Meandering through Kyoto.
8, 1995 14:15
15:02 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan
:: 8 JUN 95
The city is a grid of large blocks of wide streets, each block
subdivided into a smaller grid of narrower streets. A second subdivision
divides the smaller grid into narrow, one-way streets of dimensions more
reminiscent of alleyways, but it is the front doors of homes and businesses
that open directly onto even these narrowest of roadways. In immaculate
white gloves the taxi drivers negotiate immaculate cabs through weaving
pedestrians and bicycles, down immaculate streets paved smoothly with
Clear water bubbles through the pebbled brooks that meander openly
through the grid and occasionally forcing the course of streets. Fish
weave through the current up from the river where people hop, skip and
jump across the wide shallow flow aided by concrete stepping-stones shaped
like turtles, birds and fish. Some stop to rest and bask in the unseasonable
sun, or wade into the pebbles and cool calf-deep water.
Refreshed, they make their way home by car, motorbike, train,
bus or bicycle. While most everyone can afford their own car or motorbike,
the realities of downtown parking make bicycles a popular alternative.
These are primarily utilitarian three-speeds, unremarkable in design with
standard handle-bar basket and a wide saddle suspended on springs. Their
owners park them beside the narrow street protected from theft usually
by no more than a wheel lock. Potted plants and glass cases of antiques
and other knickknacks decorate the entranceways.
Inside the home, passageways are narrow and door jambs low so
that the average Westerner is wise to slouch and tempted to shuffle sideways.
The Japanese love for wood is apparent in its abundance as a construction
material and in its use for finishing surfaces. Rarely do they deface
a natural wood grain with paint. Make your way to a bedroom and you will
find a sparse room with a woven straw floor. The bedding is rolled up
and stowed behind a sliding panel so that the small space can be used
for other purposes during the day.
Traditionally, the other rooms of these dwellings housed little
more the necessary tables and cushions. A few paintings and a vase of
flowers might decorate an alcove. Now the proportionally small rooms brim
over with the material items of consumerism: televisions, stereos, telephones,
fax machines and the clunky but popular western chairs and sofas. It seems
that in the home the adaptation of modern methods and tools to traditional
forms is not quite so effective as in other aspects of society.
Patrick. -- Responses Sought --
Several years ago, foreigners were mystified to see
young Japanese men outside sunbathing, but wearing gloves. The answer,
of course, was that this resulted in the ultimate status symbol: suntanned
arms and those lily-white hands which are the instantly recognisable and
envied sign of the frequent golfer.