A few observations on Kyoto so far

I’ve been here roughly 24 hours and thought I might jot down a few things I’ve noticed about Kyoto, at least the parts I’ve been to.

It’s a very human scale city. A lot of the photos I’ve seen of Tokyo made me think that urban Japan is this sprawling metropolis of high rise buildings, neon lights, etc. Kyoto is not like that at all. Most of the buildings I’ve seen in the downtown area are perhaps four stories tall. You can see the mountains by looking down the street. There are not multiple lane highways running through the CBD, most streets near the central JR station are one lane in each direction, maybe two at the intersection. A few of the bigger streets may be three or four lanes in each direction but they aren’t clogged full of traffic and nor are they speedways. Contrast this to Brisbane where almost every street downtown is a four lane one way street with on-street parking on each side except in peak hour where all four lanes are on street parking because traffic slows to about 10km/hr.

There is a huge bike culture. It seems to be the easiest way to get around when making short trips. No one locks their bikes up. You just pop up the kick stand and go into the store for a few minutes. There are bike lanes at intersections for crossing and people ride on the road and the footpaths, and down the arcades in some places. There appear to be no helmet laws.

Bins are as rare as hen’s teeth yet the city doesn’t have a litter problem. Every vending machine has recycling bins next to it and people eat their food at the shops where they buy it, even if it’s a pokey little hole in the wall takeaway dumpling place in an arcade. People don’t walk around eating and drinking like they do in Australia. You sit down, eat your takeaway meal, dump the rubbish in the bin and then off you go. I must have spent ten minutes walking around with an empty takoyaki tray before deciding to walk into a Starbucks, dump by garbage, buy an iced tea, drink it quickly, dump the rubbish and leave.

The markets are wonderful. I spent the late morning walking around downtown with two other QUT ISBA attendees. We went to a few arcades where almost every shop seemed to be selling fresh fish, fermented vegetables, tofu, fried takeaway, dried beans, etc. The smells! Like nothing you get in Brisbane markets (I’m thinking Brisbane Square). We stopped for some takoyaki (octopus croquettes, basically) and I got a tempura lotus root on a stick. Not my usual fare but it’s not the sort of thing you see all that often in Brisbane so I decided I’d have a go. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the boiled baby octopus on a skewer, though; too Lovecraftian.

All in all, Kyoto appears to be a great little town with a fantastic public transport system, good food, friendly people all at a scale that’s not completely overwhelming. I would consider living here if there was a good postdoc position. I’d have to learn much more Japanese than “Arigato” and “Ohaio gozaimasu”.

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