Saturday, 5 July 2014

Marching orders

Apologies if you came here looking for writing about the Prime Minister's latest attempts to revive the glorious Japan of the 1930s for us young 'uns to relive, there will no doubt be plenty of that to come from others, if not Our Man, over the coming weeks. Our Man just can't muster the interest in the daily ups and downs (mostly downs) of Japan politics just right now. Instead, he's made it his mission to get off the news cycle and read books instead. So here's a review of a good one that you might like, a book I'm enormously honoured to say was part inspired by one of my own, Reconstructing 3/11.

Deep Kyoto Walks (Ed. Michael Lambe and Ted Taylor)

How best to experience Kyoto? A great place to start is here, a collection of 17 essays mostly from resident ex-pats with a palpable love for the city. They were given the loosest of marching orders – to take the reader on foot through the Kyoto they know.

The result is a hotch-potch of illuminating experiences worthy of such an interesting city. We are treated to a walk along the banks of Kamo and Takano rivers, a hike up Mount Atago and all points in between, tours of inner-city neighbourhoods that are home to the writers.

You could strap your Kindle to your backpack and take off on any of the walks yourself (there are maps, pictures and Google Maps links included) but it's so much more than a traditional guidebook. At every step, we are treated to personal insights and opinions that you would miss if you didn't sit down and give the writers the contemplation their writing deserves. From my Abiko bunker I was able to witness journeys of all sorts – a middle-aged American retracing his youth through a changed Kyoto, a newbie watching a troupe of monkeys stealing veg from her garden, and barflies who would turn their heads every time the door opened expecting to see David Bowie (he did pop in once for a shochu or such, so it wasn't completely out of the realms of possibility).

There are enough temples and tea rooms to satisfy the tourist, but for Our Man's money it was the bar crawls, anti-nuclear demo and journeys back in time that grabbed his attention.

If you are interested in Kyoto, the ex-pat life in Japan, independent publishing, or just fancy a stroll along the streets of Japan's greatest cultural attraction, read this book. It takes you there, with or without your hiking boots on.

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