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Friday, March 31, 2006

Manhole Covers II


Japanese manhole covers, which come in a variety of designs depending on locality, utility type and the manufacturer of the manhole cover, have caught the imagination of a growing number of "drainspotters" from around the world.

A quick search on Google reveals the increasing number of tribute sites (see below for links) and the popularity of the cult of the manhole.

Japan's manhole covers often include a symbol specific to an area or town as part of the overall design. In Kyoto, a turtle (a symbol of wisdom and longevity) is the main motif, in addition local landmarks, festivals or flora and fauna can all be incorporated into these works of art under our feet.

If you have a manhole cover shot and wish to show it on this blog please contact us if you'd like us to display it.

Drain, Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture. The birds are cormorants, used for fishing as in the more well known Arashiyama near Kyoto

Drain, Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture. The birds are cormorants, used for fishing as in the more well known Arashiyama near Kyoto.

Drain. Izumo-Yokota, Shimane Prefecture

Drain. Izumo-Yokota, Shimane Prefecture.

Drain. Izumo-Yokota, Shimane Prefecture
Drain. Izumo-Yokota, Shimane Prefecture.

Water Manhole. Izumo-Minari, Shimane. The image depicts a bridge over the Hii river
Water Manhole. Izumo-Minari, Shimane. The image depicts a bridge over the Hii river.

Drain. Kisuki Town, Shimane. Home of the Orochi legend, images of the 8-headed serpent are everywhere
Drain. Kisuki Town, Shimane. Home of the Orochi legend, images of the 8-headed serpent are everywhere.

Water, Kisuki Town, Shimane
Water, Kisuki Town, Shimane.

Water, Kisuki Town, Shimane. Susano and his wife Kushiinada
Water, Kisuki Town, Shimane. Susano and his wife Kushiinada.

More Manhole Covers - Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shimane, Hiroshima

Drainspotting Links
Dan Heller's Manhole Collection

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Japan in New York


In Manhattan, Japan is everywhere. A stroll through midtown one finds restaurants, the Japan Society, the Japanese flag, building design, and more.

Awning in NYC

The ubiquitous Japanese restaurant.
East 49th Street


The hinomaru fluttering above the entrance to Bloomingdales.
1000 Third Avenue

Harajuku Brand

Japanese brand "Harajuku."
Urban Outfitters, Third Avenue

Japan Society in NYC

The Japan Society on a blustery March day.
333 East 47th Street


MOMA, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi
11 West 53 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues

Kabuto in the Metropolitan

A Japanese helmet in the Metropolitan Museum, which houses a vast collection of Japanese art.
1000 Fifth Avenue

Takashimiya on Fifth Avenue

Takashimaya Department Store
693 5th Ave # 8

Cherry Blossom Cream

Cherry Blossom Body Cream

Nobu's Morimoto Restaurant

90 miles south:

Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's Philadelphia eatery "Morimoto"
723 Chestnut St, Phila., Pa.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bamboo Gallery


I recently went for a walk around the foothills west of Arashiyama, near Kyoto. I was struck by just how pervasive bamboo is in Japan. Not only does it grow wherever it can, but as a material bamboo is used in all parts of Japanese life.

In the garden, in all the rooms of a house, even houses themselves all contain articles made from this most versatile of materials, space does not allow a full listing, but a few are: fencing, brooms, dippers, baskets, fans, flutes, toys, brushes, etc etc.

Bamboo forests can be eerie places. Nothing else grows, only bamboo, and sometimes so thickly that you can’t pass through. The slightest breeze starts the canes swaying and knocking into each other with a clack…clack…clack.

GoodsFromJapan offers bamboo flutes, fans and taketombo

West of JR Saga station the path winds through a bamboo forest

West of JR Saga station the path winds through a bamboo forest.

Dippers and frame support can be found at the temizuyas of most shrines

Dippers and frame support can be found at the temizuyas of most shrines.

Simple but effective fencing made from young bamboo

Simple but effective fencing made from young bamboo.

More crafted fence colored by age

More crafted bamboo fence colored by age.

Traditional farmhouse wall, mud and straw over bamboo laths

Traditional farmhouse wall, mud and straw over bamboo laths.

