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Tuesday, April 11

This was to be one of the easier days during our stay in Kyoto. My wife wanted to take advantage of being near one of her favorite downtown shopping areas to update her wardrobe (tastefully stylish clothing for someone of her diminutive stature is hard to come by in the States). But first, we went to a retail district known as Teramachi (Electric Town) to shop for some software she needed for her computer (including a copy of PostPet) and to give me a chance to do some more interviews for the article I was writing for MacDirectory.

Store and temple
A computer store and a historic Buddhist shrine stand side-by-side in Kyoto's Teramachi.

Coming from a much less densely populated region where one is never more than ten minutes away from a computer and/or electronics super-store, I was surprised to discover that Electric Town in Kyoto was little more than one narrow side street branching off a department store-lined main street. Many of the stores you find on side streets are oddly shaped to American eyes. When a narrow space (we are talking not much more than twenty-five feet) is vacated by an older structure, it is not uncommon for a five- or six-story building to sprout up in the narrow gap that is left.

The front of the ground floor is normally wide open during business hours. There are no doors, per se, just a metal awning that covers the front when the store is closed (and obviously a small army of space heaters to keep the sales force and customers thawed-out during the city's frigid winters). It is obvious that shoplifting and theft is not a major issue here in Japan. In fact, you will often see cartons of goods that were delivered in the early morning hours sitting safely in front of stores not yet open. The situation also keeps prices down for the customers and profits up for the owners.

After spending some time (and a not insignificant amount of money) in Electric Town, I followed Kazz a few blocks to Kawaramachi, the department store district where she disappeared into the stores and I wandered around the streets and stores exploring and trying very hard to remember the path through the labyrinth of streets and allies that would take me back to where we would meet an hour later.

TVs in store
Wide-screen TV is old-hat in Japan, and prices have come down to where they are quire affordable.

We walked most of the way back to the hotel, stopping for a quick lunch of soba sandwiches and iced coffee at one of the three convenience stores within two blocks of our hotel. My wife had an appointment to visit her Koto teacher in a southern section of the city and I spent the next couple of hours walking the streets around our hotel and learning what I could about the city.

That evening, after a simple dinner at the hotel, we went across the city to the Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park to one of the most popular cherry blossom festivals in Kyoto. We were in a district that was popular for its nightlife as well, so the sidewalks were jammed and the crowd kept getting thicker as we crossed the river, Kamogawa to the beautiful grounds of the shrine and park. Brightly lit booths of games, food and souvenirs lined the walkways that led through the park, lending somewhat more of a carnival atmosphere to the area of the shrine than I would have expected. Even in the midst of the lush beauty of the abundant white flowers, the ambience was far from serene.

The paths led up to the oldest and most famous cherry tree in the city. It is fenced-off from the crowds and its heaviest branches are discretely supported by metal and concrete columns. The tree was in full bloom and under the glow of the floodlights, it looked like a soft, white cloud suspended before our eyes. The flash from cameras popped like silent heat lightning all around us.

The tree is actually a "young" (under 100 years old) replacement for an even grander tree that was the park's centerpiece. But, it remained one of the places that required a visit while the blossoms were full.

Next: Day 6 - Can this still be Kyoto?




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