京都 River Ribbons

Missing Kyoto, I was recently looking through all my photos from Japan (I have tonnes). I particularly miss walking to work down the Kamogawa, the river that flows through the East side of Kyoto. One of the advantages of living near such a beautiful river for a whole year is getting to see it in all seasons and weathers. If you look at the map of Kyoto, it is divided by several ribbons of blue, and each one represents some of the most beautiful scenery in the city. I am therefore writing this post to celebrate and reflect on not only the Kamogawa, but all the rivers in Kyoto. Please note that in this post I am using the suffix ‘gawa’ or ‘kawa’  to mean river, so rather than writing ‘Kamo River’, I am choosing to write Kamogawa, as those are the names I am familiar with. 

All the rivers in Kyoto join the Yodogawa 淀川 to the south of the city, meeting the sea in Osaka Bay. Before they reach this main river and lose their individuality, four main rivers flow through the city, each with a different character. Allow me to introduce them to you.

The giant of this group is the Katsuragawa 桂川. Slow and wide, it flows through Arashiyama in the West of Kyoto, wending it way past mountains and houses, and passing under the famous Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋 ‘moon-crossing bridge’) on its way to join the Yodogawa. I saw this river frequently as I took many trips to Arashiyama, a popular tourist spot, with friends. This river is particularly beautiful in twilight, with the shadows of the mountains on one side and the warm lights of Arashiyama on the other.

The Katsuragawa also stars in parts of the epic Tale of Genji, written in the 11th Century by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji is an extraordinary piece of writing, and though I’ve only read a little, I still recommend it to anyone interested in the ancient Japanese court and its customs, or in Japanese literature and culture as a whole. The most amusing quirk of the book, and something that nicely sums up some of the difficulties of learning Japanese, is that at the time it was written referring to people by name was considered rude, so the author refers to her characters by their station in life for men, or by the colour of their clothing for women, making it a little difficult to follow as the characters often change ‘name’. Though it is no longer rude to refer to people by name, you now can’t really say the word ‘you’ to or about someone without it being rude, so the challenges persist.

Next we have the Shirakawa 白川, literally meaning ‘white river’, named after the abundance of white sand and stones it carries through the city. It is often known as a canal in English, but there has always been a river flowing through the city under this name, it was simply diverted as part of city planning works in the 17th Century. The Shirakawa flows through Gion, one of Kyoto’s geisha districts, before joining with the Kamogawa. This river flows behind tea houses and under tiny bridges, making it very photogenic. As this is the one part of the river I apparently never took pictures of, despite going a few times, here are a couple of pictures from Wikimedia Commons, just so you know what I’m talking about.

Fortunately I do have pictures of the Shirakawa at its most photogenic – along the Philosopher’s Walk in cherry blossom season. This is the iconic cherry blossom spot of Kyoto – tourists and locals drift along the narrow river, staring up at the light pink blossoms. Out of all the days I spent in Kyoto, that day among the blossoms was the most idyllic. I must have counted at least three couples posing for wedding photos, capturing the ultimate romantic moment.

The Takasegawa 高瀬川, meaning ‘shallow river’, is another river I was very familiar with during my time in Kyoto, and one that many Kyoto inhabitants will know well, as it flows right through the city. I personally think this river is underrated – in the Spring it has beautiful cherry blossoms, and the rest of the year it provides some welcome beautification to the streets outside Kyoto’s bars and clubs in Sanjo.

Finally we have the Kamogawa 鴨川 (meaning ‘duck river’), my favourite river in Kyoto, and not just because it was my closest. The Kamogawa has wide banks with paths and parkland running down either side, making it the perfect place for a stroll, some exercise, a bike ride, musical instrument practice, or drinking, depending on who, and when, you are. It also has turtle-shaped stepping stones, which are a fun challenge (and actually quite difficult, I’ve seen a lot of people take a dip!). The Kamogawa is also the best river for bird watching in Kyoto – kites and Crows circle above, while herons, egrets and cormorants wait for fish in the shallows.