Bamboo Gallery 2

Kyoto Guide

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Japanese Taverns


Yoronotaki, Hiroshima

Yoronotaki was my first experience of an izakaya, a Japanese tavern. Known as "You're in a taxi" by the linguistically challenged foreign community in Hiroshima, I remember it as being a bit grimy, wooden, full of wonderful kanji (and shouting cooks), and cheap Sapporo beer in big bottles. Early forays into Japanese cuisine included ebi chilli sauce, German potato, jaga butter, mixed pizza, and fried potatoes. We had a lot of drunken fun (and potatoes) in "You're in a taxi".

Getting on for two decades after that first experience, I found myself in my local Yoronotaki with some friends for some food and rather fewer beers than in the old days. I resisted the temptation to order the old favourites despite them being etched in my mind. Top of the picks this time was the fried burdock sticks.

Yoronotaki was named after a waterfall in Gifu Prefecture. The waterfall is known as the waterfall of filial piety. (The kanji characters in the logo at the top are support - old age - waterfall). The owner of the izakaya chain liked the elements of filial piety and diligence that went into the story of the waterfall, and felt that they were the elements required to make his business succeed.

This is the story that enchanted him so much:

Waterfall in MinoIn Mino, in the eighth century, there lived a poor family. The son of the old couple was a woodcutter, and he loved his parents dearly. One day, he went deep into the mountains and came upon a waterfall. Thinking of his father's love for a wee drop of the hard stuff, he wished that the water were sake. While thinking this filially pious thought, he slipped and fell, and knocked himself unconscious. When he came to, he scooped up some of the water from the falls to revive him. Miraculously it tasted of rather fine sake. He took some home with him, and he and his father could be heard throughout the neighbourhood laughing with glee. Word spread and soon reached the ears of the Emperor who was so impressed with the events that he named the waterfall Yoronotaki.

Not entirely sure what the moral of this story is, but, filial piety and a good drop of sake go a long way in this country.

feel ars and pardon my spelling


Feel ars

One is used to seeing signs on Japanese streets exhorting you to watch out for pickpockets or peeping toms, or prohibiting you from smoking or jaywalking. This one however, spotted and sent by a acquaintance in Kobe, took me by surprise. 'Feel ars' ('and pardon my spelling...').

On further inquiry with the person who mailed it to me, I found out that this was the sign outside a hairdresser's. Well, you know what they say about hairdressers etc etc, but isn't this going a bit far?

Even ignoring the spelling mistake, it is, on the surface of it, an extraordinary thing for a sign on the street to promote. Although, on second thoughts, the spelling no doubt has everything to do with it.

Japanese has no 'er' sound and when words such as 'sir' and 'fur' are transliterated into Japanese they come out as 'sar' and 'far'. Furthermore, neither does Japanese contain the 'th' sound, meaning that 'think' and 'bath' come out as 'sink' and 'bass'. The touchy feeliness ostensibly advocated by the above sign is presumably more "new age" than "under age" in spirit: that is, my guess is that 'ars' is a blissfully ignorant transliteration of the word 'earth', thus 'feel earth' - one of the myriad attempts at half-cocked latter day hippidom that Japanese copywriting revels in.

Yet what that has to do with getting your hair cut is anyone's guess. True new agers eschew scissors, do they not? And, were the sign actually recommending what it (unstudiously) actually says, people into that sort of behavior aren't generally known for having good haircuts anyway.

Japanese Presents

Kyoto Guide

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Livedoor - Email Was Faked


Hisayasu Nagata, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, has finally admitted to the House of Representatives Disciplinary Committee, that an email accusing ex-Livedoor president Takafumi Horie of corruption, was "a fake".

At the Disciplinary Committee hearing on Friday, Nagata revealed the source of the "bogus" email as Takashi Nishizawa, a freelance journalist. Nishizawa, who denies providing the email to Nagata, has a background of sensational reporting for Japan's weekly magazines.

In 2001, the Tokyo District Court, ruled against an article Nishizawa had written accusing ex-Yomiuri Giant's slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara of frequenting strip-clubs during training for the team.

horie-email image - The Daily Yomiuri, 19 Feb 2006

Dear (blacked out):

For Your Eyes Only. Urgent. Deal with this by the 31st at the latest. Better if taken care of by the morning of the 29th. Wire 30 million yen to (blacked out; the red spot in the email) X. Use the same account as before.

Take care of it under the heading “Election Consulting Fee.”

(Blacked out.) Heed the advice of Miyauchi (former Livedoor CFO; currently under arrest). I will tell (blacked out) Y, so you don’t have to worry about it.

