Monday, 1 October 2012

On the morning of Monday 18th July i got up quite early, as agreed, and had a terrific breakfast. My host broke the news that Japan’s womens’ football team, Nadeshiko Japan[1], had been crowned world champions with an overnight 3:1 penalty victory over the USA. Knowing that my hope was to spend the day in Kyoto, he had unearthed a nice fan from there, a beautiful postcard and a map, on which he pointed out some salient features. We also briefly discussed his recollection of the atmosphere in Japan when Blessed John Paul II visited in 1981. He said it was very exciting; no doubt especially true for Catholics, but in general the Church is highly regarded by many Japanese. I gave him a miniature ‘bible’ (a selection of scripture readings in English), and a nice picture of St Francis of Assisi which i’d turned into a thank you card – though i also intended to write of course. 

   Keihanshin is the name of the metropolitan area encompassing Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.[2] Of these three, Kyoto is the tourist Mecca; Japan’s ancient capital, besides being inextricably linked in many peoples’ minds with the question of global warming[3]. There was steady rain when i arrived, on the local train service, so i called into a cafe and wrote in my diary for a while. When it cleared, i elected to try and tackle the most important sights on foot, partly in the hope of stumbling upon less highly prized gems, off the beaten track. An impressive temple soon after setting out seemed to vindicate this policy, with an interesting appeal written on the side, translated into English:
“Let us discover the significance of birth and the joy of living.”[my italics]
Imperial Palace, Kyoto
   The only slight vexation, at first, arose from the fact that it was Japan’s ‘Day of the Sea’, a national holiday. This meant that many shops were closed, among them camera/photographic shops, where i’d been hoping to get a film developed. Nevertheless, though Kyoto is bigger than i realised, i saw some outstanding temples, and was stirred not least by the graceful lines of the Imperial Palace, though i didn’t manage to go inside. An analogous British residence might be St James’s Palace in central London, in that both have their orgins in the 16th century, and both were vacated by their respective monarchs in the 19th century. Problems really started however when i found a camera shop that would accept my film for development. I was told to come back to collect it at 4pm; cutting things a bit fine in terms of my arrangement to meet with K in Osaka, but i felt she might like to see the photos. The trouble was that i couldn’t pay with my card, and then, exasperatingly, i couldn’t find an amenable ATM for love or money. I became increasingly frantic – but just there in Kyoto they don’t work. Eventually i decided to take the metro to the main train station, and i got some cash at the Post Office. But taking a bus back to the shop, ridiculously heavy rain had started to fall, and we got stuck in traffic. When i finally collected and paid for the film, the time of my rendez-vous in Osaka had come. I used a payphone and left a message on K’s mobile - but forgot to pick up my diary in the phone box, and missed a bus as i went back to retrieve it. And in a further classic case of ‘more haste, less speed’, i got out at the wrong station in Osaka.

[1] A type of pink carnation, dianthus superbus.
[2] Reminiscent of the so-called ‘Tri-city’ on the Baltic coast of Poland, made up of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot; there are no doubt other examples.
[3] The Kyoto Protocol, aimed at bringing about a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, was adopted on December 11th 1997. Among the countries which ratified it are Russia and China, while the USA (“The world’s biggest polluter” as President George W Bush conceded it to be in July 2008, on the last day of a G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan) has not, and Canada withdrew from the protocol in December 2011.

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