Being a Tourist in Kyoto

Kyoto is a marvellous city for someone like me who loves Japanese culture. It has so much to offer. I just love to spend some time detouring around the back streets and lanes on my way to what-ever project I have on for that day. It’s easy to navigate, as it is all set out on a grid system, it’s flat for the most part and very safe, even at night.

Wandering around in Kyoto is a very interesting way to spend time. One place that I always have to visit on my way to the antique sellers district is the Terramachi covered market and the cross street Nishiki market where all the traditional foods were sold.

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Nishiki still has a lot of tradition there, but the tourist shops are creeping in, specifically because of people like me visiting. I try not to buy plastic crap, but others do apparently, so the foods sellers are being slowly squeezed out in favour of tourist junk, and as a tourist, I’m responsible in part. Isn’t it amazing how we kill that what we most cherish!

Still, although I don’t buy much food here, only finger food to eat on the go. I just don’t have a kitchen here, so there isn’t much point. I still can’t resist the stroll up and back along the Nishki street, taking in all the exotic sights and smells.

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I love the smell of the pickle stand and the grilled fish stall, but one of my favourite shops is the knife makers shop, Aritsugu. They have been in Kyoto forever. Since the 1500’s I believe, this is currently the 18th generation. I wonder if his son will carry on? No pressure! The family used to be samurai sword makers, but when peace broke out, they changed to making domestic kitchen knives instead. I have bought a few knives here over the years, and one of the lovely things about it is that the knives on display are only samples. Each one represents a tray-ful of others. All waiting in their series ranks to be chosen and finished off. Each knife is almost ready tho sell, but needs that final honing and polish on the wet stone to get the edge extra fine and ready for work. Then, you can also get your name engraved in the blade to personalise it. At no extra cost. I have bought a few knives here, mostly for my chef son and other friends, but not today. I’m on a tight budget and I’m only here for the entertainment.

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When I emerge from the markets, Karate. Empty handed. I have to wait to cross the street, because there is an anti-war demonstration going on. It is about a kilometre long all the way down the street. Very orderly, with precise breaks, so that we can cross the road. I can’t read any of the verbiage, but I gather that they are protesting against the new changes proposed to go before the Diet – parliament. That will allow the Japanese military to change their role from a strictly defense force to something else, somewhat more ‘off-shore’ and possibly aggressive?

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No trip to Kyoto would be complete for a potter without a visit to Kanjiro Kawai’s House and Museum. Secluded away in a back lane just off the main road. It is a quiet, tranquil respite from the traffic and a chance to go back 50 years or so to its heyday. It doesn’t seem to be as impressive this time around as it was the first time I went there 30 years ago. But is still good. I’m amazed that they could fire the 7 chamber climbing kiln smack in the middle of the city like this, right up until 1979. It must have been filthy!

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I stumble across a giggling twitter of girls who have just emerged from having a Maiko-makeover and are out to enjoy the Gion district in a mufti-reversal.

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After a long days walk, I reward myself with a cup of tea at the temple in the afternoon. It’s a great caffeine hit to keep me going for the rest of the afternoon.

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Fond regards from Steve in Kyoto