Experiencing Japanese Culture … and the Police

Today a friend and I made a trip down to Kyoto where a free Japanese Culture Experience day was being held by the Kyoto Prefecture International Centre. Obviously in dorm-life we don’t get to experience a lot of Japanese traditions, and the fact that it was free was extra icing on the cake. This was only my second time in Kyoto and we went by JR (instead of Hankyu) which meant I got to see another part of the city.

Available for visitors was the opportunity to join in with 8 different activities; 源氏物語 (Genji Monogatari, The Tale of Genji), 書道 (Shodou, Japanese Calligraphy), 着付け (Kitsuke, Kimono Dressing), 華道 (Kadou, Flower Arrangement), 香道 (Koudou, Incense Ceremony), 茶道 (Sadou, Tea Ceremony), 邦楽 (Hougaku, Traditional Japanese Music), Woodblock Printing and an interesting looking game that involved throwing fans at a bell. Though we didn’t try everything, we did try a lot including Sadou (something I can finally tick from my ‘to do list‘.

After having a ramen lunch, we headed for a wander around the area at some shops. One of the shopping centres appeared to be closing down for a refit, so the shops had generous discounts offered. Unfortunately this discount wasn’t enough to pry any money from my cold, long fingers. Kyoto itself seems to have a certain charm about it that is different to Osaka and Kobe. It seems to match the ‘city-ness’ of Osaka with the relaxed attitude of Kobe. That isn’t to say that I prefer Kyoto to Osaka of course, Osaka’ll always be my number one (sorry Telford).

We arrived back at JR Kyoto Station and found a local map. We’d decided to return via Hankyu (as it was a lot cheaper and more convenient at the Osaka end), so for a while we were ‘umming and ahhing’ about what we could look at in the area and end up near the right train station. The amount of time we spent there and also the fact that we were pointing (almost insanely) at the map must have looked very suspicious (looking back I’d say it definately was) and we were soon joined by two members of the local police asking us if we were ok.

Calmly the police officers explained who they were and asked us who we were. We explained that we were exchange students and that we hadn’t decided on where to go yet (in a combination of English and Japanese … their English was really good). Before arriving in Japan we’d been told that Japanese police officers can stop you and ask to see your 外国人登録証明書 (gaikokujintourokushoumeisho, alien registration card) or passport (if in Japan under 90 days). This was again told to us by Konan when we arrived, so obviously I always keep it with me.

As I expected we were asked for ours. We gave them over and stood waiting, quite nervous mind you. It wasn’t just that the police were talking to us, it was another country’s police force with different understandings of situations and anything lost in translation could have done more harm than good. However the officers too kept calm and we were on our way moments after. The police even made a suggestion of a nice place to go.

Now the thing is, I’ve read lots of people’s accounts of dealing with similar situations and they appear to have all gone tits up. This is mainly because the person being questioned appears insulted to have been ‘singled-out’. This lead to arsey remarks, sarcastic comments and really bad handling of the event because from the get-go the ‘questionee’ felt like the victim and didn’t co-operate fully. But folks the simple thing is, if you just co-operate with the police whilst they do their job, it’ll be over with in moments. Unless of course you have something to hide. My advice if it happens to you is don’t dick about, don’t play the ‘victim of international hatred’, just give your card, stay calm and polite, then be on your way.

Moving story back to the ‘will I won’t I’ scenario on going to Gifu. I’ve been putting away some yennies every now and then and have decided I’m going to just bite down on my pride and go by train. I know how much I really wanted to walk, but if I’m going to go at all I’m not going to be able to go on foot, not with the time I have left anyway. So whenever I get some free time, probably in May before flying back home, I’ll be heading to Shirakawa.

On that note I re-watched season one of ひぐらしのなく頃に (Higurashi no naku koro ni) to gear myself up for it (at the same time introducing the series to one of my dorm mates) and must again complement it’s storytelling and art styles. Yes there’s extreme graphic violence and torture scenes but on this scape it works … really well. Last night I went to sleep considering different parts of the series and how they work with and off each other, and when I woke up I realised I was still contemplating. This didn’t help my sleep at all though, I was pretty knackered on the way to Kyoto.

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