Japanese Presents

Kyoto Guide

Thursday, March 23, 2006

World Baseball Classic

ワールド ベースボール クラシク (WBC)

The Japanese media is still humming with national pride following Japan's win in the inaugural World Baseball Classic at Petco Park in San Diego on Monday night (Tuesday afternoon Japan time).

Chunichi Sports - Sekai Ichi - World No.1

Gushing editorials sing the praises of the victorious players and team coach Sadaharu Oh, after Japan's exciting 10-6 triumph against Cuba in the final. The Japanese government plans to honor the players for their contributions to sport and for making the general public feel a little better about themselves after a disappointing Winter Olympics, when Japan won only one medal (albeit gold in women's figure skating).

Expectations have risen so high following Japan's unexpected win, that national soccer coach Zico has had to downplay his team's chances of doing something similar at this summer's World Cup in Germany.

Chunichi Sports - Japan's winning baseball team give it the finger

The are high hopes that Japan's win in California will boost interest in the domestic game. Baseball has been in the doldrums recently with teams forced into bankruptcy and amalgamation, a resulting players' strike and declining attendances and TV audiences.

Japanese Baseball Articles

Monday, March 20, 2006

Japan in London


The Japanese Embassy in London, Green Park

Embassy of Japan
101-104 Piccadilly, London W1J 7JT
Green Park tube Station

The Japan Centre, Piccadilly, London

The Japan Centre
212 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9TG
Tel: 0207 287 1722
Piccadilly Circus tube station

The Rice Wine Shop

The Rice Wine Shop
82 Brewer Street, London, W1R 3PF
Tel: 0207 439 3705
Piccadilly Circus tube station

Japan Crescent, Crouch Hill, London

Japan Crescent, Crouch Hill, Islington, London N4
Finsbury Park Tube Station; Crouch Hill overground station

Japan in London #2

Books on Japan


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Neighborhood shrine


Streetside shrine, Nakano-ward, Tokyo. Today was blowing a gale in Tokyo. It's been windy for the past two or three days, but today I began to really wonder if a typhoon was brewing. On the flip side, the weather at the moment is some of the clearest I have ever seen in Tokyo. The wind has swept away everything in its way, meaning day was painted in dazzling colors and many more stars are visible tonight than on most nights. I climbed up on the roof of my apartment building to take a few photos but, such was the force of the wind, I had to cut it short and make a hurried descent.

Cycling, too, was next to impossible. I cycled to the next station - Shin Nakano - to visit a friend who I was helping with putting up new bookshelves. Even on the flat it was like trying to cycle up a mountain.

Painted glasses in shrine, Nakano, Tokyo, Japan. It wasn't constant though, but very gusty. To try and escape the worst of the wind I cycled down a sheltered-looking sidestreet. It was completely dominated by the spectable of a vermilion Shinto shrine hung with numerous flags representing invocations for success. Right in front of the shrine were dozens of little jars, each painted behind with a scene that showed diffracted through the water - or sake - inside. There was a thick straw plaited rope (nawa) over the shrine gate (torii), and the twin fox guardians of the shrine, red-bibbed, are clearly visible.

Entrance to streetside shrine, Nakano-ward, Tokyo. I wish I could write more specifically about the shrine, but there was no information posted in the grounds, and I know no-one nearby who I could ask. But as an unusually vivid neighborhood spectacle on an unusually clear day, it demanded that I stop and pay my respects.

Information on Kyoto

Friday, March 17, 2006

Japanese Stream Toad


Kanda RiverI live in a ward of Tokyo called Nakano, through which runs the Kanda River. At Asakusa it joins the Sumida River out into the Pacific. I say a river, but don’t start daydreaming of grassy banks and willows.

It is, to put it crudely, a glorified ditch: a totally tamed and concreted-in stream, lined with foot/cyclepaths graced by regularly spaced cherry trees. However, whenever it rains, the 20cm (8 inch)-deep bubbling brook turns nasty. At its fiercest I have seen it reach a full 5 or 6 meters (16-19 feet) of raging flood, leaping with vandalistic desperation at its banks. Scary. Plop, and you’re sucked into the tumult - gone – forever.

Today started off with blue blue skies, easing me into such assurance that I left the futon airing on the balcony this morning and, perhaps for only the second time ever, decided to leave it out there all day. By 6pm it was raining. When I got home at about 8 my poor futon was pastry. As I type it’s laid over the kitchen table under the hot blast of the air conditioner, the fan (not commissioned since last summer) put to work blowing from beneath.

Japanese stream toad: Bufo torrenticora.Anyway, coming home, and who should be waiting under my letterbox but a toad. Here he is, warty and ugly as any fairy tale could paint him.

Five minutes walk from Tokyo’s biggest skyscraper district: a toad! I can only attribute it to the river. But 6m-high banks? How does it work? I'm stumped. Anyway, I checked on the web and, judging from the pictures, determined that he was a:

JAPANESE NAME: Nagare-Hiki-Gaeru
COMMON NAME: Japanese Stream Toad
SIENTIFIC [sic] NAME: Bufo torrenticora

You can check out the pictures I compared him against here:


Japanese stream toad: Bufo torrenticora.There was something about him, though, something brave and patient. He waited while I went upstairs to get my camera. He didn’t bat a craggy eyelid as I flashed three or four times to take his portrait. (My camera, that is.)

I’ve just been down to see if he’s still there (and just took a shot of the river - above). He was gone of course, but the river had a little rage left in it, and no doubt a frog who has something to tell of all-too-easily amused humans.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Electronic Dictionaries For Learning Japanese


The lowest prices, the best models, the most reliable delivery. For Canon and Casio Japanese-English, Japanese-Chinese, Japanese-Korean, Japanese-French and many more types of electronic dictionaries:

Canon and Casio Japanese-English, Japanese-Chinese Electronic Dictionaries

Five years of online service, thousands of satisfied customers.

Geisha Fans

Books on Japan

Information on Kyoto

Tuesday, March 14, 2006



On a bitter cold mid-March day, my daughter and I rode down on the train to Nara from Kyoto. The trip takes less than an hour, and once you leave the slums of south Kyoto and the suburbs in Uji you roll through typical rural Japanese countryside. We live in the slightly less ancient capital of Kyoto (794-1868), and I have only been to the previous capital of Japan one time--and many years ago at that.

Tame Deer in Nara ParkFounded in 710 A.D., the capital city Heijokyo (Nara) predates Kyoto's reign as the cultural and administrative capital of Japan. The city was modeled on Changan, the capital of China's Tang Dynasty, and still has essentially an un-Japanese grid pattern. In many ways, Nara is Kyoto in miniature.

From Nara Station, the main sightseeing area is about 15 minutes on foot up a narrow and typical Japanese shopping or high street, the shotengai, which is amazingly covered in graffiti. Nearly all of the shop grates and quite a few walls were done over in imitation of US-style tagging or, incongruously, as deer. Many of the products inside these shops are also deer-related. Indeed, much of Nara is deer-centric, and when you arrive at Nara Park you quickly learn why.

The Park is full of tame deer, which are considered the "messengers of the gods." There are many senbei--Japanese crackers--vendors conveniently on hand. All Japanese tourists feed the deer these crackers, and then take a picture ("Peace!") to commemorate the feeding.

Further in the Park, though, you come to the real attraction: Todaiji Temple. This is the largest wooden structure in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Inside the temple is the Great Buddha, which is 15 m tall. Below right, people place incense sticks in offering within the Great Hall.

Incense in Todaiji TempleAnother world heritage site nearby is Kofukuji Temple, which is famous for its five-storey pagoda. Originally built in 730 A.D., the current structure dates only to the 15th century when it was rebuilt after being destroyed during a civil war.

At this point, my seven-year-old and I were fairly templed- and deered-out. A nearby sweet shop sold--what else--deer-shaped pastries filled with red bean paste. And with that in hand we made our way back home to the more recent former capital.

Geisha Fans

Books on Japan

Information on Kyoto

Hostels in Japan - Hostelworld

Monday, March 13, 2006

Kyoto Purple Sanga Loses Home Opener


After tearing through the Second Division of the J.League last year, Kyoto Purple Sanga was promoted to the big time. And after two matches in J1, it looks as though it may be a brief stay.

Sanga lost its opener away to Yokohama F Marinos 4-1. The faithful shrugged it off: first game, away, tough team full of national team players, nerves.

Kyoto Purple Sanga Coach HashirataniLast Saturday saw Sanga back at home, its first J1 match in Kyoto in three years. Played under blue skies and relatively mild temperatures, expectations were high. Visiting Kawasaki finished in the middle of the table in J1 and, with the exception of its prolific striker Joninho, did not boast great talent.