In addition, the Kamogawa has the striking split of the Takanogawa and Kamogawa branches, two medium rivers becoming the larger Kamogawa. In the Summer this spot is popular among students to set off small fireworks and have a social drink. Though I saw it almost every day, I always thought it was a really beautiful and unique spot.

Hopefully this is the year I can be reunited with the rivers of Kyoto, but until then at least I have some great pictures and memories of them. My plan is to update this blog as and when new blog posts crop up from old memories, or I go to Japan and make new ones.

London: Never Gonna Give EU Up

This blog post will be a little different. For a start I’m sure you’ve noticed that this is set in London, not Japan. It will be a little less cultural and a little more political. Worry not, there are more Japan posts on the horizon, but this was an event well worth writing about. I’m not going to be particularly preachy or political, as there are far better writers writing far more persuasively on this issue than I. However, I did get some great pictures of the event, which is the main purpose of the post. With that out of the way, let’s get on with it!

As you may be aware, on the 23rd of June, the UK voted to leave the European Union, also known as ‘Brexit’. I, like many young people, voted to Remain, and was therefore horrified to wake up to the news that we would be leaving the EU. I will not go into my reasons for voting remain, a simple google search will find you the arguments for both sides, but I do stand by my vote. So much so that I joined the pro-EU march in central London today urging parliament to act in the country’s best interests and not invoke Article 50 (the article that would give us 2 years to leave the EU). This was my first protest march, and I’m glad I did it.

I understand that this march is controversial, as many say we should shut up and go with the referendum result, however I believe that due to the lies perpetuated by the Leave campaign, the economic shock, and the rise in racist incidents since the vote, parliament should consider whether we really should leave the EU. So I marched. Here is a good letter explaining the flaws of the referendum.

I joined the marchers at about 11:30 at Park Lane, where we milled about for about an hour, before setting off towards Westminster via Trafalgar square. The Facebook group had 20,000 people saying they would attend, and the BBC has reported “thousands” marching, but there as of yet no exact figure. Roads were closed, helicopters hovered overhead, and the police had a strong presence. Fortunately the protests were peaceful.

It’s amazing how many puns you can manage with EU, which just sounds like “you”. I took pictures of a lot of the best signs, though not all made the final cut for this post. Honourable mentions go to the following : “Hold up, they don’t love EU like I love EU“, “I wanna be inside EU” and “Hopelessly devoted to EU“. There were also signs with witticisms such as “No Brexit please, we’re British” and “what about my chance to go over there and take their jobs?“, as well as the hashtag #EtonMess. Of course there were serious signs too. I spent the first hour wishing I had cardboard and pens so I could join in! I did at least wear blue and yellow, the colours of the EU flag.

The most amusing part of the day occurred fairly early on. We had just passed the sign referring to Cameron’s pig exploits, when a policeman standing behind us said “‘Effed a pig? What did we do?”. This confirmed to me that British police are pretty great. There were a lot of pig jokes, jabs at Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, as well as signs reading “Theresa May we have human rights?” and “Theresa May we stay?“. There were a number of Corbyn supporters, which I found a little odd considering he has never been particularly enthused by the idea of remaining in the EU. Regardless of this smorgasbord of political opinion, the pro-EU sentiment was clear.

In addition to the puntastic signs, there were several chants taking advantage of the “you”- “EU” switch. Hey Jude was popular, replacing “Jude” with “EU”, as was the internet’s favourite prank song, becoming “never gonna give EU up” (which elicited groans from some nearby, and enthusiastic singing from others). Strangely enough, the Astley classic had great lyrics for the occasion, making this one of the few times that the song has exceeded its role as a meme and became something more.

There were children, adults, disabled, able-bodied, many races and many political perspectives represented at the march. The heavens threatened to open at least once, but soon we were baking in the usually shy British summer sun.

I am very glad I took the time to travel to London to participate in the protests. While I do not expect them to have made much of a difference, applying pressure to the government and main political parties at a time of such uncertainty is important. Normal programming will resume soon, though I may include other non-Japan based posts in the future.