It is a strange sensation to wander around in a Japanese town as a six foot four gaijin, a foreigner excluded from the language and everyday rituals that everyone within sight silently obeys.

Today I have walked alone in the streets of Kyoto, visiting temples and shrines at a leisurely pace, following in the footsteps of Scarlett Johansson’s character from Lost In Translation. I even listened to the song “Alone in Kyoto” by Air on my iPod, featured on the movie soundtrack as the backdrop while Scarlett walks around.

Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto Exterior of Nijo-jo castle.

To further increase my movie buff epitaph, I must admit that one of the temples visited was the Nijo-jo castle, built in 1603 as the residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. For all of us who remember the Shogun TV-series and the old ninja movies with Sonny Chiba, this is holy ground.

Garden of Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto The garden of Nijo-jo castle.

The palace looks like a fortress with a moat surrounding the huge stone walls. To protect the compound from assassins, all hallways are equipped with “nightingale floors”, making a high-pitched sound when anyone steps on it. I tried my best to sneak across the building, but the floor revealed me each time. I suppose I would make a lousy ninja.

Nishi Hongan-ji, Kyoto A moment of reflection in Nishi Hongan-ji temple.

Unlike many other large Japanese cities, Kyoto is surprisingly quiet. I find myself being increasingly contemplative as I walk alone through tranquil gardens and magnificent temple grounds. Despite all this beauty, there is also a feeling of melancholy in the air. Nothing lasts forever, or as the Japanese express it, mono no aware.


  • avatar
    13 Oct, 2008

    Aaargh! You make me green with envy…

  • avatar
    13 Oct, 2008

    First of all, congratulations on reaching Japan!
    I found Japan to be a pleasantly strange experience as well. I was there before Lost in Translation was out, but I later loved the movie for capturing the mood of my visit.
    Love to see some photos when you come back…

  • avatar
    16 Oct, 2008

    Thanks! Photos coming up later.
    Today I will bash my head against the Tokyo subway net. I guess the word “wakarimasen” will be handy when asking the locals for directions. :)

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