Cities: ideas and insights on the cities we live in

real kyoto 1

photo by Anne James

Kyoto, like any city that is blessed and burdened with a rich and long history, is in a constant state of re-evaluating itself. Who am I? What do I want to be? How do I envision myself in the future?

It is the ‘cultural capital’ of Japan and was spared from being bombed during WWII, which means it still has many traditional wooden structures and small intimate streets. The temples, shrines, imperial residences, gardens and old style shops and homes are I think what many who come here for the first time expect to find everywhere.

Of course, the reality of the Kyoto of today is a city that has amazing traditional architecture existing side by side with new developments, mis-developments, traditional houses torn down for parking lots, mid-rise apartments, post-war concrete blocks, intimate pedestrian alleys, modern multi-lane thoroughfares, dilapidated architectural ideals from the 60’s, traditional craft shops, huge department stores, riverside nature preserves, fast food joints, and I could keep going on.

Although I don’t think that Kyoto is ever what people expect it to be, I think it is that quirkiness that the city has in its evident struggle to proudly present a traditional past, warmly embrace an elegant and modern future, and try to work with everything else in between, that makes it such a wonderful city to be in. I guess that is why, for me, this photo represents so much of what Kyoto really is. A place where beautiful traditions and crafts are able to stick it out and stay alive, while new construction and the next generation of young people are just across the street, sharing the same space.