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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

15 Minutes of Sound in Kyoto


On a rainy season-like Sunday in late May, I set out to find sound in Kyoto. It didn't take long.

Walking along Rokkaku Dori (street) just in from Karasuma Dori in the center of town, I entered Rokkaku-do Temple. It was founded by Prince Shotoku, and is where ikebana was born. As Kyoto temples go, it is decidedly B-class—and the adjoining Ikenobo Building, the Kyoto ikebana headquarters, which fronts Karasuma Dori, is among the worst of many horrible modern buildings in Kyoto. What drew me in though was a group of elderly pilgrims all in white. They were at the altar and began to chant.

From there, I walked out and up to the corner at Karasuma Dori. At noon on Sunday, it was bustling with people and cars. When the light changed, the normal chirping—to alert the blind that it is safe to cross—started up; in addition to that, moreover, there was another sound: a woman's soothing, mechanical voice: “The light is going to change to red. The light is red. This is the Karasuma-Rokkaku intersection.”

Rightists' Sound Bus Across the street there was a familiar black sound truck. It was emblazoned with the hinomaru flag and thick kanji—全日本友志会 (zen nihon yushi kai, or “All Japan Friendship Intent Society,” but that does not capture the menace that lurks behind those beautiful characters)—and was parked illegally. In front of it stood three thugs in para-military gear. They had the buzz cut favored by the Japanese right wing, and the vacant look of the converted. The two on the outside stood at attention, holding flags facing the Yomiuri Shinbun (newspaper) Building across the street. The man in the middle then began a loud amplified tirade about the spinelessness of Japanese foreign policy, the holiness of the Emperor, the horror of North Korea, how foreigners are ruining Japan—and at the end, before signing off, apologized for “causing trouble.” What was most remarkable was how soft-spoken and polite he was.

With the exception of woman—no doubt a girlfriend—videotaping it from across the street, no one paid the group the least bit of attention. Not even a bored looking cop who rolled by in his patrol car.

Read impartial reviews of Japan travel books.

Yukio Mishima

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