It is a burning afternoon in early May, and I am riding my bike with Fabio, a hippiesque Venetian destiny had crossing my path earlier that same day at Kyoto Station. We are cycling to the north, and the blue-skinned mountains of Kitayama loom as an extension of the city, the limbs of a body whose vital organs are nourished by the Kamogawa, a true ensign of the place. We have started our quest from the bridge known as Sanjo-ohashi, at the very heart of downtown Kyoto. The river not only divides the city into its two sides, but it is also the green heart attracting those two shores to join together; it is a place where the urban dweller and wildlife mingle in a seemingly flowing Shintoist spirit.
Down by the water a grey heron patiently awaits the unwary fish, and raptors are circling over our heads, scanning the grounds for the leftovers of distracted humans. The shadow of a Japanese maple tree is an invitation to take a break on the river bank; it’s time for a packed picnic we have purchased at Sanjodori. Fabio’s long blond hair is floating in the wind and reminds me of koinobori (carp streamers) populating the streets of the city during these lively spring days. The action of swimming upstream like koi (carp) assumes an overall symbolic value for the two of us, caught in the stream of a year full of changes; it is our passage to the unknown, as we are about to leave fragments of ourselves behind to let them go with the flow, as you do with a little frail paper boat.
We let the northern mountains attract us like magnets with their promise of ensconced places and new discoveries. We feel like modern-day see-through pilgrims in the sun just like Murakami’s colourless Tazaki Tsukuru in his quest for truth and happiness, approaching the Imperial Gardens in the Marutamachi area.
We take another break at Bon Bon Café while heading to the Kamogawa Delta ahead of us, but it is now the moment to choose a direction; will we go to the northwest or shall we turn to the northeast? Finally we heed the call of the trees lining the horizon behind Kamigamo Jinja, a place of ancient Shinto rituals in the old capital. The road finally leading to nowhere appears like a metaphor for life itself, heading deep into the black forest. It is here in a narrow valley of Kitayama that our unspoken friendship is just born.
Back downtown, we cheer on our springtime regained at Takumiya Beer Pub and the translucent day fades into the dark of the approaching night. The lights and the chattering and the sound of glasses and the kampai toast. Now we need to conjure up a new departure – upstream, like the carp, with the Kamogawa waters flowing silently through the liquid night.