Autumn is all around

kurodani daylight 001.jpg

The air is crisp, the sky is grey, the leaves are bursting like red/orange/yellow explosions of colorful beauty surrounding our every walking/waking moment with gentle grace and natural harmony.
In Kyoto the streets, sidewalks, Temples, Shrines and most public spaces are filled to the brim with grateful tourists basking in the respite of tranquility that is Autumn here in the Ancient Capitol and despite (or maybe because of) these crowds it is indeed a special time to be in our city. Gentle weather, smiling faces and happiness abound.

Get it while it's hot!

The above photo is a display from a liquor shop in my neighborhood. The owner changes the window seasonally and while I like to think that I appreciate all his selections I must admit that his Fall choice is my favorite. It always makes me smile somehow and anyway.
posted by Billy at 16:23 | Kyoto (Japan)


Smoke 'em if You Got 'em (only not around these parts)


It is indeed the End of an Era for my smoking friends hereabouts as the Kyoto City Council has finally passed an ordnance beginning in (maybe, possibly) April prohibiting all Public Cigarette smoking on the highly trafficked (and Tourist Friendly) streets displayed on the above map. Only the Streets mind you, they haven’t gone crazy and completely outlawed smoking everywhere…..yet. The penalties for violating this brand spanking new law appear to be, as yet, less than certain. The PA Poster states, for now, that the penalty will be- Less than 2000 yen (about $20)- and I’m not sure if that means 19.99 0r 100 but either way it’s a pretty steep price for a single coffin nail. So unless your name happens to be Bill Gates you may want to keep those squares tucked snugly in your pants or be ready to ditch that doob and break for the hills when the Lawdogs reach for their citation pads and pencils.

I, myself, am of 2 minds concerning this most recent of Kyoto developments.

On the one hand, the disgusting presence of literally thousands of discarded butts in every conceivable location (foul overflowing ashtrays everywhere, stomped butts in Temples, on sidewalks, in the Kamogawa, RRRRRRR) in this otherwise pristine Jewel of a City can only be considered offensive at best, reason for vigilante violence at worst, to any right thinking persons senses and vision…..

And yet……..

On the other hand, it disheartens me as an Adult to see the Self-Righteous Fascists Forces of the PC spread their frightened tendrils across every last corner of the globe, softly and slowly strangling us Big Folks with their goofy desperation to make everything perfectly SAFE for absolutely everyone everywhere whether we like it or not.

Coming from a country where SWAT Teams will descend on you if you should even THINK about the heinous act of lighting a cigarette in -GASP- public, it was indeed refreshing to live in J-land where they seem to have a more relaxed and properly mature view of this mild offense/major pleasure. Which is to say- You’re over 20, you got the money?

“Then smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette…..
Puff, puff, puff until you puff yourself to death.”

But no, it’s 2007 and the Nicotine Nazis appear to be intent on legislating, bullying and otherwise trampling out every last pleasure in our lives until the entire World is a sanitized, squeaky clean, safe-for-the-children Disneyland where only pre-planned, State Authorized, Committee Approved and Strictly Monitored “fun” is allowed.

To my Eco-Friendly, All Organic, Hemp Wearing, Tree Hugging Hippie Friends- Congratulations! You’ve won another round.
So come April I’ll play along with the rules even if I don’t entirely agree. But mark my words.

When They come for our Beer or try to outlaw Miniskirts then I am taking No Prisoners!
posted by Billy at 12:45 | Kyoto (Japan)


Abe Sama Drama

Good news for J-land as it appears that the unfortunate and unexpected - to put it mildly- resignation of PM Shinzo Abe is officially past and the Future officially awaits with New PM Yasudo Fukuda taking the reins this past week and, hopefully, leading Japan out of its post-Abe doldrums. While not wishing to beat a dead horse I have to stress that Mr. Abe’s abrupt and very ill-timed surrender could not have left Mr. Fukuda in a tougher spot and here’s hoping that Fukuda-sama, at the graceful age of 71, has enough gas left in his tank to shoulder this Herculean task left at his doorstep and rally the team to victory. At this critical point in Japan’s history Mr. Abe has come off like a juggler who decides to walk off the stage in the middle of his tired act with 5 flaming axes hovering precariously in the air. An aggressive N. Korea, rampant financial scandals within his cabinet, a major US military aid treaty yet to be decided, a still sluggish Japanese economy and the looming elephant in the room, article 9 of the J-Constitution being no closer to solved than it ever hasn’t and I am most likely forgetting more than a few others so, THANKS MR. ABE!

