Sunday, August 19, 2007
Old temples and a new tire.
(A temple bell... with car)
I recently had to take to walking to work because the rear tire on my bicycle was worn down to the thread, and I had an attack of the `can`t be bothered`s` when it came to replacing it. Walking was a nice change of pace though, and Kyoto is a city that you really should walk around anyway. I enjoyed zig zagging my way through the gridded narrow streets and noticing for the first time beautiful ornate temples that, tucked away in little pockets, have stood their ground as the surrounding buildings and houses succumb to the need for newer and nicer.
They stand gracefully as reminders of this ancient city`s past, in defiance of modernity and providing a treat for the visitors who wander off the tourist trails and encounter them. That is a great thing about Kyoto, the seemingly endless maze of twists and turns will inevitably lead you to a gem, and give you a nice feeling of discovering a piece of history. Considering that Kyoto has over 1500 temples and shrines to stumble across, people often run the risk of being `all templed out` after a day or two. I would suggest however, that if you replace the Lonely Planet with a street map and a sandwich you`ll be content to wander around the streets for a lot longer, as the surprises await you around every corner, literally.
(Temple. rebuilt in 1512 after being destroyed by fire, now surrounded by apartment blocks.)
I enjoyed walking, for a while at least, but soon began to miss my bike. I`ve always had a bike, and Japan is the land of bicycles, so eventually my `can`t be bothered`s` gave way to `gotta do it`s`, and I hunted down a new tire and set about mounting it. As I was mucking around out the front of my place, a couple of friendly neighbourhood Yakuza wandered over to investigate what the hell I was doing.
For a start I understood only a little of what they were saying so I began (as I often do) to translate their conversation in my head with my own dialogue as I busied myself with the tire...
Fancy not buying a new bike, and just replacing a tire.... damn frugal foreigners.
Yeah tell me about it. You want a new bike? We can get you a new bike. You don`t wanna know what we can get you .
But as I listened I began to hear a few murmurings of surprise and grunts of approval! Hold on, they were genuinely impressed that I was replacing a tire, rather than the whole bike, which is what the senior one of the two proclaimed most Japanese would do. It was definitely complimentary! This was amazing - a compliment from a gangster, what the hell? I thought these guys were meant to be right wing foreigner hating Japanese nationalists who would look upon my bike maintenance as a slight on the Japanese economy. But no! These two were pretty impressed that I would... let alone could do such a thing. I on the other hand was pretty bemused as to why they had nothing better to do than watch me change my tire, but wasn`t about to point that out to them. In any case, I thought, perhaps they are as fascinated by me fixing a tire as I am by what is probably just some generic neighbourhood temple in their eyes. Funny what an insight into a different culture can do, how what can appear mundane and monotonous to some can be so alluring to others.
Apparently though the allure of tire fixing quickly faded, and they`d soon had their fill of amusement from the foreign bike fixer. So, they wandered back to their gangster day, and I pumped up my tire and rolled off into the hot Kyoto sun, a little slower than before though, so as not to miss anything.