Sorry Kyoto: You Lose.

Oh, Hai there!

I haven’t written a single real post in ages. Not that there is nothing to write about, mind you… Just never both time and motivation. And yet at this stage, seven years in, I think I’m long past the 6 month expiration date that comes with first-time blogging fevers… Anyway: thought I’d do some writing here for a change… My draft for the Great 21st Century Novel will wait until tomorrow.

I want to say it is all in my head, but I am practically sure there is something fundamentally different from Kyoto about the air in Tokyo (no, not just the smog). Summer is obvious: unlike Kyoto, Tokyo’s got a seafront and doesn’t feel like you are being slowly steamed in a giant rice-cooker with wakame on top; late Autumn and Winter are a bit more subtle: both places are cold and often rainy, but Tokyo always has this much crisper night air, with a dash of excitement and a whiff of possibilities, on any given day, at any given hour.

More importantly: Tokyo is a city, hell a Metropolis. Not a museum town, not a collection of temples, not a giant university dorm: a city with all sorts of people with all sorts of jobs able to have all sorts of conversations. Nobody fucking gives a fuck about what university you are attending and most people are happy to lead discussions beyond those wacky differences between wacky foreign customs and wacky Japanese customs. Is it just because the only people over the age of 30 in Kyoto are married, with kids, and probably go out once a year? No offense to all of the 20 year-olds that populate Kyoto’s nightlife and social circles, but I’m pretty sure you would make even 20-year-old me feel old and overly mature. Living in a city of tourists, shut-in natives and post-adolescent one-year exchange students, you tend to forget what it even feels to have a deep meaningful conversations with friends.

Just kidding, Kyoto life is totally OK. I have met many awesome people here. Plus: it was specifically selected on its heavy potential for a studious anchoritic doctoral life… Can’t say I failed there.

That being said, and assuming there is any more of Japan in my post-phd future, rest assured it will be Eastern Capital over Old Capital in a heartbeat.


  1. I agreed completely. While I enjoyed living in Kyoto, it definitely lacked in the social regard. Compared to my friendships in Tokyo or in Yonago, I come often come away from social events in Kyoto thinking, “Why are these people trying so hard?”

  2. Funny… you of all people, I would have imagined disagreeing with this very bleak (and admittedly simplistic) vision of Kyoto vs. Tokyo…

    I’ve always held hard onto the belief that 90% of so-called “city personalities” and whatever feeling people like to project onto their environment, said more about one’s personality, mood and where they are at in their own life than any objective factor (ever noticed how the people that call a city/neighbourhood/place “past its primes” are frequently, errm, not quite the youngest themselves). Kyoto is making me reconsider that position. Or perhaps it’s still me and I am just rationalising away the social circles I’ve built for myself…

    Still, if I have to have one more superficial semi-awkward conversation about how Kyoto’s greenery is so great but the Summer weather so tough… I might start killing people.

  3. ‘Semi-awkward’ nails it. I remember asking Miki once,”Are we weird, or is it them?” Yet when I’d go up to Tokyo and meet friends of friends for the first time, it was an instant connection. Same as when I’d meet new expats back in the Nog, that easy conversational flow.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have quite a few dear friends in Kyoto whom I am missing quite badly right now. One of them, Micheal of ‘Deep Kyoto’ fame, is good fun and you should call him right now!

    I think many Kyoto foreigners have a weird sense of entitlement. There is admittedly a status to living there, but I hate the way I often here people say, “I live in Kyoto,’ that final word pronounced as if it is sacred. It is a very competitive scene, as you have by now noticed, for jobs, housing, music gigs, etc. I’ve heard a lot of bad-mouthing between artists, musicians, filmmakers, etc. (Not between DJs though, hardy har har.) People get a wee bit jealous if someone gets too much attention.

    Moral: Keep your Kyoto fiends close, but keep your Tokyo friends closer…

  4. I entirely hear you. And like you, there are a lot of people dear to my heart living in Kyoto. But yea, there are some fundamental differences between the city and its inhabitants, and – to my own humble experience – they are not in the direction commonly thought by people (“Kyoto is such a nice, quaint and traditional city while Tokyo is so impersonal etc.”)

    Lucky for me, I arrived to Kyoto in a very different context from my first few years in Japan/Tokyo: with a job (kinda) and the nice, [probably too] comfortable groove that comes with it. I am content shelving my own semi-artistic ambitions for the time being and doing the odd DJing gig and such, when traveling back to familiar places like Tokyo, SF or any other place that doesn’t necessitate a whole starting the whole tedious PR and self-marketing thing from scratch (it gets old, no matter how much one likes pushing records or doing stuff with a public).
    As a result, my whole outlook on the local artistic scene is that of a complete outsider with a polite interest but little personal investment.

    This is probably another conversation topic altogether, but my totally subjective impressions so far after a year of occasionally attending miscellaneous events and random nights out on the town is that:

    1) Kyoto is a tiny, tiny city. You better know exactly where you want to go and not be in the mood for much unless it is Friday or Saturday (or unless you really enjoy the full-on awkward kind of conversations you tend to get when you arrive by yourself or in small company to a depressingly empty bar/café). So much for wandering around spontaneously and bumping into places and people.

    2) While the energy and general youth of the city, brought upon by the massive student population, is nice and helps balance the museum vibe of its more touristy side, it also seems to weigh heavily on the overall mediocre quality of art performances. Performance appreciation is a very subjective thing, art as well, etc. etc… but in the end, I still can’t shake the feeling that I have attended a lot more objectively mediocre-to-horrendous performances in my 18 months here than in many years of attending anything that came with a flyer and a vague recommendation when living in Tokyo. Lots of awesome stuff too (cf Yugao, not 2 weeks ago)… But a few too many self-serving gaijin artists that probably would not perform beyond their living room (let alone make a living) anywhere else in the world.

    Anyway, enough with the negativity. I swear I am not that bitter in real.

    As for “Deep Kyoto” Michael: I do not know him personally, but have been avidly following his blog and can probably credit him with many of the positive experiences I have had in my Kyoto explorations…

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