“Please read that to me”, my friend asks, pointing to a sign with pretty foreign characters on a shop door in Düsseldorf’s Japanese quarter. A sticker right next to it says “Mind the step” in German. When I’m in Japan, I will not decipher anything anymore. I know I won’t read timetables and not find my bearings in any way that I’m used to. In preparation, I watch films by Doris Dörrie and learn in one of her interviews that the Japanese served more pork scallops with mayonnaise than Sushi, when she was shooting her recent movie in Fukushima. So much for stereotypes and preconceptions. My interest is in searching for experience. How can I find everyday Japan, with and beyond Manga, Anime, and historic places? “Kyoto is like Heidelberg, a pretty jewel case”, says Doris Dörrie – and makes me wish even harder that I’ll be able to discover some daily routine besides the 120 temples in this place.
I find feeds on Instagram and Facebook filled with Sakura, the tender cherry blossom. I visit the lush magnolias in our local Jacobigarten. #smallbuildingskyoto by @kyotojournal presents unique images of side alleys, the fronts of tiny teahouses and coffee shops, or delicate residences. The latest two editions of Kyoto Journal are with me on my laptop, a treasury of traditional and contemporary culture, also the hiking guide Deep Kyoto Walks. A perfect fit for my carry-on luggage: In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, which has been in my book case for years.
An acquaintance tells me about her journey to Kyoto, and even though it’s been twelve years, she has no problem spelling out the names of the places she liked most. I myself can’t get a hold of the foreign words. I can hardly remember one. Maybe that will change? I hear tales of the temples in Nara and Ise and watch the woman’s eyes light up with the elaborate artisanal work there. I would like to catch a glimpse of shy Mount Fuji, which can be seen sometimes but mostly cloaks itself in dense fog. On its foothills, we will relax and hike for a few days, before we start our 10-day Miksang workshop in Kyoto. I will meet my teachers Michael Wood and Julie DuBose again in these unknown surroundings and am prepared to immerse myself deeply in our mixed photography group, in the city, in my perception, and in this uniquely photographic language that will bring us together in a way beyond the written or spoken word.
Full of anticipation*
*The Kumamoto earthquake pushed us into a different reality of preparation. Life as usual in Japan!