South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Meandering through Kyoto.
Date: June 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 fresh asphalt.

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.
  graphical element Japan: Travel Survival Kit
Lonely Planet Publications

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