All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Returning to Japan: Kyoto

Kinkakuji Gardens and Grounds

I've been spending quite a bit of time lately talking to my little German brother, Steven, who left his life in Mannheim for a year to come to the US. After a few months back home, he's discovering what I found when I moved home from Japan. When you drop your whole life to immerse yourself in a new experience -- a school, a job, a journey -- it comes at a price. The friends you make in your new locale aren't there to bolster you up when you get home, and the time away has distanced you so completely from your old friends that they are worse than strangers. Steven's life, like mine, is now gloriously shattered by the social San Andreas of "living abroad."

Strolling through Gion

We all compartmentalize our lives: work, friends, relationships, family, that crazy summer with the traveling circus; but in normal, healthy lives, we have cross-over. Our coworkers meet our friends who hang out with our boyfriends who make awkward appearances at family gatherings and so forth. Those subtle links bind our experiences together into one collective mass we call: Life. Without them, we become scattered, disjointed; instead of being multifaceted, we become multi-lived. The problem with Dissociative Life Disorder is that whatever side of your life you happen to be on becomes dominant, reducing its counterpart to that slippery, half-imagined state of dreams. Kind of like the way we all felt about Top Gun after this.

Hiking up through the shrines

Returning to Kyoto this summer, I was a bit apprehensive. I had been away for three years, and in that time, I wasn't sure how much I had romanticized my experiences there. Kyoto was the epicenter of my life in Japan -- not just a city where I lived, but a city where I fell madly and irredeemably in love. In love with the play of light on the Kawaramachi; with the clatter of bamboo in the wind; with narrow, snaking alleyways and a thousand little bridges; with the startling white glide of a crane; with soaring orange tori and ten-story buildings dripping with neon; with the lullaby rock of subway trains; with 7-Eleven sushi and one very well-worn blue sweater. In love with a lifestyle, with a rhythm, with an aesthetic, with a man. I was afraid that returning to Kyoto might shatter its magic for me -- might flip the garish house lights on after an enchanting show.

Workers at Fushimi Inari

Instead, I discovered that even my most vivid memories didn't do any more justice to this incredible city than snapshots do to a mountain range.


Kyoto embodies the best of Japan -- a deep reverence for tradition interlaced with freshness and vitality; a startling juxtaposition of nature's stillness and the steady urban buzz; a cultural character that is rich, unique, and always surprising.

Schoolboys Lighting Incense

I should not have worried about Kyoto disappointing me. Coming back was like coming home, not just in the familiarity of the winding streets (a maze I long ago committed to memory) but because the rhythm of the place was once the rhythm of my life, the way an old song always takes us back to ourselves. I felt this way as my students and I entered Fushimi-Inari and as we made the steep climb up to Kyomizu-dera, but more than ever I felt myself coming home in the fervent embraces of old friends, in an icy beer and a bowl of edamame, in a smokey bar at three a.m., and in the well-worn, quiet comfort of friendship that time cannot fade.


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