots. Most of them do ho-hum and return to their gadgets, gimmicks, and "modern" ways.

In any event, I love Kyoto in any season. There, amidst the roar of automobiles, buses and trucks, one can still – on occasion – hear the sounds of old Japan. Only, however, if he listens well. There are more than 1600 Buddhist temples, over 400 Shinto shrines – and 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. Kyoto, the book-writers say, is "the very stage on which Japanese history unfolded" and Kyoto "remains the heart and soul of Japan." (Chris Rowthorn said that in the Lonely Planet volume on Kyoto – and he put it well).

It gave my heart to see the trees turning color – the autumn leaves flaming red on the maples, others flaring orange, golden yellow – a riot of shades which made you wonder whether you had fallen into some enchanted sleep and awakened to fairyland. The Imperial Palace remains elegant, though unoccupied. Bush and former Prime Minister Koizumi choppered there for dinner one evening, then choppered out again, no doubt after belting out a tune or two by Elvis Presley (Mr. K’s favorite, next to his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine).

One of my favorites is still the Sanjusangen-do where you’ll find standing 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity, Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon, or the many-armed Kannon – a male equivalent, if I’m not mistaken, of the Chinese goddess of mercy, Kwan-Yin. God Kannon stands, too, on a lotus flower – and one huge Buddha deity figure dominates the other 1,000 – five hundred on each side – in the center.

For me, the most impressive are the powerful and dynamic statues of the God of Thunder, ready to rain fierce thunderbolts on evil, and the God of the Winds, with his billowing bag, out of which he hurls typhoons, storms – and provokes tsunamis.

People worshipped them as deities who controlled rain and wind, and brought about good harvests, or inflicted their fields and fishermen with calamity. The sculptures belong to the Kamakura period of the 12th to 14th centuries. Although I’ve visited this temple four times in previous visits, its fascination never pales.
* * *
The high point of any visit to Kyoto must be one of Kinkaku-ji/Rokuon-ji in northeast Kyoto. It remains one of the Imperial City’s most breath-taking temples – a golden pavilion floating on a pond, surrounded by trees which in autumn are painted the colors of the rainbow.

It’s difficult to envision that this vision of ephemeral loveliness was burned down by an arsonist in the 1920s. The evil perpetrator was a deranged monk who went to jail for it – but died there of insanity in 10 years. The Pavilion was rebuilt in such loving detail that nobody guesses, unless told, that it is just a replica of the ancient structure constructed in 1482 by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a genteel retreat from the turmoil of civil war.

Its name really translates to "Silver Pavilion," but it is painted and lacquered in gold – and, when the setting sun blesses it, burning through the mists of the mountain on whose slope it sits, or a pale moon leaves the temple with magic, one is transported to a kingdom which is hymned only in the storybooks. Magical Rokuon-ji must be your main mission if you go to Kyoto.

Back to reality, unless you’re on a crowded bus tour, taxi fares are murderous since temples and shrines are scattered a wide distance all over the area. The taxi flagdown is 550 Yen here (about $4.50) but the poshier taxicabs, as in Osaka, have a flagdown of Yen 660 (yep, US$6.60). Take the local bus, or subway – but this entails a great deal of walking. Unless you’re a marathon runner, be prepared to pay for transportation.

Kyoto is a city which can’t decide whether to uphold the old ways, or plunge into modernity. It’s already taken the plunge. Modern high-rises dominate downtown, particularly the neon-glaring, brightly-lighted main shopping boulevard of Shijo. The younger folk don’t relish freezing in the old town houses and prefer well-heated condominiums and apartments.

Shoji glitters with the big department stores, the Takashimaya, Daimaru, Hankyu, Hanjin and even a huge Louis Vuitton shop (the Japanese adore L.V. even lining up to buy in the main HQ in Paris on the Champs Elyseés). You name it. Every fashion outlet, beauty parlor, and emporium is there on Shoji.

The Kyoto railway station itself is a striking steel and glass structure of the futuristic type. Not having come to Kyoto for the past ten years (the last time I had attended a conference presided over by the Soviet Union’s past President Mikhail Gorbachev), I was shocked when our Japan Rail shuttle train pulled into the station, which was constructed in 1997. Way up to the 15th floor observation level, and bustling with commuters going up and down on giant escalators from the 7th floor to ground level, Kyoto Station almost eclipses Grand Central in New York, but has fewer trains and commuters.

It's ridiculously easy to travel from Osaka to Kyoto. If you prefer speed (but pay double), you can take the shinkansen or bullet train from Shin-Osaka station, which gets you there in 15 minutes. There are many other trains from Osaka station above Umeda, which get you there in 30 minutes.

One thing is evident. Osaka may be awash in Christmas bunting and Christmas carols – but neither Santa Claus nor X’mas has reached Kyoto and probably won’t.

Kyoto remains serenely traditional in its spirit – Buddhist, Shintoist and Zen. No ho, ho, ho’s or flying reindeer sleds for them!

There are, after all, in a population of 127 million – and ageing – less than half a million Christians in Japan. That’s the long and short of it.











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