Saturday, December 28, 2013


Back in the days when Miki and I were walking the Kansai sections of the Tōkai Shizen Hōdō, we'd often find ourselves heading south on the Keihan line.  Inevitably it would be a Sunday, and we'd be sharing the car with dozens of old men who would be laboriously studying their racing forms.   When the train reached Yodo Station, they'd all shuffle off toward the adjacent racetrack, taking the sour smell of sake and cigarettes with them.  

Today for the first time I too disembarked at Yodo, though I headed in the opposite direction from the track.  A few minutes up the road brought me to the Toba Kaidō.  Known today as Senbon-dori, I would follow its narrow form which gradually broadened as it moved toward town.  In these remote reaches, it had the look of an old highway, though most of its flanking houses were of a more modern vintage.  A few sections were  referred to in my guidebook with an excited "古い町並みが残る," which I'll loosely translate as having that ole-timey feel.  Yet most often what was being touted was perhaps two or three houses of more than a century in age, ignoring the fact that they were flanked by some of the 20th Century's worst architectural abuses. 

A couple times I chose the riverside berm and strolled along its cycling course, looking down upon the road as it ran parallel below.  Kyoto was ahead of me in the distance, watched over by the frosted mounts of Atago and Hiei, with the snow capped peaks of Kitayama further on.  I'd started the walk just above the confluence of the Katsura and Uji rivers, and after an hour I found myself at the foot of the Kamo.  Dozens of trees on either side of the river were still combed down after the lashing of Typhoon 18 last September.   I found a sign on which two photos had been affixed, taken from where I now stood and showing how incredibly high the waters got.  The berm itself was still lined with blue sand bags, beneath a row of sakura that were coming bizarrely into bloom.  

The road began to move away from the river, and I followed.  A rack of buns was stacked in front of a sweet shop, drying in the sun as they collected a hint of exhaust fumes.  Near the site of the final battle between the Shogun's forces and the new Imperial army, was a house built like a castle, which I assumed could belong to no one but a mobster.  The Imperial forces had been encamped at the nearby Jonangu Shrine, which today was being tarted up for New Years. Inside, a priest was blessing an infant, as a shrine maiden stood outside, smiling at me beneath an unusual headdress that looked more Central Asian than Japanese.  I was intrigued by the gardens in back, until it dawned on me that I'd already been here, at the poetry event that they hold every May, when people in period dress float sake cups down river and attempt to pen a poem prior to the cup reaching them.  But I was more intrigued by the exchange of bullets rather than verse.  Where the road crosses the Kamogawa is the sight of where those first bullets began to fly in 1868, starting off the war that ended the Shogunate forever.  

However, what came next wasn't always pleasant, the road now serving as metaphor for that fact, as it stretched through the southern reaches of the city, which is certainly Kyoto's least attractive face.  I was surrounded now by factories, train lines, and elevated highways, so pushed on in order to get the walk finished.  The ruins of the Rashomon gate brought the road to an end, but I wasn't quite done.  I moved down Kujo-dori toward the subway, passing a shop that sold motorcycle clothing, including an armor-like "back-protector."  I wondered if it also protects the wearer from the current government and their back-stabbing ways.  

Past Toji, and the Kyoto Minami Cinema.  Plenty of memories for me at both.  But sadly, posters outside the latter indicated that they don't show as many art films as they once did.  Time certainly hath wrought changes, a point I was reminded of with every footfall. 

On the turntable:  Helmet, "Born Annoying"

No comments: