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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hail to the Chief George Bush in Kyoto


Martial law has been declared in Kyoto. In preparation for President George Bush’s layover in the ancient capital, more than 5,000 police have been dispatched from around Japan to protect the Imperial Palace and other sites—and to ensure that Bush gets in and out safely. Bush arrives today, will spend the night in the new State Guest House located in the now cordoned off Imperial Palace Grounds, known locally as Gosho, and on Wednesday will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi before flying on to South Korea, China, and four quality hours in Mongolia.

Check-points and random bag searches have become a feature of daily life for the last week in Kyoto. Particularly along Imadegawa Dori and Marutamachi Dori—the east-west thoroughfares that pass by the north and south, respectively, sides of Gosho.

The Palace grounds themselves have been closed to all visitors since last Friday. Known as the “lungs of Kyoto,” Gosho is a massive slab of green just north of the downtown area. Unlike Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, it is open all year long every day 24 hours a day. Joggers, bike riders, dog walkers, lovers, children, and students from nearby Doshisha University all use the park on a daily basis.

Farther south, my seven-year-old daughter and I were riding into central Kyoto on a bicycle on Sunday morning, and were ordered to ride on the sidewalk—not in the street—by a young cop. He was calm and used the most polite possible verb forms, but it was clearly a tense situation. What was surprising, though, was where we were: in front of Nijo Castle, which is more than a mile southwest of Gosho.

To welcome Bush, both Japanese and foreign groups will be demonstrating near Shijo-Kawaramachi in the heart of downtown Kyoto. Here is the schedule:

November 15 (Tues)

2-5pm Americans (and friends) will be demonstrating against Bush and the Iraq War at Shijo-Kawaramachi in front of Takashimaya and/ or Hankyu department stores.

6:30pm Protest march sponsored by Kansai Committee to Oppose Koizumi-Bush Meeting. Meet at Maruyama Koen Park radio tower (15 min. walk east of Keihan Shijo station).

November 16 (Wed):

10:00am Protest march sponsored by Kansai Committee to Oppose Koizumi-Bush Meeting.

Other groups unhappy about the meeting include the powerful local tourist industry.

The timing of the trip could not be worse: it is the middle of Kyoto’s fall foliage season, and tourists flood into the city every year in November.

Tours have had to be cancelled anywhere near where Bush's entourage will be traveling or staying. Tour buses and all vehicles have been banned from driving near Gosho.

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