My first afternoon arriving in Kyoto on a recent visit began with a last minute addition to the schedule, lunch with fellow flâneur Michael Lambe. As the editor of recently published Deep Kyoto Walks, Michael understands the meditative power of a good walk through the historic capital better than most. It’s immensely reassuring to make a new friend through my explorations and find out that, though my photowalks, research and writing are largely solitary activities, there are others out there that share my interests and instantly recognize what I’m trying to do. Readers of this blog know that I tend to gravitate to dense, lively and gritty urban spaces. New or old is not so important, so long as it’s good and messy. So when Michael suggested we take a walk along the city’s idyllic Kamo River (鴨川)—for my benefit, in the direction of my next appointment—I thought I’d just enjoy the pretty scene and not think too hard about it. But a comment he made as we set out changed my framing. To Michael, the embankments along the river are some of the best third place in all of Kyoto. As we walked, with this thought in my mind I began to understand what he saw.
The theory goes that the current Kamo River is the result of a man-made diversion of its original course, dating to the same time as the setup of the grid layout that gave Heian-kyō its walkable, easily legible streets that survive as the city center of modern Kyoto. Now, wide paths for walking and cycling on either side of the river make it a fully functional route for those looking to move north or south along the east side of town. We start at Sanjō Bridge and head up the east bank.
Tourists and locals alike have fun with the stepping stones that cross the river at multiple locations.
For others, back away from water is a quiet place to rest.
But the more of the scene I took in, the more I realized there were groups of people as small as two and as large as twenty, camped out or engaged in some activity almost everywhere I looked.
The Kamo River is social space too.
In a page out of the cherry blossom viewing handbook, bright blue tarps are a universal signal that you’ve claimed a small parcel of space for your group for the day, and help keep sand and gravel out of your pants.
We arrive at the delta in the the Demachi area, where the Takano River joins from the northeast. With the especially lovely early fall weather, picnics, performances, exercisers and loafers fill almost every space.
We’re near my destination, so we duck in for coffee and jazz records next to Demachiyanagi Station. Since I only have a chance to come to Kyoto once in a while, and for just a few days at a stretch, it is great to hear impressions of the city from someone who has made it his home. Many individual places have significant meaning for Michael. Taken together they comprise his rich, mental map of the city, all of it bundled together under a sky so blue that walking around, “you can’t help but be happy.”
After we part, I head across the river delta, toward my ryokan and the Demachi Masugata Shōtengai. I’ve got an evening meeting I need to prepare for and some photography in the shopping arcade I want to do, but for just a few more minutes I linger to soak in the golden, late afternoon light and good spirits wafting through the space.
I could definitely get used to seeing this everyday.