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Postscript from Japan

Back from Japan, and in Kyoto at the end of the trip, I set out for a night stroll around the Gion district, the charming old quarter of the city. Ever since Arthur S. Golden wrote Memoirs of a Geisha, an evening of geisha spotting in the back streets of Gion is essential to any tour of Kyoto. The tiny square with the willow-lined stream, the little bridge and the Temple of Literature that formed the nuclei for much of Golden’s novel can be found on the north side of Shijo-dori. It’s an area of delectable charm, enhanced at night by the little vignettes that present themselves in the restaurant windows that overlook the stream. Tonight I am walking behind a small elderly man who is collecting drink cans and bits of paper with a pair of long tongs and putting them into a sack. The streets of Japan are scrupulously clean, but I am impressed afresh with the civic-mindedness of the average Japanese citizen.  What a society, I am thinking, what fine collective spirit, what an example for us all. I’m still smiling my approval at his back as he reaches Kawabata-dori and crosses. I’m catching up as we reach the bridge over the Kamo River, and as I pass, he turns to smile at me while simultaneously reaching out to drop his sack into the river. Even for Japan this was a surprising moment, and I realise that although I might eat tofu and sleep happily on a futon, though I might one day write a passable haiku or even come to eat umeboshi plums without my face puckering, I will never really come within a cooee of understanding Japan.

More information at Japan Quest Journeys 

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