There are very few truly beautiful cities in Japan. In fact, I have yet to visit one. That’s not to say I don’t like Japanese cities. On the contrary, I like many of them very much. I love Tokyo, Kobe, Hiroshima and Kyoto amongst others for myriad reasons, but an aesthetically pleasing whole is not one of them. And yet, here’s the thing – every Japanese person I have ever asked has told me that Kyoto is beautiful. ‘Very beautiful’, they usually say. Why do our views differ so?
Well, it’s how you see pockets of beauty, I think. In Kyoto, the old Gion area is nice, there are plenty of beautiful old temples and shrines and The Philosopher’s Walk makes for an extremely pleasant stroll. There is a lot to like and a lot that is pleasing to the eye. But, for me, those pockets of beauty to not negate the hodge-podge nature of the architecture downtown, the unsightly power lines which blight almost every view, and the apparent lack of thought regarding what to build and where. Paris, to me, is a beautiful city with pockets of ugliness. Kyoto, like many Japanese cities, is its inverse.
My own hometown has a pleasant view of mountains. Many of the people who live here tell me, and it would seem in seriousness, that they live in a beautiful town. If they do, they must love factory chimneys and buildings created with such an eye on functionality over appearance that they make prisons look glamorous. To be frank, there is no way any sane person could think this town is beautiful, and I can only assume that they think a distant mountain’s beauty trumps the nearby factories’ ugliness. You can find a pretty temple here and a quaint shop there, but generally the town is fairly charmless.
The locals, however, seem to be able to see that pretty temple, to admire that quaint shop and to stand in awe of those distant mountains and blissfully ignore the rest. Those things are beautiful, ergo the town is. But you wouldn’t fancy a right old boiler with defrosting chicken arms, a cellulite arse, hairy armpits and a full moustache because she had a really pretty little nose, and nicely trimmed fingernails, would you? Of course not. Because she’s still a boiler. But I think the Japanese can see the nose and the fingernails above and beyond the rest. You can go for a walk in the country and it might be strewn with rubbish and old tyres and the odd abandoned television or refrigerator, yet people will spot a pretty flower or nicely coloured leaves and sigh at the beauty of Japanese nature.
I envy such an ability, because I want to like my hometown. I really do. But in truth, the best I can say about it is that it is in a good location from which to go to other places. If I so choose, I can wake up and decide to drive to the Olympic ski resorts of Nagano. In the summer, the pretty, sandy beaches of the Izu peninsula are close enough to escape to for a weekend. Even the excitement and bustle of Tokyo isn’t to far away. Yes, my adopted hometown is in a good place. It just isn’t one.