Kyoto - everyday life then and now

University of Kyoto at its corner of Hyakumanben;
Free standing signboards have mostly very peaceful contents. I wondered what the woman was doing or selling.
I once lived in Kyoto for four years as a student.

That was the time when Japan was still enjoying high growth rate. The Bretton Woods system, the basis of the Japan's economic success, was approaching to its end, but the Japanese people were confident, because Japan overtook Germany as the second largest economy in the Western block and most Japanese people believed happily that they belonged to the middle class. A World Expo was held for the first time in Japan and visitors were impressed by the first stones from the moon. Students were fighting on the streets against the extension of the Japan-US Security Treaty and the Vietnam War. Protests against industrial pollution, which caused disastrous health damage such as Yokkaichi asthma and Minamata disease, mobilized a wide range of people.

Apart from nationwide issues, some people in Kyoto were already trying to stop the destruction of the traditional cityscape of Kyoto in face of the ongoing city development. Kyoto Tower had been built a few years before I started to live in Kyoto and its building incurred great controversy as a symbol of destruction of Kyoto's traditional beauty. But, the city development continued further without standstill. A much larger building, the new Kyoto Station, was built in 1997. Constructions of new buildings were and are going on everywhere in Kyoto and bringing about continuous change in its cityscape.

Nevertheless, coming from Tokyo, I always feel the uniqueness of Kyoto. In Kyoto, the life is not so hectic as in Tokyo and the atmosphere of the city, which is created by small-size and in most cases two-story wooden houses, relaxes me.

I visit Kyoto rather regularly since my graduation from the university, and whenever I have time I go to my old lodging and the neighborhood of my university to try to find the trace of my old environment.
The right-half is still the original. The field between the apartment house and the park - where I took this photo - is still used for agriculture.

Hotel Bel Chateau

Coffee house Shinshindo

It is amazing that my really old and shaky lodging house still exists. At the time some 20 young people were living in the "Tsuchiya-Apart". Not only students but also taxi driver, nurse and some other workers were living there and each had a small four tatami-mats room. We paid 5,500 yen for the room as rent. We shared a washstand and a toilet. Cooking was forbidden, but many of us prepared meals at the washstand and cooked in the room with a small electric range. There was no bath and we used to go to a nearby public bath. But, it was quite OK for everybody. On two sides of the house there were small agricultural lands and one or two cows mooed in a stall.

The owner of the apartment house moved out many years ago. The house itself was partly rebuilt, but the half of the old rooms still exists as they were forty years ago. It is almost a wonder. There are some remains from my student time in its neighborhood. The one is a "batting center", which has expanded in the meantime and become an all-round game center. Another one is a "love hotel". "Hotel Shugaku" was renamed to "Bel Chateau", but I can still trace the original substance of the building.

However, other houses such as public baths, Japanese confectioneries and eateries I frequented have already disappeared. A famous exception is a coffee house "Shinshindo" near Hyakumanben crossroads. It was an old and reputed house already during my student time. Now it became too famous to allow its visitors taking photos in the house. Therefore, I refrained myself from entering the house.

Kagiya-Masaaki at Hyakumanben is a highly renowned confectionery. Its origin goes back to 1696. "Tokiwagi", its most popular produce, is baked sweet red beans paste in flat square shape and has elegant taste. As Kagiya-Masaaki was located next to the university, I often bought Tokiwagi as souvenir to parents. Kagiya recently expanded its shop, which means, I presume, that the business goes well.

Another building which disappeared recently is the club house of the university's orchestra. It was about 10 years ago, when I heard that the club house was burnt down. The student orchestra moved to another building and now only wild grasses are growing on the site. There was a rumor that the university's administration tried to burn Yoshida dormitory, which was thought to be the hotbed of incorrigible students, but it mistakenly set fire on the neighboring club house of the orchestra! But, nobody knows the truth.

This is the main shop of Nishio Yatsuhashi, which was established in 1689.
Only grasse are growing where there used to be the club house of the students' orchestra.

From the old club site, the famous yatsuhashi shops are not much distant. "Yatsuhashi" literally means "eight bridges" and was the name of a famous blind koto player in the 17th century "Yatsuhashi-Kengyo". After he had been buried in Kurodani temple, many people went on a pilgrimage to his grave and a tea house near the temple started to bake confectionery in the shape of tiny wooden bridge and called "yatsuhashi" (*). However, my family's favorite is not baked yatsuhashi, but raw yatsuhashi with sweet bean paste as filling, whose shape is not similar to a bridge.
There are also another theories.
Kamogawa and the restaurants with terrasses (below). Tere are many white or gray herons resting in the river (right).
Kamogawa, the representative river of Kyoto is only a few steps from the yatsuhashi shops. Many restaurants along the river have terrace, so that clients can sit above flowing water and cool down during the hot summer evening. I did not experience such a luxury because I was a poor student and am still not eager to do so. Instead I enjoyed a pizza house facing Takasegawa. Takasegawa is famous through a short roman written by Mori-Ogai, describing the conversation between a boatman and a criminal who is being transported to a jail. But, Takasegawa has now only a few centimeters shallow water and it seems that no boat can go on it. But, the air on the water front is refreshing and the wine and pizza were excellent!

My companions (above) and
a picture taken in the daytime (left).

The area between Sanjo and Shijo on both sides of Kawaramachi Street is the busiest district in Kyoto. I am fond of strolling in the Nishiki-koji, which is the traditional center of culinary culture of Kyoto and often called as "Kitchen of Kyoto". We can find there any kind of food which the people of Kyoto eat everyday. Nowadays, more and more modern and sophisticated shops open in the street and they create a new tradition of Kyoto. I entered this black bean shop, which sells all kinds of black bean product. Black bean, "kuromame", is the specialty of Tamba, a northern province of Kyoto prefecture. I enjoyed shaved ice with black bean paste, powder tea and ice cream! Cool and delicious!

Nishiki Market
Shabed ice with black bean paste, powder tea, soft ice cream and hiratama

The old and traditional Kyoto is fine. But, people need also modern comfort. The interpretation of tradition also depends on individuals. I cannot judge, whether Kyoto succeeds in preserving its tradition and cityscape. But, at least Kyoto is for me more comfortable than the most parts of Tokyo. That is not entirely due to my aging, isn't it?