Kyoto Report 2023 – 8

This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life for a westerner (me) who is working for several months at Kyoto University in Japan.

Culture Day – Kyoto Botanical Gardens – November 3, 2023

Friday, November 3 was Culture Day in Japan – a public holiday and a time where all sorts of activities depicting the diversity of Japanese culture were on display.

We rode our bikes north to have a picnic at the Botanical Gardens which abut the Kamo River as the suburbs starting thinning out.

The last time we had gone there it was dead quiet and so we thought it would be a really peaceful picnic.


It was a Culture Day festival and the gardens were alive with dancing, music, and displays, including the beautiful flower displays.

The Osaka Ninja Theatre put on a really good pantomine for the kids (and me) with acrobatics and the eternal struggle between good and bad.

Various fan dances were held and a very strange mass sort of ritual where stacks of people hold this platform up on their shoulders with a tower of bells and various singers sing a sort of chant.

It was quite warm and some of the bearers looked like they were going to have heart attacks.

The chanting and Taiko drumming that accompanied this feat went on for around 45 minutes.

So while it wasn’t a quiet picnic it was a really interesting one.

In Australia, just a few weeks earlier we had our own demonstration of how we value culture – the referendum to give our first nations people a formal voice and recognition in the Constitution failed badly – showing how little we respect our own traditions and cultural heritage.

Light years away from the respect and amplification that Culture Day in Japan provides for their past traditions.

Kyoto University Museum

The other day I was riding my bike in the late afternoon near the University and decided to stop and take a look at the Kyoto University Museum, which showcases the 135 years or more (since founding) of the research work by the University researchers.

I love learning about what other researchers have done – looking at their field notebooks and sketches and reading about their lives.

It turned out to be a great stroll across two main rooms with two levels in each.

After looking at all the natural history materials (lots of insects and bugs etc), I then went to the social history sections and found some really interesting things.

I learned that those beautiful round tile ends that adorn many modern and ancient Japanese houses and buildings were first fired in kilns in 761.

Pretty old idea and one that has sustained into the modern day.

And I came across this minting machine that was originated in China during the Song Dynasty (AD 960 – 1297) and was used for making circular coins (which are in the following picture).

Then I saw this document and the English description is self-explanatory.

They used special paper from the Shrine upon which to make oaths.

We need some of those to make all the Australian corporations who evade taxes completely pay up.

Parkrun – Japan style

Last Saturday, I got on my bike early and rode down to Higashiyama metro station and caught the train across the mountain to Lake Biwa.

A change of trains at Biwako-Hamaotsu then a few stops later I alighted at Nishiki, a tiny suburban station near the very inaptly named Sunshine Beach – at least inapt given the weather of the day.

45 odd minutes of train travel.

It was a very interesting train trip and soon after leaving inner Kyoto, the train starts climbing up the Higashiyama mountain range albeit through a pass of some sorts (see map).

Then just after Oiwake, the train starts a long descent into Otsu. The houses are within metres of each of the stations.

A 10 minute walk took me to the Lake’s edge and the start of the closest Parkrun to Kyoto.

It was windy, cold and barren and not many runners.

But it was great to breathe hard and enjoy the running with others.

The guy who organises this event each Saturday at 8:00 is so dedicated to building the Parkrun movement in Japan and he seems to do most of the work, whereas in Australia there are several volunteers each weekend helping.

Anyway here I am with him at the end – and many thanks for his efforts.

Next weekend, I plan to take on one of the Tokyo parkruns, although they, like the Sunshine Beach run, are quite a distance from where I will be staying.

Peace sign

I was hiking on Sunday up the slopes of Mount Daimonji again – this time we took a more conventional track to the summit which was still quite enervating but much easier than the sheer route we took a few weekends ago.

Before the summit, hikers come to a landing – observation point – which commands magnificent views over Kyoto and down south to Osaka.

Unfortunately, it was very cloudy and starting to rain so the view right down the valley was rather dim.

But closer to Kyoto was beautiful.

On the way down from the Summit, which is another 20 or 30 minutes of steeper climbing after the observation deck, we stopped again at the deck to have some water and a Danish pastry from our favourite baker – the absolute best pastries in the world I can tell you!.

I saw this sign and thought of the criminal behaviour of the IDF in Gaza and how the richest and most powerful nations are aiding and abetting Israel in murdering thousands of innocent Palestinian children.

There is no nuance, no excuse, no nothing – it is unadulterated slaughter.

And that doesn’t excuse Hamas from its actions so don’t send me E-mails telling me I am a Jew hater.

If only this sign carried weight.

My time working in Kyoto for 2023 is coming to an end.

There is never enough time to fit everything in and my list of bike adventures grows as I learn more.

So there will be many things that will have to wait until I return next year.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2023 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your adventures in Kyoto. Reading them made me aware of how culture influences the economics.

  2. Fascinating as always. I love Parkrun too. Great community event. Motivation to push a little harder too than when running alone. Good way to meet locals when traveling too I suppose.

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