Hello from Kyoto. Today marks two weeks in Japan. I’m beginning to feel settled in my Kyoto dwelling, and my research has started at Kyoto City University of the Arts (京都芸大).
I’m staying in a part of town called Yoshida Honmachi, which is flanked on one side by the Kyoto University campus, and on the other by Yoshida Mountain, with the main entrance to Yoshida Shrine just beyond a stones throw to the south. Yoshida mountain is spiritual place, said to be the location in 859 that four deities were summoned to watch over Heiankyo (the former name of the capital Kyoto), and has since been an important landmark in the Shinto religion.
Kyoto University, one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Japan, produces a constant flow of students going here and there on bikes. Kyoto is a city of gentle inclines, and very bike friendly. Most everyone seems to travel by bike - much like Amsterdam, but as opposed to the designated bike lanes and strict order of the Dutch, it’s a bit more of a free-for-all here, with bikes mingling with pedestrians on sidewalks, everyone riding low on what the Japanese refer to as ママチャリ (mama cherry, short for mama cherriot) - essentially cruiser style bikes with seats set low. Not the most efficient setup for riding distances, but compared to the States, where the default seems to be the racing style (forward leaning, cervical spine compressing, hard on the wrists), I’m finding it endearing and ergonomically sensible. My first full day in Kyoto I bought a bike, which I use every day. The purchase included an interesting transaction of my trying to explain in Japanese why I wanted to purchase the sprung leather seat that was on the shelf as an artifact, not for sale. Why would I want an old seat when I could have a new (plastic) one? Perhaps representative of Kyoto in a broader sense; an ancient, historic city that constantly struggles to preserve its historic sites and structures amidst the drive to modernize.
Living near Kyoto University is great, as you can get a good meal for around $3, and they have Kirin on tap. Yes.
My apartment is a 町や (machiya), which is a traditional wooden townhouse that is quite typical of Kyoto. Machiya were being built by the merchant classes in Kyoto as far back as the Heian period, and were designed to function as both shopfront and dwelling. The machiya floor plan is generally a long rectangle separated into rooms by shoji screen dividers, with the front room serving as the shop space, and the inner rooms reserved for family living. Many machiya have an inner garden space for sitting and contemplation. While my machiya isn’t one of the historic Kyo-machiya, as it is located outside the historic borders of the “old city,” it is a historic space with the smell, patina, and vibe of something old and precious. I have one of two tatami rooms located on the second floor. Rooms in Japan are measured by the number of tatami mat sections that make up the space - mine is 6 tatami. I am the only resident in the machiya. The downstairs is used as a research center connected to Kyoto University, focused primarily on music therapy. While there are periodic events during the day, I generally have the space to myself. I was extremely lucky to find this space, thanks to my dear friend and Kyoto resident Miyuki.
I am presently a guest researcher at the Research Center for Japanese Traditional Music at 京都芸大 (Kyoto City University of the Arts). Though I am unofficially associated with the university, I have been warmly welcomed into the academic community, for which I am very thankful! Having access to KCUA resources such as musical scores, recordings, the traditional instrument collection, and the ability to consult experts in the field is truly amazing.
My current project is the composing of a new work for traditional Japanese instrumentation and electronics that will premier in Tokyo at the International House of Japan on May 27th. Subsequent blog posts will highlight my progress and process as the piece develops. In the beginning of May I will be traveling to Iwate prefecture to visit relatives and stay in the old family farmhouse, searching for photos and artifacts pertinent to Bat of No Bird Island.
Stay tuned! Thanks. PK