Even though I can count the days that have passed since my arrival in Kameoka on the fingers of my hands, the impressions and adventures so far are numerous. Some big, others smaller.
My solo adventure of biking alongst the riverside could be seen as a small adventure, but its impact to me quite significant. In one day this trip allowed me to get a feeling of Kameoka and its surroundings and several ideas for my project. Last but not least I enjoyed it immensely.
The weather was particularly nice that day. When I stepped on my bike there were almost no clouds grazing the sky above Kameoka. A blue and sunny sky seemed to encourage me to bike a lot, and so I did. A bizarre change occurred when I went from the quiet riverside to the citycenter of Kameoka. From quiet paths where I almost encountered no one and only had birds, grasses and mountains all around me, the landscape gradually shifted. Abandoned buildings on the side of the road, overgrown with ivy and in bad general condition, made way for quiet streets with cosy houses. My legs started to hurt and my thirsty throat urged me to take a much needed rest. The transformation was complete when I decided to have a warm lunch in Kameoka's center at Family Mart.
While I sit down in the small supermarket, the white squeaky clean floors welcome new customers every minute. Beeps of the till, little noises uttered by the copymachine right next to the resting area where I plumped myself down, hyperactive voices blaring from the radio. Light and noise are omnipresent but I feel detached. At this point I am still at the riverside. It's not long before I return to this hectic world and start connecting and consuming, looking at my wristwatch and worrying about things such as the notion of time.
During this bikingtour, I notice the abandoned buildings in varying stages of deterioration. A problem which is not unique to Kameoka, but one that many suburbs in Japan face. With an aging population and youth moving to the bigger cities, the amount of vacant houses in the suburbs grow. Buildings slowly get taken over by plants and other forces and elements of nature.
Why this is happening is a question with many possible answers. The same evening I enter a random eating place -exhausted and hungry I am not particularly picky-. Luck is on my side: it is a cosy teppanyaki place (grilling food on an iron plate) with friendly customers and staff. A casual young woman with big round earrings and puffy hair - transporting me back to the 80s- serves us at the till. We are accompanied by three roudy middle-aged men.
Shortly after entering we find ourselves exchanging short dialogues in both English and Japanese, that become more frequent as time passes. One of them seems to take a liking to us and starts to explain the dishes. He calls out the ingredients in both English and Japanese, while holding a phone in his hand to look up what he does not know. Smiles and laughter.
Showing a photo of one of the abandoned buildings, I ask them why suburbs in Japan are facing this problem. 'No money!'
What a contrast when we visit the Oomoto religious center in Kameoka the next day. This new religious movement is a branch from Shintoism and believes divinity is best transmitted through the arts. Thus, there is a lot of attention for noh, ikebana and the tea ceremony. By sheer luck we receive the privilege to participate in a tea ceremony. The community seems wealthy: beautiful natsume and mizusashi accompany the ceremony: objects I usually view as art objects to be sold at the art gallery I work at.
We are thankful to Nabika-san for providing us this unique experience. Meeting her by accident a few days earlier, here we are at this beautiful richt spiritual center, accompanied by her son in law who is so kind to provide translations and guidance.
After the ceremony ends, a circle of people form around her. They are all talking, sometimes slightly bowing to each other and she is just glowing. Seeing her walk in traditional Japanese clothing and footwear, over slopy paths with small white pebbles, I would have never guessed her age. After the ceremony with all the new protocol that we try to follow as best as we can - turn this way now, lay the fan upwards now bow - I am simply drained. She however seems to be filled with energy and I can't help but be deeply impressed. While her son in law gently helps her along the pebbles, we make our way home.