I personally was hoping that strongman Taro Aso might get the nod but it now seems clear that Aso-sama may be a bit too much of a lightening rod at this critical time and so the J-pols went with Mr. Fukuda who is being given high praise for his “stability” and “reliability” and, believe you me, after the debacle of the Abe resignation I can certainly understand the Japanese desire for political stability right here and now.

As of today Mr. Fukuda has retained the basic core of the Abe cabinet with only minor changes and this initial action has received a 58% approval rating in his first days according to a nationwide survey taken by the Yomiuri Shimbun. Historically this is about middle-of-the-pack (for context super popular PM Koizumi’s 2001 team got a whopping 87.1% approval rating while 1994’s Murayama Cabinet received a paltry 37%) but most likely better than anyone has a right to expect.

To Fukuda-Sama I want to wish nothing but strength, courage and Samurai Spirit in the days, weeks, months and hopefully years ahead. To Mr. Aso- Maybe next time.

posted by Billy at 00:00 | Kyoto (Japan)


Last Day of Summer

Although the temperature may disagree, this day-Aug. 31- is often considered the final summer sunset and so・・・・/FONT>

Let us give thanks and praise to the Natsu past and celebrate by remembering a few of Kyoto's (and J-land's) summer glories. The following, I assure you, is a woefully incomplete list.

The Kamogawa River and its cool breezes gently flowing off the rushing water that beat the heat and provide a refreshing party playground for Young and Old alike.

The calm, gentle and quiet peace of climbing Mt. Daimonji then basking at the top in Kyoto's glow.

Ice COLD beer and Yaki-niku. "Nuff said!

Short skirts and high-heeled sandals everywhere and all the pedicured, powdered, polished, pampered and pretty girls and women who wear them, day and night, and wear them very, very well.

Kakigori (shaved ice) under the lights at Koshien and watching the Hanshin Tigers whip some Yomiuri tail while a chill breeze blows off Mt. Rokko.

The fresh vegetable Man who walks through my neighborhood hawking his wares, his strong voice ringing like a bell- "OISHII YUKIYASAI WA, IKAGA DESU KA!" (would you like to buy some fresh organic veggies?)- pushing his cart and extolling the virtues of his goods.

The National High School Baseball Tournament at Koshien (Nettoh Koshien) in Aug. Under the blistering summer sun those teenage boys lay it all on the line and remind us of how baseball should really be played- with skill, dedication, passion, emotion, respect and as a TEAM!

All-you-can-eat (Tabehodai) Beer Gardens anywhere and everywhere throughout the City proper.

Frisbee in Gosho and then fresh, cold, spring water brought up from the well.

The refrigerated blast you get whenever you walk past a Subway station. What blessed relief however man-made and Eco-unfriendly it may be.

And so many more but thanks for now and always!
posted by Billy at 17:23 | Kyoto (Japan)


Feel the Heat.

Right now Kyoto (and most of Japan) is slowly, slowly slogging through a record heat wave, the hottest since the 1930's. I don't know how they handled it back then, but BROTHER, IT IS HOT!

The temp maxed out over 40 degrees for several days last week and threatens to do so almost daily. Around midday one could very easily fry an egg on almost any sidewalk and you wouldn't have to wait long until you ate either. Dr. acquaintances of mine have been reporting numerous cases of heatstroke victims in the ER, cold water and shade have become valuable commodities and the AC's are running full force and non-stop.

