Two Faces of Our City

Posted on Friday, May 06, 2016, under , ,



Today, on May 1st, I went out on scooter hoping to locate workers’ gathering or a political rally of some kind. My expectations were based on witnessing a May Day demo five years ago (report here) that consisted of a rather well-behaved procession of some hundred chanting protesters walking in orderly fashion down Horikawa street. After all, they were allowed a single street lane at the same time obeying the usual pedestrian rules including waiting at traffic lights. Shepherded by the police uniform, the parade was nevertheless intent on drowning out the passing traffic, the marchers shouting on top of their voices.

Today, alas, they were hard to come by. After vainly riding up and down Horikawa and the adjacent streets for some time, I gave it up. ‘Well, so much for labour solidarity’, I mumbled to myself. Disappointed, I turned onto Oike street and headed east. Good thing I did, because once I reached the City Hall there it was, your proper workers demo – the crowds, the placards, chants, flags, whistles, megaphones. The place wasn’t exactly on fire, more like simmering in warm spring sunshine. At least it seemed livelier than what I remember from five years ago.

After a good quarter of an hour of incessant slogan-yelling and air-punching fists, it was getting a bit monotonous. Arms getting tired too. Thankfully the proceedings took a sprightly turn. Someone from the organizing committee (local JCP?) told the crowds to form a file and start tripping and skipping about the tarmac, which looked a lot like a Dragon Dance, albeit a dragon up in years. Gradually the chanting procession snaked its way toward the entrance steps to the City Hall where the smiling committee stood waving – too many marchers to shake hands with everyone.

What is strikingly different between a Japanese demo and say, one held this year in France or Turkey, is its non-threatening, almost celebratory nature. In Europe there was a lot of hatred, violence, crushed skulls and burning vehicles. In Kyoto, if there is hatred and dissatisfaction – and there must be otherwise there would be no protest – these are not overtly expressed. Are Japanese aware perhaps that violence or no violence, at the end of the day nothing will change? Is their ‘predicament’ worth risking neck for? Probably not.

May Day Kyoto Demos 2016


The last jumping member had been waved off, the committee disbanded, the Dragon fell to pieces. The crowds did not disperse though. Perhaps they were taking a well-deserved break before marching on south toward Kyoto station? Myself, I was delighted to have found my demo after all, and was reminded of that age-old truth: good things happen when you least expect them.

Filled up with revolutionary sentiments, I suddenly wished for different, more peaceful environs. I rode northeast and picked Enkō-ji temple at the foothills of Mt. Hiei. Just what the doctor ordered. The temple grounds are the polar opposite of the City Hall’s simmering stage. The protest pulled you in and you wanted to be a part of the crowd, the next person your ‘brother in arms’. At Enkō-ji a different game. All you really want is to be left alone; to give in to your senses; to hear yourself breathing.

The demo was about a need for change, be it social, political etc. The self-respecting air of Enkō-ji exudes resistance to change, a sense of fixedness. The only threat to status-quo is of an evolutionary kind, if that: young bamboo shoots springing up here and there in the shadow of their elderly cousins, or the bullfrog’s murderous bellow, only underline the permanence of things.

And so, today I have been a guest in two worlds, worlds that could not be more different. And no matter how hard I tried to find some kind of meaningful connection between them, I failed. There is no connection here, apart from physical proximity. Then there is the realization that it is possible to trespass on both worlds in a short space of time, and belong to both. Or more accurately, belong to neither.




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