We have arrived in the cultural heart of Japan and I’m bursting with excitement at just being here. Today all we’ve done is get ourselves here and hire bikes at the opposite end of town but it was wonderful whizzing through the streets (and along footpaths!) at that wonderful Netherlandish pace (albeit on the left hand side – mostly – of the road). I will say this: the Japanese may be a very rules -based society but the Dutch would certainly give them a run for their money when it comes to cycling – it seemed pretty much anything-goes to me. Having said that, it seems anywhere you want to leave your bike there’s a sign saying not to and that your bike can be impounded if you do. We just keep crossing our fingers that they’ll still be there when we get back. So far, so good.
On traffic more generally, I am very relieved to have escaped China, and Shanghai in particular, where I thought I was going to die every time I stepped onto a pedestrian crossing, especially (yes, especially) when pedestrians had a green light. In the end I figured the only way to cross without having a heart attack and/or losing a limb was to jaywalk.
We dropped in to a (Catholic) church this afternoon: first time in Japan, first time in a while. We’d arrived in town too late for mass, but we’d been looking for one through the week in Osaka and not having found one were pleased at least to be able to go and be in a church for awhile. The immediate familiarity struck me. How had I not thought to do this before when I’m frequently tempted to escape to the familiar at a Starbucks, or a fast food chain? And this familiarity runs much deeper – it looked familiar, but it’s also a place where I know what to do, what things mean, and where I’ve learnt to easily connect with the part of myself that can experience the spiritual. After a month of shrines and temples, it seems so obvious but it was a surprise: I dropped back in and God was still there. Accessible. Anyway, for what that’s worth.
A downside to Kyoto, we have discovered, is that there are foreigners all over the place and no one is the least bit charmed by our bumbling six words of Japanese and uncertain half bows. We have gotten rather used to the thrill of being the exotic foreigners, I’m afraid, and we miss the blissful ignorance of not understanding a word anyone around us is saying. It seems we are very firmly on the beaten track here in Kyoto.