Japan PRIME Trip: Prologue – To Kyoto and Beyond

In retrospect, I didn’t have a real concrete, educated expectation on what Japan would be like. In looking at pictures of Japan and hearing stories from people who have previously been there, I’d hear a lot about these historical sites scattered around Japan, hearkening to the Sengoku Era on back. I’d hear about these luxurious hot springs out in the mountains. But most of all, I heard about the cityscapes and just how crowded and active they were. With people yelling, hawking their wares or announcing the latest sale. With bright lights that were hypnotic, drawing your attention and curiosity. And the transportation systems which were convenient, even efficient, but absolutely jam-packed. And living spaces that are small and cramped (dryers are rarely used because space is such a luxury). Urban sprawl. Born out of Japan’s rebirth from the ashes of World War II as it rose to become an industrial power and bathe itself in the machinery of modernity.

And yet, when I landed at Kansai International Airport, the environs were calm and serene, bearing none of the hectic pacing of modern life. The bus ride to the Kyoto Granvia Hotel was also uneventful. Whatever thought that the roadways would be clogged by a large number of Japanese drivers remained a false expectation; most of the cars my group’s tour bus passed by seemed to be delivermen. Furthermore, the scenery around the roadways, at least, for the first half hour, reminded me more of the scenery in Northern California. It was lush and beautiful, filled with greenery nestled in valleys. Needless to say, this wasn’t quite the image I had of a hyper-modern society, but it was pleasant all the same, and I looked on with eager eyes, taking in the scenery as I went.

It wasn’t until my group’s bus reached Kyoto that things started to look more like a modern society. Nature scenes made way for fields of rice and other crops which then became a greater concentration of buildings. These buildings became more numerous until they became clumped closer together and exerted their will upon the road the bus traveled. The streets became narrower and windier and soon, it became difficult to actually see the sky because of the buildings in the way. As I looked around, I saw people walking on foot, on bicycle, and a lot of buses and taxis ferrying people to their destinations. Not a lot of personal vehicles though.

And yet, it wasn’t totally modern. Kyoto still had the essence of a city frozen in the 1980s. Many of the buildings we came across had an old, pleasant air about them, with none of the flashing lights nor the glitz and glamor that fit in with the image of a hyper-modern society. It wasn’t until my group reached the hotel that Kyoto’s modern face appeared. And I’ll get into that a bit more in my next post.

Photos provided courtesy of my classmate and Japan PRIME roommate Anthony Neshewat. Credit goes to him for having a better eye for these things than me.

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