22-06-2009: Kyoto, 1st day


I'm sitting in a small hotel room, perfectly comfortable, with a choice of three porn channels which you have to wade through in order to get to the other more family oriented Japanese channels, showing quizzes in garish colours and advertising food. I'm wearing white slippers and a flowery dressing gown courtesy of the Hotel... (the mind boggles) In fact I quickly gave up on the telly and am listening to extremely romantic violins and a harp on the radio. The tie did not help to get me upgraded at the airport. I had to check in with a machine and it wasn't able to appreciate the care I had taken with my appearance. On the plane I was looked after very well. My neighbour on the flight was an old lively Japanese lady with a videofilming husband in tow, who was only interested in the wing of the aircraft. (What is it with these men?) The lady and I could not understand a word the other said, but this did not deter her at all and she would happily smile at me every now and then, rattling on and grabbing both my hands while laughing. I would laugh as well, of course, knowing through my wonderful sense of occasion, that there was something to laugh about. 

First impressions of Kyoto are very confusing. Never having been as far away from home as this and reeling from not having slept for God knows how long while nosediving into jetlag, this may not quite be the surprise it should be. The most immediate thing you notice is that very little goes through the ground, probably because of earthquakes and such, so Kyoto has a powerful wirescape with impressive pylons supporting all manner of electrical stuff accompanying the length of each very straight street and obscuring the sky. The wide streets have wide pavements on which cyclists jostle with pedestrians. The narrow streets are so narrow they don't have pavements at all and you find yourself in competition with cars, which are all extremely understanding and polite. Taxi's are impressive with beautifully decorated interiors with white lace trimmings. I also adore the bicycles, they are small and elegant with relatively large wheels set far apart and intricate and delicate breaking systems combined with complicated stands. Most of them have beautifully shiny chrome mudguards covering the back wheel which mostly does not have to support a baggage carrier. Their bikes are saddled lower than ours so that the cyclist is suspended between the wheels, rather than balancing far above them as we tend to be. I would love to import one. For the rest the Japanese appear even better than we are at destroying their cultural heritage. Here and there you see the glorious old traditional houses, but they are all under pressure, either from cowboy developers who want big and shiny or quite simply from a very generous dousing of extraordinarily bad taste in modernising them.

Also I have never been in such a big city before. You might think Kyoto is only a city of 1,5 million people, but that is taking the administrative border that defines the city rather too seriously. From the moment I entered the (extremely comfortable) train from Kansai Airport (which, architecturally, was worth all the trouble and more...) to the moment I descended in Kyoto one and three quarter hours later, I saw only buildings and a few miserable urban rice fields squashed between them. Far away in the distance there were mountains which looked green enough, but the place appears, from the train anyway, completely urbanised. Osaka merging into Kyoto, one gigantic urban agglomeration. Amazing, never seen anything like it. The ticket collector dutifully bowed as he entered the carriage to check our tickets very kindly and deftly and bowed again as he left for the next carriage. On leaving Kyoto station the train cleaners who time themselves at their job and who do not leave the train until collectively given a sign at which they all shoot into action, stood at the end of the platform in a formal row waving us away as if we were royalty. I think I'm going to have fun here... The evening was more difficult I became tired and could not decide on a place to eat, so I bought green tea and sushi from a local supermarket which I am now eating as I write. Very nice....

Sightseeing restroom
Spatial politeness
Sign on post, I don't know why I took this picture, but having taken it, I cannot stop liking it.
Tectonic delight or Venustas Firmitatis
Migashi, street facade in central Kyoto, the bamboo skirt is supposed to keep dogs from peeing against the house or befouling the pavement. I'm not sure I believe that...
The floor as a puzzle: venustas utlitatis
Blond Japanese lady, roll on Culture Shock
Reflection on the city
What I was there for
The street, dug up and marked: subterranean geography
A prominent side
and the other side, with wires
Urban tableau
Useful map of neighbourhood
The border between public and private
Modern living on the cross
Parking geometry, in the left picture the red bar stops the car in the right place, the green flap prevents you from driving out your car without paying first. Japanese drivers must count as the best parkers I have ever seen. In the right picture, there is an extra white rectangle connected to the adjustable flap, what this is for, I do not know.
You can see what I mean. The cars are shaped for the parking possibilities in this dense city.
Migashi, street facade
Street facade
An empty lot, not a lot.
The path of tectonic delight
Street facade three quarter view