And what did I see last week during Obon?

Sharp Kyoto Girls floating down the street like an Ancient vision of demure perfection while dressed in full fledged Kimono regalia as the blazing sun burned down hot enough to bake your brain.

For the uninformed Kimono finery usually (even the summer versions) involves several layers of intricately wrapped cloth completely covering said young lady from neck to dainty toes. And the toes are covered too!

To more properly put this in perspective, my standard uniform for the past week has been this- Shorts, flip-flops and a short sleeved cotton shirt with 3 buttons buttoned, MAX!

And let me assure you that I promptly strip these off the instant I enter the privacy of my own home.

Kyoto Girls! You gotta love 'em!

posted by Billy at 20:15 | Kyoto (Japan)


Oki WOW wa!

Took a cab to the train to the plane last week and ended up in Okinawa.
The flight was uneventful and the landing smooth.

and then we walked into the rain..........

and I mean RAIN!

Yes, it was a bit of bad luck as we (family and friends) caught the last of rainy season down Okinawa way. It was 3 full days of dark clouds and intermittent downpours to accompany the copious amounts of eating and drinking.
The hotel was grand and comfortable and the people slow and easy and, I believe, a good time was had by all.

Highlight? On Mon. it, miraculously, stopped raining near late afternoon. Oto-san gave me a ring on the phone to convey said information and, together, we rallied at the beach. It was deserted and serene. We swam in the lovely, warm water under a beautiful setting sun, a very rare gift.

After, I wakeboarded in the ocean. When we took off from the beach (the pilot on a jetski, me in tow) I had the calm sea to myself. By the time I came in, 15-20 mins. later, the beach was crowded with happy travelers- men, women and children all frolicking blissfully in the most welcome respite from the rain. On that night, the Orion beer tasted better than ever.

Thanks Okinawa!

posted by Billy at 15:30 | Kyoto (Japan)


The elegance of the Kyoto Taxi

My fellow Americans- and I believe most of the world- would be very pleasantly surprised to discover the simple joys (yea, I wrote joys) there are to encounter when relaxing in the back of a pristine Ancient Capitol Taxi.

Where to begin......

First, the drivers wear pressed and matching jacket and trousers, a dark business tie on a starched, spotless white shirt with matching white gloves topped off by a sharp billed chauffeur style cap. ALL OF THEM! Put it this way- I've seen many a policemen in uniform who didn't look anywhere near this spiffy and proper! If you wanted to hire someone more respectable looking you'd have to go to England and rent a Butler!

This still remains hard for me to believe but, trust me, it's true.
The interior, exterior and every other 'terior of their vehicles is CLEAN!
And I mean immaculate type clean. So damn ship shape I almost feel guilty for planting my ass in their seats. After some of the grimy, rotten, stinking (where do they get that incense...aaagh!) cab rides from my hometown I can't describe what a pleasant relief it is to ride in someones pride and joy.

Thus far every driver I've encountered has been thouroughly
knowledgable, pleasant, efficient and ultra professional. Not only do they speak their own langauge but most Kyoto Cab Co.'s are more than happy to hook you up with a driver who speaks English at no extra charge.

Yasaka Taxi actually offers once a month training for all their drivers in Kyoto History, Cultural Attractions and the best routes for fast travel.
I knew one driver (former student) who's knowledge of Kyoto history-and that's a long history folks- was absolutely encyclopedic and most impressive and he never gave me any impression that he was unique in that regard.

Cab doors open and close automatically. This is so cool I can't even begin to describe it other than to say that every time those doors magically pop open or snap shut I feel like a 10 year old kid in the World of The Future.

Fairs- given the level of service- are a BARGAIN.
Tipping- As in all of Japan- not required, expected or even hoped for.

Next time you're in town and want to get somewhere quick, easy and can afford to treat yourself like a King, go ahead and flag down Mr. Kyoto Cabbie and you won't be sorry.
posted by Billy at 17:39 | Kyoto (Japan)




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