People of Kyoto

During our week stay in Kyoto, Olivier and I chatted with many locals, just like in Tokyo, who gave us insight into their city and culture. A few favorite quotes (that we got with a lot of help from Google translate):

Esa, 32; Owner, Odin wine bar and Bahamut restaurant


Odin and Bahamut are, as my husband eagerly noted, a nod to Final Fantasy (all Esa’s music are instrumental versions of its songs; the bar, dark and filled with swords from the game he bought on Amazon and other fetish-y type decor,  feels like a video game). Olivier and Esa geeked out over video games. The first night we were too tired to stay for a drink, so we promised Esa we’d come back the next night. It was actually two nights before we did. When we walked in, four of Esa’s friends were sitting at the bar–three brothers and one wife.

“I was waiting for you last night! Where were you? (We explain we were tired. He’s ecstatic to see us. We communicate in mostly wild hand gestures.)

“Wine in Japan five years ago was disgusting. Now they’ve brought in grapes from Bordeaux and it’s not so bad.

“I’m a mix between entertainer, maestro and restaurateur. (Esa plays the flute for us. Then the accordion.)

“Tomorrow is my birthday. New skill. Level up!” (Picks up balls and juggles them twice.)

Ohata; Artist, Honen-in Temple Gallery


I bought a painting from Ohata at a tiny art gallery in the Honen-in temple in Northern Higashima. Everyone at the gallery was thrilled I was buying something. Good work it is!

“I’ve been painting for 30 years. I’ve done many exhibitions. I’m actually a nurse by profession. Now a housewife. Though my husband recently passed away.”

Shinobu, 59; Owner, Annabel Lee Cafe


I dropped into Shinobu’s cafe walking the Philosopher’s Path to catch a late bite on a rainy day. The building, tucked away on a side street, was combination bookstore and home kitchen–and indeed, it is in her home. I ordered a traditional Japanese lunch–a whole sweet fish, sticky rice, miso soup, tempura vegetables.

“This turns (from a cafe and coffee shop) to a bar at night. It’s named after my favorite poet Edgar Allen Poe’s poem ‘Annabel Lee.’ It’s one of my favorite poems.

“I don’t write myself but I have a lot of artist and writer friends.”

As she says this a man walks in with a poster for a photography exhibition he’s having at a small city between Tokyo and Kyoto. He’s a photographer and her friend, Shinobu explains.

Yuichi, 40; Server and Manager, Le Bouchon French restaurant


There are a surprising number of French restaurants in Kyoto, including a boulangerie on nearly every other corner. We heard French more than any other language (besides Japanese and Chinese)–it’s a mutual love affair. Craving a French meal, we dropped into Le Bouchon and chatted in French with Yuichi:

“I lived near Lyon and studied cooking for a year through Tsuji cooking college. A ‘bouchon‘ is a style of bistro typically found in Lyon. (This is news to both Olivier and me!)

“Lots of people in Kyoto speak French. The Institut Franco-Japonais is in Kyoto. I speak French often. We have a lot of French, Canadian clients. There are lots of French-speaking people in Kyoto. More than in Tokyo…Tokyo is too complicated. Even I think Tokyo is too complicated.”

Katsuo, 50, Chef and Owner, Kyotomi restaurant


We walked into Katsuo’s restaurant as we were wandering near Kodai-ji Zen Temple in Higashima…he soon taught us how to use chopsticks. Katsuo lived in Paris 10 years ago and worked at a restaurant at the base of Montmartre. Parts of Higashima–especially near Kodai-ji–really do look very similar to Montmartre…cute winding streets with tiny shops and restaurants on a hill.

Katsuo then cut a block of styrofoam on his sushi block. We asked what he was up to. He gladly showed us a video of what he was practicing for, and gave us a flier and a pamphlet for the competition:

“Next weekend I’m doing a Shiki Hōchō (knife cutting) ceremony next weekend. You should come...(showing us his arranged styrofoam) This means ‘Good fortune.'”

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