The offshoot of a blog, this book is a collection of loosely-planned walks through the ancient city (and former capital) with a variety of themes. There’s plenty of history, sure – you can’t really avoid it in a place like Kyoto – but there’s also a lot of personal history brought to bear, here. (Sometimes, a little too much – some of the writers’ digressions aren’t as amusing as they presumably believe, but I accept this may just be a personality clash.)
Initially I bought this book as a planning aid (after reading parts of the mostly-excellent Deep Kyoto blog) for an upcoming trip to Japan, including four nights in Kyoto. By the time the trip rolled around, I’d only read a couple of the walks, though, and I ended up finishing the book during shinkansen trips across the country.
It was during these trips that the real worth of the book became apparent. Could you plan your journey using the book and the maps therein? Yeah, you could. But that doesn’t seem to be the most important thing. What’s crucial is how some of the writers – not all, mind – convey the way their lives intersect with Kyoto, the living entity. Most of the walkers are not Kyoto natives. True, they’ve lived there for a long time, on the whole, but their histories are woven into the stories they tell. The book becomes less about the attractions of the city, or about planned walks, and more in line of the wandering Wordsworth-style examination of self, a kind of autobiographical derive.
The city’s never far away, mind. Though I must admit, in the entry following an annual musical procession through bar after bar, I found it blearily difficult to find much of interest I couldn’t find in my own watering-hole with my own band of choice. But maybe that’s the point – in every city, even one as storied as Kyoto, there’s someone with exactly the same sort of boring-to-non-fans musical excitement as you, dear reader.
So, three stars. It’s not a success, but then I probably expected something different than the authors intended. As it is, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Kyoto which seeps around the corners of these portraits. There’s love – coupled with a bit of self-love, on and off – within.