Bicycle Drama

Last weekend, I took a day off for some special sightseeing. A number of venues had special openings, and I had set my eye upon an old, private home near Kamigamo Shrine: the Umetsuji Family home. Before I could enter, however, the following velociped-related drama unfolds:

So, I go there on my bicycle because it was nice weather, and whenever I visit a place like this, I always ask where to leave my bicycle. Usually, I can park it near the entrance on the street. Sometimes, I am asked to put it inside the front garden, but in general it’s not a big deal.

This time however, I was told no, I’d have to park elsewhere. One of the guides who were showing people around the house went with me to a nearby Koban police box, but I was not allowed to park there. At least, the policewoman on duty said it was fine to leave it on the road near the entrance, so back to the house we went. I parked my bicycle where I had left it before, locked it, and the moment we entered through the gate I was told: Oh, it’s okay, just bring it inside the garden…

That’s what can happen when you want to (temporarily) get rid of your bicycle, because although Kyoto is quite flat and easy to navigate, most Kyoto people prefer to drive, especially during the hot days of summer. There are more parking lots for cars than for bicycles and it’s very easy to get your bike impounded.

I’m not sure if I have told this before, but once I watched a crew of city workers taking bicycles parked near Sanjo-Kawaramachi, at the entrance to Teramachi shopping street. They parked their truck and waited… and waited… waited patiently until it was precisely 19:00, at which point they took the bicycles, loaded them onto the truck and drove off with them, all within 3 minutes or so. Quite a joy to watch such an efficient team, but I felt sorry for the people who were probably just shopping nearby.

Anyway, once my bicycle was deemed properly parked, I was finally allowed to enter the house. The Umetsuji family had been sake brewers, and the house dates back around 300 years. There were a few interesting features, like a flower-shaped window that is apparently very Kyoto, and a long water-spout that would drain rain water from the roof into a stone “dragon’s mouth” in the garden. The house also had an inner, private genkan and an outer entrance for guests.

Unfortunately, of the rather large house, only three rooms were open, and I found them quite ordinary compared to some of the rich merchant homes I have seen. There were some large-scale calligraphies and two folding screens, one with beautiful paintings with scenes from the Genji Monogatari, but they did show their age. A map dating back to the time the house was built was very impressive though.

However, it was the first time the house was open to the public at all, so I hope they will continue renovating more rooms and restoring family heirlooms over time. And maybe, one day, it will be allowed to take photos too!

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