On the first possession Kawasaki scored. It happened so quickly that many of us in the press box missed it. Sanga held its own in midfield, but defensively looked slow and exposed. Up front, Sanga’s pint-sized Brazilian forward Paulinho was repeatedly called for offsides and began diving all over the field in an attempt at getting a free kick. The ref would have none of it.

In the second half, the floodgates opened. Joninho nailed a hat trick, literally running around or past Kyoto’s hapless back line. His second goal came so quickly after the first, and in near identical fashion, that a giant groan emanated from the normally dormant press box. The final score was 7-2, but could easily have been worse. Joninho missed what should have been his fourth goal when his open-net shot banged off the cross bar.

At the press conference, the media ever so delicately broached the possibility that maybe, perhaps, after losing two matches by a total of 11-3 either personnel or the system itself would have to be rethought.

But Kyoto coach Koichi Hashiratani—a local boy and former national team player, pictured above—appeared defiant. Subdued but glib, the former tough guy midfielder said, no, we followed our game plan. Long, profound silence. The coach filled it by arguing that Kyoto is a team that counters well—but that down 2-0 early on, you can’t counter. More silence. More practice, hard practice, vowed Hashiratani.

Aside from a large purple banner that read “Hardcore Naked,” there was little to amuse. Short of a 2-3 quality players and better organization at the back, Kyoto is in for a long year.

Geisha Fans

Books on Japan

Information on Kyoto


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wooden houses in Tokyo


For all the examples of Tokyo's architectural splendor and grandiose public places, there are just as many old secluded structures that, if you'd been brought to them blindfolded, would have you believing that you were somewhere out in the provinces. I was wandering through a part of Nakano ward I'd never been to before. This old place struck my eye first for its size, secondly for its apparent frailty, and finally, being the bone dry tinder box that it appears to be, it's amazing that it has survived matches, lighters, lightning, fireworks and faulty wiring.
Old wooden house in Tokyo.
While there are still many houses like this to be found, many of the ones I have discovered are unlived in (this one was inhabited by the way, in spite of many of the shutters being overgrown with ivy). Many of them are not only unlived in, but are in the process of being demolished. Seeing mobile cranes fitted with great metal pincers biting into old houses as if they were balsa wood is also a common sight.

By the way, I had only just taken this photo when I was loudly hailed by a fairly elderly woman, probably in her late 50s, walking down the street towards me. 'Good afternoon!' she yelled. I, somewhat nervously, returned the greeting. She then assailed me with the story of her working life, the main point being that she had been a typist on the U.S. "Johnson army base" she said (or was it air force?). She asked me if I was American, and I felt like a bit of a spoilsport for having to say no. She shouted a few more feelgood sentences at me in her backslap English and with a big wave went on her way.

What memories had the sight of this gaijin awakened in her? Good ones, it seems! Some things clearly won't be demolished.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ryoanji Temple Kyoto


Ryoanji is but 10 minutes on bike from home. That and the fact that it is one of the most heavily visited sites in Kyoto have relegated it to a place that "tourists" go to. After ten years in the city, I finally relented and rode over to see it. Amazingly, the woman at the entrance didn't blink when I spoke in Kyoto dialect to her.

IMG_0412"The Temple of the Peaceful Dragon" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site--one of 17 in Kyoto--and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. Originally, it was site of the Fujiwara family estate.

It is of course most famous for its rock garden, or karesansui (dry landscape), which is believed to have been built at the end of the 15th century. The garden itself is a series of boulders--15 in all--"floating" in a sea of raked gravel. According to the literature, only 14 can be seen from any one location. Only when one has attained enlightenment will the 15th become visible.

A group of sincere young Germans pondered this in silence. Behind them a gaggle of rural Japanese women, mouths full of gold teeth, came onto the veranda making a racket, much to the irritation of the Japanese girlfriend of one of the Germans. The women continued their conversation about that so-and-so who isn't putting out his garbage at the right time, oblivious to the stares of the young foreigners in search of something. Young couples posed for pictures, cameramen lined the edge of the porch in search of the perfect shot, and the clerks in the gift shop just behind us called out Ookini! (thank you in Kyoto dialect) repeatedly to customers.

Reasserting my status as a local, I hurriedly left the main attraction. Like Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, the main garden at Ryoanji is so photographed and reproduced and transmitted around the world online, that when one actually comes face to face with the real thing, it's so familiar as to elicit something like disappointment.

