Kyoto – an Oasis: Adventure Never Tasted So Good
Tradition on board: In a tram on the Randen line heading to Arashiyama (Photo: Lucy Fricke)
8 July 2011
Don’t forget your iodine tablets, take your Geiger counter, no fish, no spinach, and so on and so forth... Anyone travelling to Japan right now is bombarded with well-meaning advice. This was also the experience of the Goethe scholarship recipient Lucy Fricke before she arrived in a refuge far from the apocalypse.
At first, there were just the images of Kyoto; a city surrounded by mountains, with temples everywhere, ladies in kimonos, tea ceremonies, the cherry blossoms. In their midst, were a futuristic railway station, shopping centres, soup restaurants, bars and pachinko parlours. After I had made all the reservations and everything was set, Japan was shaken by one of the worst disasters ever; a disaster often described as apocalyptic.
For days, I sat in front of my TV in Berlin, staring at images of unimaginable devastation, tottering high-rises and spinning cars. Then, an image was added that we’ve seen every day since then: that somewhat blurry long shot of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. These images suddenly replaced all the others. Seen from Germany, one could get the impression that all of Japan was contaminated.
In the following weeks hardly any other topics were discussed in either the media or among friends. Don’t forget your iodine pills, take a Geiger counter, don’t eat fish, spinach, no milk, no tap water. In the end, I flew in spite of it all and was already feeling relieved to be sitting on the plane and not have to listen to all of that, and even more relieved once I arrived here.
Photo gallery: Spring on the Kamo
From the very beginning, Kyoto felt like an oasis. Probably Kyoto is always like that; an idyllic place where time doesn’t move quite as quickly, but I doubt whether I will ever perceive it as so pleasant again. Here, about 800 kilometres from the epicentre, all of my fears were suddenly assuaged. I remember how we went out to eat the very first day. We had fish, of course, and algae, too, with ice-cold tap water and that first day I only thought very briefly about contaminated water being poured into the Pacific and about increased caesium and iodine levels. After that, I never thought about them again.
The first week I only took one of the iodine tablets that my general practitioner had given me and immediately broke out in a rash; a sort of iodine shock. Since then, the package has lain untouched in the bathroom and in all other aspects, as well, life in this at first very strange place has become normal for me. Sometimes I walk to the imperial garden in the morning, Sometimes I go to one of the two thousand temples or I just sit with a cup of coffee by the riverside – all of them places where the thoughts flow more easily than elsewhere.
Amazed at my own naivetyEvery noon, I go to lunch and try to order something different every time; adventure never tasted so good. The best noodle restaurant is located in a tunnel in the Osaka railway station. The best bar is on a fourth floor, third door to the left. Sometimes I have the impression that the entire area consists only of secret places that I never would have found on my own.
I learn the first words of Japanese, I learn to do such mundane things as how to take the underground and the bus, I learn to love the beverage machines on every corner and also that one ought not to love them in particular because two nuclear plants are needed just to supply them with power. Perhaps it is such thoughts that make the consequences of the disaster perceptible here. There is a lot of talk of alternative energy sources, doubts about nuclear power, which people barely thought about previously and that were not a subject of conversation before 11 March. I hear again and again that no one ever considered it.
Although individual scientists have been warning about precisely this causal chain – earthquake and nuclear disaster – for twenty years now, only the fewest people took it in. Now people are amazed that things went so well for so long and also about their own naivety. Nonetheless almost everyone doubts that Japan will now convert or even stop using nuclear power altogether. Japan is considered hugely progressive and rapid when it comes to technological developments, yet the Japanese are not very fast about revising their opinions. The first big concern is saving electricity: twenty percent less in every business and in every household. The people are already frightened about the summer, which is so hot and humid that the leather shoes simply mildew away and which cannot be imagined without the constant use of air conditioning. 2011 will probably be the first year in which people really enjoy the rainy season in June.
Lucy Fricke is the first scholarship recipient to live in the new artists’ residence of the Goethe-Institut in Kyoto, Villa Kamogawa. In future, three times a year, the German cultural institute will invite four artists and people from the cultural sector to the residence on the Kamo River for three months each. Three of the first four scholars did not take the journey because of the events in Japan, so that writer Fricke has the residence to herself during her stay. Residency programmes offer an opportunity to live and work in a different country for a few weeks or months on a scholarship. Through the intense collaboration on site, long-term contacts are made that serve as the basis for future projects. The Goethe-Institut manages a number of residence formats aimed at different target groups. Their common objective is to anchor the projects in the local arts scenes.