By Helen Hasenfeld
I had been overwhelmed by the beauty of cherry blossoms in Kyoto, but nothing prepared me for the vision that awaited me as I turned off the crowded, 21st century main thoroughfare in downtown Kyoto onto the cobblestone street paralleling quiet Shirakawa Creek. I blinked my eyes several times to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating, because it seemed that I had entered another place and time entirely. Both sides of the little stream were lined with flowering cherry trees, but along with the pink froth of their blossoms were graceful willow trees; their buds just beginning to open, and the fresh new green of spring was emerging.
The combination blew me away. A tiny, graceful bridge crossed the creek, and I noticed that a family of ducks was paddling their way through the petals of the cherry blossoms that had fallen into the water. Can this be for real?
I was so stunned and mesmerized by what I had wandered into that it was a few minutes before I looked around at the rest of the cityscape. On all sides were old teahouses and restaurants, their windows covered with bamboo shades, giving a surreal view of the comings and goings inside.
It was a great moment to fantasize about the activities that might be happening, as the shades somewhat distorted the lighting, and shadows gracefully moved in and out of my vision. Although they were probably waiters serving ordinary lunch guests, I pushed that image aside for more romantic interludes of another era.
Did I mention that two maiko (apprentice geisha) were standing off to the side, deep in conversation? Their kimono and their perfectly tied obi were stunning, and I watched as they minced off down the street on their wooden geta clogs, on their way to who knows where. Then I leaned against the little red shrine that just happened to be nearby and just reveled in the Gion scene: an amazing slice of life in the ever-wonderous city of Kyoto.
That evening we had reservations for dinner at a very well-known restaurant nearby. Addresses are very ephemeral in Kyoto, and after walking up and down the street several times with no luck, we stopped into a small grocery store nearby. I gave the woman owner the paper with the name and address that we were looking for. She smiled, took off her apron, closed and locked the door of her store, and walked us down the block, not leaving until it was clear that we were appropriately taken care of.
Now why is it that I love Kyoto???
Helen Hasenfeld is a professional photographer as well as associate editor of our blog, www.japanlivingarts.com.
See Helen’s website at http://www.thediscerningeye.com
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