kyoto missive 1

Culture shock

> How was your flight?

Looong. I managed to sleep through some of the flight, but total travel time from waking up in SF and going to sleep in Kyoto was more than 26 hours. I'm pretty much on Kyoto time now, though i'm still waking up rather early.

The train stations are incredible. I've been on the New York subway system, and taken trains in Germany and Austria, but this is something else completely. Multiple rail systems, buses, subways etc. layered over each other many stories deep into the ground. I bought a 3-week rail pass for $490 which may sound expensive but it's actually a deal since i would have spent around $160 already just to get from the airport.

> Have you adjusted to the culture shock yet?

Mostly. :) The train stations all have little kiosks in them called "Let's Kiosk" which sell things like mochi and hard-boiled eggs and beer. The cars here are fairly weird, tiny tiny minivans and mini trucks and lots of scooters. You enter the buses in the back and exit the front, you always pay for restaurant food as you leave, and the escalators sometimes level off and then resume climbing.

I'm in a nice, older part of Kyoto where all the buildings have tile roofs and little gardens though they're all packed tighty together, no space between and tiny narrow streets. At least the streets here are perfectly straight, unlike the twisted mess in Tokyo.

> How is it there?

Really really hot. and humid. Reminds me of New Orleans last August. over 90 degrees around the clock, and no air conditioning in these tiny little places where i keep hitting my head on ceiling stuff. Then there's the Cicadas ("semi" in Japanese). Large bugs that are really, really noisy. So loud that just one outside your window can totally drown out your stereo. I actually remember them from my childhood here, and they're noisier than i could possibly recall :)

Really expensive here too. It's $2.50 each way to take the bus or subway anywhere, everyone constantly buys small individual drinks from vending machines, all the tourist destinations cost $4-7 to get in and see. Restaurants cost anywhere from 50% to 100% more than in the US, and walking through a department store (where you buy food) adds up really quickly. Rent in Kyoto seems to be similar to nice parts of the bay area, though the houses and apartments are way smaller of course.

Yesterday was my first full day here, and it was amazing. Aix's rommate Rob, with some very cool Japanese friends of his, took me to many destinations, a little shopping, visiting wonderful palacial buildings, massive wooded gate buildings, and fantastic moss-covered gardens.

I've actually been pleasantly surprised at the small level of conversation i've been able to maintain with Rob and his friends - walking around talking, sometimes we wouldn't speak a word of English for 5 or 10 minutes. As long as we stick to simple subjects, it's really fun, and exciting to feel like i'm learning so much so quickly.

Last night Rob and i and two young friends of his, Akiko and Naomi, went out to a Japanese-style pub (i forget the word for them) where they keep bringing you little dishes while they get you drunk. His friends are not typical Japanese women - they are less shy, better at English, and more interested in western ideas. For instance, Akiko is interested in AIDS, particularly among IV drug users, and wants to visit San Francisco sometime to meet actual "drug dealers." Naive, but endearing. She wants to be a social worker. Naomi's interest is gay/lesbian issues, one of the things she wants to do is bring the AIDS quilt to Japan. Apparently, these are things that the average young Japanese person has little or no awareness of.

A semi has just started up next to the house and i can't hear myself think. It's like having the sound of a unbalanced washing machine right next to your head. Darn bugs. Rob says he's grown to like them, even welcome their noise when it starts up in the summer.

Hugs to everyone back home,


rob & matsumoto-san

covered bridge

rob & m-san again

heian-ji (shinto)

heian-ji again

mon (gate)

philosopher's walk