Foreign visitors sometimes comment that the elements of old and new are haphazardly jumbled together in Japan, and this is equally true of Kyoto. Many visitors despair of the modernization that they find in this city, something that is in complete contradiction to the romantic images cramming the guide books. The post-modern architecture of Kyoto Station, for example, with its bullet trains seems to clash irreconcilably with the ancient temples and beautiful gardens for which Kyoto is known. Yet I find this one of Kyoto’s more interesting features.
A walk down Teramachi Street aptly encapsulates this feeling. As you travel south from Oike Street the roofed arcade of the street is flanked on either side by shops offering traditional goods and services. There are shops selling antique books and wood-block prints, shops selling Japanese paper, stamps and tools for calligraphy, tailors’ shops, and so on. Then as we move south towards Shijo Street, there seems to be a growing resemblance to London’s Carnaby Street, with T-shirt shops, fashionable boutiques and shops specializing in comic books and the local subculture all tightly packed together.
Kyoto’s sometimes startling clash – or fusion if you like – of the old and new is a reflection of Japan on a reduced scale: that is to say, a country firmly rooted in the past yet ever reaching toward the future.