Kyoto’s Treasured Sound

Bamboo Street in Arashiyama

Beginning with the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and Sogenchi Garden, our day trip in Kyoto continued at the edge of a deep bamboo grove. Leaving the garden and temple complex behind, we entered the grove, noted as “Bamboo Street” in English. This is one of Kyoto’s (and indeed, Japan’s) most well-known destinations, and for good reason.

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It was a cool and cloudy day while I was there, but that did nothing to reduce the beauty of the bamboo grove – in fact, the diffuse lighting only made it even more otherworldly. Although the path was well traversed by tourists and locals alike, in the midst of the towering trees it was easy to feel small and alone (in a good way). The gentle breeze in the canopy above creates a subtle rustling sound that envelopes the path, and there was little chatter from anyone to interrupt it. In fact, this very sound was designated by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment as one of 100 Soundscapes of Japan – a nod to the country’s intangible and natural heritage that I find more and more appealing as I think about it.

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Perhaps what I admire most about the Soundscapes initiative is that it doesn’t exist to simply record and archive sound – it encourages people to discover these sounds in their physical surroundings, to be present, to explore, to use our senses, to think about culture and heritage in a broader way. In general, I don’t think we pause often enough to truly pay attention to and enjoy our surroundings. I’m sure this is especially true in the urban sprawl and intense lifestyle that many Japanese people are immersed in. It adds another dimension, as well, to the motivation for protecting the environment. It makes one think about awareness, not just while traveling, but in day to day life…yes, the more I ponder this, the more interesting I find it. I wonder what Canada’s 100 most important soundscapes would be. What about historical soundscapes? What are those sounds that we never think about and yet hold dear? Will people still hold them dear when we’re gone?

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