Terra incognita- unfamiliar territory
Kyoto 20th August.
The past few days I’ve woken up at 3am, this moment in time marked my transition from sleep to waking life due to jetlag. Today after having breakfast I visited a temple west of my current lodging. This journey was experienced sequentially through a series of thresholds from the city to the temple, from the urban to the sacred. This journey prompted a series of thoughts on the nature of thresholds.
The sequence begins when I exit the hostel and turn left. Ahead I see the impressive double roofs of the temple, its scale exerting its presence within the city. I begin to walk towards the temple, drawing closer. I am focussed on its monumental presence, the residential buildings to my left and right vanish, and my eyes chose to see only the temple ahead.
I approach the temple gate and the rhythm of my walk changes, I slow my pace, I examine the gates, I hesitate and ask. “Am I allowed to go inside?” I am unsure, in fact I am intimidated. It is my first time encountering this unfamiliar territory. I put on a show of confidence-the sort of confidence that is used to mask anxiety during a job interview.
I enter the gate.
The stone podium.
At the temple's stone base there is a sign informing visitors to remove their shoes before ascending the wooden steps. For practical reasons I figured, but the act carries a symbolic value, that of leaving behind earthly possessions and impurities to enter a sanctimonious space. In his laws Plato referred to a religious pilgrimage as an anapula ” a breathing space “ suggesting that removing oneself from ordinary space and time allows the soul to breath expand and grow.”
I remove my shoes.
I ascend the wooden stairs to the veranda of the temple. I walk around the veranda experiencing the temple through movement. Its rectangular shape emphasises denial and reward. As I move the surrounding scenery appears abruptly and disappears suddenly around its sharp turns.
I am intrigued.
The shoji screen.
The screens were slid shut, to go in I had to reach for the circular handle and slide the screen door open. I wanted to go in but, what if I opened the screens and disrupted a religious ceremony. I had gotten this far through confidence but, If I trespassed and was caught in the temple I could not hide behind my confidence, I could not fake my belonging, I couldn’t hide my otherness. I did not know the religious rituals nor did I have anything to help guide me through them. My true nature would be evident.
I did not go in.
Heidegger in his writings defines dwelling, "as the way we exist on the earth", the way you and I are but, when ones’ being becomes an act of trespassing, then ones’ being is made impossible and considering that thresholds work by separating one condition from another, then as Deleuze puts it.
“The threshold in itself has no meaning until it is connected to another place”.
To my understanding the reason thresholds have value is that crossing them allows one to change, it allows the migrant to be possible where they were once impossible. This change of conditions is what makes being possible.
But it is not so simple, whereas some thresholds may offer possibility for some, for others they are sites of hostility. When I say this I think of unapologetic existence of highly selective borders, I think of prejudiced security checks at airports, I think of migrants who are posed as threats to the nation state. (2) I think of the contradiction of anti-immigration in a so-called age of hyper-mobility.
Although we do live in a world of real borders such as that of land and sea, the skies and the earth, the border spectacle is a man made construct. So, in parting I leave you with the words of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyeradhl.
“ Borders ?........I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”
 Sacred and the search for meaning