Japan sinks into recession – but there is more to the story than the mainstream narrative would care to admit
Last week (February 15, 2024), the Japanese Cabinet Office released the latest national accounts estimates…
This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life for a westerner (me) who is working for several months at Kyoto University in Japan.
Last weekend, we rode our bikes out to the Philosopher’s Path to the east of Kyoto, which is the last flat section before the roads start to go up into the Higashiyama Mountain range, which is, in fact, a series of connected peaks.
On that day, our destination was Mount Daimonji, which is the peak to the south of the tallest one, Mount Hiei.
We had to walk our bikes up the last section of the sealed part (see map below) and then after parking our bikes we set off on the so-called Kyoto Loop, which you can see on the map as a dotted circular track.
The walk up the mountain was really steep and fairly dangerous and certainly we were the only ones going up that way.
We later discovered that a much more user-friendly track to the peak is available a bit further north, which helped us understand why some less than fit elderly Japanese walkers were looking so fresh at the top when we arrived at the lookout
But us intrepid ones, scale mountains every day, so for us the hardest route seemed like a snack (he says after the fact).
In fact, we had no idea of what was ahead when we started out and we just kept climbing across slippery rocks, fallen trees, and whatever – very steep and wild terrain.
About half-way up we encountered the Romon Falls (picture) which were beautiful and we stopped to enjoy the sound of the water cascading down the vertical rock face, which resembled at that point the track we were walking up (-:
Towards the top, we came across a section that was less harsh and we read a sign that said it was part of a government program to regenerate the forest there after a major typhoon had been through several years ago and toppled a stack of trees.
This was the best of the track in fact – almost walkable!
After about an hour, we reached the fork near the top, which took us left to the top and the lookout area of Mt Daimonji, marked on the map with a X.
There were several people up there – but not many – it is quite a hike after all.
But the view back to the West and South West over Kyoto City and further south to Osaka is simply stunning.
We were happy and sat on a rock and ate the delicious baguette filled with lotus root, eggplant, capsicum and other dreamlike things plus a pear pastry that we bought earlier from one of our favourite bakers near to where we live.
On that favourite baker – the shop opens at 8:30 for trade and if you get there after about 9:15 there is nothing left.
It is everyone’s favourite in the locality.
Kyoto is famous for its bakeries and that means it is a favourite for me.
Here is the view at the top – the photo doesn’t do it justice.
The good thing about the location is that it is well away from the tourist haunts and so mostly just locals go up there.
The tourist ant nests are all further down south (Yasaka, Gion, etc) – and are to be avoided at almost all costs.
So, we then decided to go down via the other arm of the loop, which seemed to be marked with yellow stone markers – which was pretty straightforward, or so we thought.
Down we plunged seeking out the yellow markers as we went and occasionally consulting Google maps to see where we were in space!
Best laid plans.
At the last yellow marker we came across along what looked like a path, the path ran out and appeared to go over a precipitous cliff.
It was getting late in the afternoon by this time.
At that point another hike turned up and announced to us in Japanese that he was looking for the way up to the top and was lost.
We ummed and aahed and did all sorts of analysis together – he was really lost by the way given we had already been walking downhill in the opposite direction to his intended destination for about an hour again.
Anyway, it appeared to be ridiculous that a path marked by the yellow markers would just run out, although Google maps was indicating we had strayed from the dotted line.
What to do?
Our lost Japanese traveller disappeared upwards after we showed him the way we had come down. At that point another father and son pair turned up and we had a conversation – in Japanese as best we can – and he assured us he knew the way down, except he didn’t.
Long story short – 2 hours later in fading light – after going up and down the mountain a few times on various rather suspicious routes we met another guy who told us that if we followed him we would end up at Nanzen-ji temple near the aquaducts.
Third time lucky.
As we came back into civilisation, and traversed the rock path into the temple grounds the sun was setting on one of the Shrine’s beautiful buildings (see photo) and we realised we were not going to have to use the flares we didn’t have to notify authorities that we were lost somewhere on Mt. Daimonji.
The late afternoon sun on the building was beautiful.
The only issue then was we had a few kilometres to walk back up to our bikes along the road and back up the steep hill.
So what started out as a 2 hour plan, ended up around a 5 hour trek and we arrived back at our bikes in the dark.
It was such a great day really.
A hot shower followed.
One thing that is very different to Australia is that at home all the construction workers drive to work sites in huge SUVs and utility trucks each day.
Building sites are surrounded with these huge vehicles.
In Japan, when I am out running in the early morning, I see construction workers walking to the construction site from nearby train stations carrying their tools and helmets etc.
The construction sites are very neat and barely a truck in site.
Quite a difference.
Talking about which I did a gig the other night with some of the top musicians in Kyoto at one of the best live locations in the city – Jittoku.
We had a great night and some videos will emerge in due course.
But in Kyoto, if you can you ride your bike to gigs – one of these is mine.
I just had my guitar over my shoulder and a box of tricks in my basket (amp supplied) and afterwards I rode the few kms back to my house.
Quite a change from having to hassle about parking spots close to venues in Melbourne to unload gear etc.
Doesn’t work though for drummers unfortately!
I was wandering around the Imperial Palace the other day – the central facility near where I live – and came across this little gem that I had missed in previous stays in Kyoto.
What do you think these gentlemen are up to?
Answer: 曲水 or Kyokusui or ‘Meandering Water Banquet’.
This sign explained it all.
Basically, the court nobles sit by a meandering garden stream in the palace in all their finery with their writing brushes and ink and have to improvise a poem before a floating sake cup passes them.
They have a reenactment in Kyoto at the Kyokusuinoutage festival on April 29 and November 3 (Culture Day) each year.
Here is what it looks like.
I could see myself doing that, except the alcohol bit.
I’ll write more about Culture Day next time – it was one of those unexpected discoveries that I made on my bike and turned out to be a magnificent experience.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2023 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.