The best part of my short stay was a stroll through the vast gardens. A path encircles a large pond in the middle of the garden that is just inside the outer walls of the temple. To get there you must walk from the rock garden through a forest of cedars and then come out to a scene that could almost be taken from Southeast Asia. The pond is lovely and calm, and most tourists don't take or have the time to wander around it before boarding their bus for the Golden Pavilion.

Books on Japan

Information on Kyoto

Friday, March 03, 2006

Kita no Tenmangu Shrine


The winter has been exceptionally cold, and spring is still a few long weeks away. The first sign that spring is on its way in Japan is the annual blooming of the plum trees. This is preceded by a lovely perfume-like scent that signals the arrival of the first blossoms.

Plums and Lantern in KyotoNormally, the plum trees come out around February 10th in Osaka, and a few days later in Kyoto, which is farther inland. The other day, though, only a few of the buds were out at Kyoto's Kita no Tenmangu Shrine, or, as locals call it: Tenjin-san. The temple is known for its monthly flea market, which is held on the 25th of every month and features hundreds of stalls full of used kimono, statuary, games, food, you name it.

Tenjin-san is perhaps most famous as a shrine where students come to pray for good luck on their entrance exams.

The shrine is also adjacent to one of Kyoto's four Hanamachi, or geisha districts, known as Kami Shichi Ken. Every year in mid-February, the maiko from the teahouses in this area come to the shrine to celebrate the new buds on the plum trees.

Plum Blossom in KyotoWe purposely avoided the crowds of gawkers and leg-humpers that appear whenever a geisha or maiko is rumored to appear. Instead, on the Thursday after the entourage of maiko appeared, we headed to Tenjin-san surrounded by only a few groups of students and middle-aged couples. It was cold but calm and peaceful. Judging from their accents, most of the visitors were local.

A few trees were close to full bloom, but most were still just opening up. And on the next day, it snowed briefly in Kyoto! According to the Asahi newspaper, however, the "cherry front"--the line that marks where the cherries are in bloom--is moving north at a usual pace and will arrive in Kyoto on March 29th, which is the normal time frame.

Information on Kyoto

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Red-Lighting of Kyoto's Kiyamachi


Downtown Kyoto is blessed with two lovely streets, one the alley cum geisha district called Pontocho, the other a wider actual street called Kiyamachi. The former is narrow and lovely, too small for automobile traffic and filled with tea houses and bars and restaurants that back onto the Kamo River. The latter, which runs parallel and adjacent to Pontocho, is an actual street with one-way traffic and weeping cherries that droop gracefully over the Takase River: an old canal that was used to carry goods from Kyoto to Osaka.

Pink Salon in KyotoAlong with Shirakawa Dori, in Gion, Kiyamachi is one of the few streets in Kyoto that could be called beautiful. And until very recently it was an elegant place to go both day and night.

In the past couple of years, however, fashion health spas and soaplands, pink salons and all-you-can-cum-in-thirty-minutes blow-job factories have spilled out of the narrow alleys that run between Kiyamachi and Kawaramachi Street - and have taken over many of what used to be bars and restaurants on Kiyamachi itself. At least seven sex establishments now dot the east side of the street south of Shijo all the way up several hundred meters north of the Kiyamachi-Shijo intersection.

In the past, the walk from elegant tree-lined Kiyamachi to the main shopping drag Kawaramachi Street to go, say, to the Maruzen book store - now closed, reborn as a game center (symptomatic of the decline of Kawaramachi into a playground for fourteen-year-olds) - was an exercise in pretending not to notice. On this 2-3 minute stretch, you had to to face a gauntlet of mini-sex establishments that were, however, confined to these small alleys. The middle-aged touts in white shirts and neckties standing in front of each brothel would, depending on the state of the economy, ignore the foreign male (economy is good) or invite him in (economy is bad). Eyes straight ahead, you pushed through until the light of Kawaramachi returned.

Now those touts have come on to Kiyamachi, and the crowd on the street is predominantly male and, at night, drunk. In the past, during the day women shopped on the street knowing full well that a stone's throw away were the Yakuza-run sex parlors - but just out of sight. Now the street during the day is empty. At night it is a parade of men in twos or threes - and the occasional loner.

It almost makes one long for the days of a proper red light district.

Information on Kyoto

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