Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip, Reflections on Kyoto

My body needed a break today, so I had a pretty quiet day.  I found the city archives and did some Christmas shopping... that's it.  So instead of detailing my rather unexciting day, I thought I'd spend some time today reflecting on Kyoto as a city.  It's quite different from other cities that I've been in for any length of time.  Granted, that list is limited to Chicago and Tokyo.... but still.

So here are some things I've noticed, in no particular order.

  • There are no stray cats?  I find this incredibly odd, and I firmly believe they have to be somewhere.  Actually, it's quite a good thing, if the lack of strays means the cats have good homes, but it being Japan I have trouble believing that's the case.  Stray cats are considered pests for the most part.  Some people take care of them on a regular basis - I met one such lady last year at Sakura Park where I was living in Chiba.  She paid to get them neutered/spayed and then released them back in to the park.  She also gave them flea and tick medication and fed them regularly.  But for the most part strays are ignored.  I sat by the strays near my apartment in Tokyo once in a while and pet them.  They were literally anywhere there was a patch of open land.  I really hope the lack of stray cats here doesn't mean they've been rounded up and euthanized...

    Here are some kitties from Sakura Park last summer.  I did see one cat today, but it was on a leash lounging in front of what I assume was its owner's shop.  That cat had no cares in the world.

  • There are no visible homeless people, at least not in the areas I've been exploring.  I may have found one shack under one of the bridges at the Kamo River, but I had expected to find many more.  In Tokyo, several of the homeless communities are quite visible, particularly under overpasses.  I know of shelters in Yokohama, but I don't know anything about community support systems here in Kyoto.  I'm interested to find out, if anybody knows about them.
  • There aren't as many high-rise or concrete-block apartment buildings compared to Tokyo.  Actually the skyline reminds me more of Chicago (with the exception of the Lakeshore area) in that it's quite a bit lower and the buildings have more personality.
  • Kyoto is a very green city, in the literal sense of the word.  A lot of the houses in the residential parts have potted plants along the road, and there are more trees and bushes along the main roads than in Tokyo.  And lest I forget, the entire Kamo River embankment is a giant park.
  • Thanks to Emperor Kanmu, the guy who got sick of two other capitals and founded Kyoto, the roads make so much more sense than anywhere else in Japan.  For the most part, it's a giant grid with mostly north-south and east-west roads, unlike Tokyo which is a giant mess of winding roads with avenues that go off in strange directions.  It's much more difficult to get lost here.
  • The subway system is pretty limited, but the buses are great!  Complete opposite of Tokyo.  I'm definitely a fan of the ride all you want in the city for 500 yen here.
  • Directions center on landmarks here, mostly big shrines and temples along with some universities.  The subway stations seem to be marked by street names or another system I haven't figured out yet, but the buses all go toward some temple or shrine.  In Tokyo, directions are generally focused on train or subway stations, and those stations are generally named after the district.
  • There are so many more little road-side shrines!  I saw a handful in Tokyo in all the time I lived there, but I've seen at least a dozen so far here.  This one is for neighborhood safety (町内安全):

  • It's a lot smaller than Tokyo.  Tokyo feels like it takes years to get to know one district.  I lived in Itabashi, which I knew pretty well.  I sort of knew the Shibuya/Shinjuku area... but only the parts by the JR station.  Each district really feels like a city unto itself, and as a whole Tokyo is incredibly overwhelming.  Kyoto seems less broken up somehow, which may be because 1) it actually is a heck of a lot smaller and 2) the roads go through places instead of dead-ending at them.
  • It's not as crowded, and people are nicer.  No one has yet attempted to walk through me, which is a several-times-daily occurrence in Tokyo, particularly in stations and the shopping districts, but also in crosswalks.  I expected to deal with terrible crowds today at Shijō-Kawaramachi, which is a multi-block strip of malls and shops, but even though it was busy, people treated each other like human beings.  It was quite nice.
All in all, Kyoto feels totally different than Tokyo.  Tokyo was definitely fun to live in.  There's always something going on, somewhere to go, new places to explore.  But Kyoto feels quieter.  I'm not sure I would have liked it at 23, but at 30 it could grow on me.

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