Kyoto Stories – 京都物語
In a lesser known Kyoto, a modern Japan mixes with a more traditional way of life.
are a currently-in-production trilogy of unexpected tales of modern life in the ancient capital of Japan. First is Kai Fusahyoshi, a street photographer of the back alleys of Kyoto since the 1970’s. In 2015 a tragic fire at completely destroyed Kai san’s cafe, and with it 40 years of diary notes, manuscripts for his new book, and 2 million negatives of Kyoto from over the years. Story two is a ride along in the melting pot of Japan’s oldest fish market, and home to arguably the finest food in Japan. A cultural phenomenon for over a hundred years, but can it now compete with competition from the supermarkets, falling supply and a falling demand? Last but by no means least, Eiji Takahashi introduces us to the super secretive world of Kyoto’s most mysterious and revered treasure- Geisha.
Kai came to Kyoto in the late 1960’s to study at Doshisha university, but was quickly expelled for his involvement with the Japanese anti Vietnam war movement. With time on his hands, Kai began to wonder the streets taking photographs and quickly became a local celebrity. In the following years he would make friends with a folk singer, a poet, and a therapist, and together open Cafe Honyarado in Kyoto’s Demachi neighbourhood.
Honyarado started life as a meeting place for American Vietnam war deserters, a place to gather and arrange protests. Over the next 40 years it became a cultural phenomenon, and the space for Kyoto’s musicians, artists, and intellectuals. Kai, now a world famous street photographer with exhibitions around Europe and Japan, was the lifeblood of the cafe. He spent time living in the cafe and used the backroom as a make-shift darkroom and storehouse. Shortly before dawn on the morning of the 15th of January 2015, there was a fire at cafe Honyarado. Kai lost all 2 million negatives taken over his lifetime, manuscripts for a new book, and everything else he’s ever done. In his own words, “Just a human is left”.
Kai now runs a bar in Kyoto’s lively Kiamachi district, but struggles with huge debts owing to the fire. Kai had been looking for a younger person to pass the running of Honyarado on to, but instead works nightly at the bar and battles with poor health. We follow kai as he fights to rebuild his future, and reflect on his past.
Kai captured a passionate Kyoto of the past in wonderful black and white, some of which are still preserved in the books he published over the years. An anti-violence ethos incubated art, poetry and music, but does the modern Japanese youth reflect this spirit? We’ll travel Japan to meet the iconic characters in Kai’s photos to ask what was so special about that time, and whether Kyoto has lost the fire of political activism.
Kai san’s tale will be the glue that holds the Kyoto Stories together, as he tells the anecdotes behind his most iconic photos for the first time in his own words.
Kyoto’s Tambaguchi fish market is Japan’s oldest, and 100 years ago would have been served by trains travelling the length of the country to bring the finest fish to Japan’s aristocracy. Today Kyoto is still known for it’s high class restaurants and fine fish, but lorries have replaced the trains to bring produce from every corner of Japan for the millions of tourists that visit Kyoto ever year, hoping for a taste of what is believed to be the best fish in the world.
Japan’s obsession with fish is as important economically as it is culturally, but consumption has been falling steadily since it’s peak in around the year 2000. Globally the Ocean’s edible fish stocks are decreasing too, and global warming is pushing Japanese fisheries to move further into international waters. Greenpeace and other International environmental organisations are calling on governments to develop more sustainable fishing strategies, and to suspend all fishing of particularly endangered stocks to allow them regenerate to more sustainable levels. Japan’s politicians claim the economy cannot withstand any suspension to the already shrinking fishing industry, but in the absence of a properly enforced national policy, on who’s shoulders does the burden of responsibility fall?
Tambaguchi fish market is still the place Kyoto’s finest restaurants come and source their produce, but in a post ‘bubble-era’ Japan most regular customers simply can’t afford the cost of quality. In recent years the supermarkets have tightened their grip on the lower end of the market, offering an inferior product for increasingly more affordable prices. Auctions in the market would once last for hours each morning, as the wholesalers fought to buy whole boxes at a time from the wily, career auctioneers. Wholesale prices have remained the same for the best part of 20 years, but supply is so low that auctioneers are now forced to sell the fish individually. As the market prepares for major construction works, can it find a way to stay competitive for another 100 years?
Maruken, like so many in the market, is a family run business. Satake san, 3rd generation boss of the company is also the master tuna cutter, but the business relies just as much on his wife on the accounts, and his daughter the trainee buyer. Teaching the next generation is business policy, and Satake san’s son in law is now learning to cut tuna too. Though — san has only been cutting tuna for a few years, Satake san trusts him with the ‘first cut’ of every tuna fish.
Each market in Japan has it’s own traditional tuna cutting method, but Kyoto’s is the oldest. In this video Satake san, Tou san and — san will guide you through the entire process from the first cut to the final slice.
Eiji left Kyoto after high school to enter the Japanese Ground Defence Force, but always knew he’d come back to Kyoto for work. Now in his ninth year, Eiji san works as a ‘kitsuke’, dressing apprentice Geisha (Maiko san) and professional Geisha (Geiko san) in their kimono before they head out to work, entertaining guests at private parties, and dance on the stage.
In the army Eiji was surrounded by men, but in this world all of his clients are women. Despite this, he says the strong hierarchical military training prepared him well for a career in one of Kyoto’s most famous ‘Hanamachi’, or Geisha districts. A Maiko’s ranking is decided by their experience; becoming another girl’s superior if she starts her training just one day before. The regimented world of Geisha generally leaves little room for women to express their feelings openly, but with Eiji they can feel relaxed and talk openly. His perspective is unique in a world so well known, but little understood.
Now 20, Mastumoto Akari started training as a Maiko later than most at the age of 18, and now lives as Fumiyoshi san in Kyoto’s Miyagawa district. To become a Maiko Fumiyoshi san gave up the freedoms that most young women her age take for granted, often having to work every day in a month, sometimes even on her two designated rest days. Entertaining most evenings can be and exhausting life, but the pay off – attending grand parties and dancing on the stage- is every bit worth it to Fumiyoshi san, who for her is living a childhood dream come true.