This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life in Kyoto for a westerner in the age of Covid.
The mountains to the East
The mountains to the East of Kyoto are beautiful places to spend time.
For Buddhists they have special meaning.
I am not a Buddhist.
But I still love the terrain for exercise, wandering, contemplation and breathtaking panoramic views across this part of Japan.
The weekend before last, we rode our bikes about 10 kms from our home in Shogoin Kawara-cho to the northern limits of Kyoto City, near where the Yase Heizanguchi station terminates the rail line in that direction adjacent to the Takano River.
The ride goes north east along the Kamo River then at the fork you take the Takano River paths and end up eventually, after winding through little streets and a forest track, at the Eizan Cable Car terminal at the base of Mt Hiei (which is 848 metres above sea level – so quite high).
There are shrines throughout the mountain, which historically gave the region immense political power, given that Kyoto was the imperial capital.
Mt Hiei has a historical significance that will take me a while to learn about – but it is big.
Anyway, all aboard the – Eizan Cable Car – which is the steepest in Japan, going seemingly straight up the side of the mountain for 561 metres (vertical) over a 1.3 kms distance.
Here is view as we set out:
As we cranked up the hill I was awarding new status to the relevant engineers who worked out how to make cables strong.
It is a very steep trip.
Half-way down or up depending on which way you are travelling, the tracks bifurcate on switches to allow the carriage coming down and connected to the one going up (it is a funicular system) to pass.
10 minutes later, one walks between the cable car terminal and the – Eizan Ropeway – which is a small cabin running on overhead cables and that travels the last 0.5 kms up the face of the mountain to the summit.
The whole return fare was hardly anything – $A16 or so, which included admission to the – Garden Museum – at the top, which is sensational.
Someone thought it was a good idea to recreate a French impressionist era garden on the top if this very high mountain.
They were right.
It is beautiful.
There are easels with all the famous paintings throughout the garden, right down to a replica of Claude Monet’s boat in the lily pond.
The garden is OTT for sure but when you have too many beautiful flowers and plants, then as the saying goes, you barely have enough!
Here is me trying to meld into a picture.
And deep in the flowers
Then when you look out to the distance, this is what comes before your eyes – the view down to – Lake Biwa-ko – the largest lake in Japan and just over the mountains from Kyoto.
I learned last time I was in Kyoto in 2019 that the canal built in the 1890s to provide water to Kyoto from the Lake, through the mountains, was a major step to reestablishing prosperity in that city after the Emperor took off to Tokyo and left the city in decline.
Being Covid-averse, we decided we had been in close proximity with people a little to much on the journey up the mountain, so we decided to walk down the tracks, which proved to be quite an adventure and a great thing to do.
So that was our trip to Mt Hiei.
Demands for minimum wage rises
The other day, we went to get some bread at our favourite bakery on Teramachi Dori, which is a very nice locality running parallel with the Kamo River just south of the Imperial Palace and Gardens.
This is a 10 minute ride at most on our bikes.
As an aside, Japan is a place of large regional differences.
Up north, on Hokkaido, they love cheese. I have already reported the difficulty getting good cheese in Kyoto.
But in Kyoto, they have a particular love for baked goods, and produce really good breads, which reduce the angst over the lack of cheese.
At least one can eat the bread part of the bread and cheese!
But as we were waiting at the traffic lights, I saw all these cops running like crazy with bollards and putting them down to block one lane of traffic.
Hmm, what cooks?
Then the ubiquitous van with speakers on the top (we see these vehicles a lot here providing information in the streets) arrived, with a bunch of people behind chanting and carrying flags and banners.
The loudspeaker on the van was saying “We want a significant rise in the minimum wage” and “rising electricity costs are not just damaging for pensioners”.
The retinue was getting good support from the pedestrians along the street and I felt as though there is hope when people protest. There should be more of it.
And here is what they were lobbying about.
In Japan there are two minimum wages: (a) the regional minimum wage, which is applicable to all workers in a specific region regardless of difference of industries; and (b) the specific minimum wage, which is applicable to workers in specific industries.
Data from the – Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare – produces the regional variations and provides a national weighted average figure incorporating all the regional and industrial variations.
The following graph shows the national weighted average minimum hourly wage from 2002 to 2021.
The next graph shows the same data in index number form (2002 = 100) and the line is the CPI also indexed to 100 in 2002.
What you see is that the recent rise in the national weighted average minimum wage has produced real gains to workers since about 2010.
But the minimum wage is still very low and needs to be increased – as the demonstrators noted by way of their chants – ‘significantly’.
A lot more is going on and I will report next week on that.
This Saturday – my current day off from working here – we are off on our bikes up the mountains again to see the – Tanukidani-fudō-in Temple – in the East Hills of Kyoto, which requires parking bikes some way down the mountain and then walking the 250 steps up to the buildings.
In effect, this is just a route that will take us beyond the temple area into the mountain trails up to a hot springs a few kms beyond the temple. That is our goal.
We are hoping the following does not apply:
The outlook looks fine and sunny though.
Still having fun.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.