“Hey, is this Soupgirl? Sorry, I have a really daft question… how on earth do you lock a bike?”
Sometime this afternoon, if you were on Senbon-dori and passing by Sasayacho, you might have spotted me sitting next to a bright orange bike, yanking at a key and looking rather distressed, perhaps even panicky and on the verge of wanting to cry a little bit. Locking a bike is absurdly simple – I can totally do it now – but I have never owned a bike and therefore never needed to lock one, and I’d just been scolded by a curmudgeonly old man I’d bumped into while trying to navigate my way down the sidewalk on Imadegawa-dori. He demanded to see a license of some sort, and I obviously didn’t have one, and I apologized until he realised I wasn’t from around Kyoto, or Japan for that matter. It was bloody cold out, and it felt like everything and everyone else might be too, but here I was, searching for ice cream. And I couldn’t lock the bicycle Masterchef Kent lent me. So much for a capable and independent solo traveller…
Soupgirl (who will star in her own story another time) talked me through it on the phone, anyway, and the key popped out. I finally made my way into Chibeta, which is a sleek and unobtrusive-looking ice cream joint in Nishijin. It being supposedly spring – the cherry blossoms are out in bits and places but you still need gloves while cycling – it would have to be the sakuramochi ice cream. It’s gentei, man, is what it is.
It was about 4 in the afternoon, and no one really wants ice cream on a day like this. From the bright white space upstairs you could hear Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the buzz of some machine downstairs, and that was it. I stared at a white wall and ate this off-white concoction dotted through with bits of preserved cherry blossoms and leaves. If I’d been in a weepier mood maybe I’d have said it tasted a little like tears. With a faint breath of sakura, it was deliciously creamy and had a salty bite, though I wished I didn’t have to shiver with every other spoonful. Even the light shining in from outside was cold, having crept through the clouds to get in here and snake its way into my bones. I closed my eyes, and tried very hard to burn this moment into my head, because I wanted to remember this particular second of being alone.
I’ve been travelling through Kansai for the last 10 days or so, and it feels simultaneously like a lifetime and far too short. It’s been solo travel but kind of not really, where every day I meet new, interesting people who are kind to me and return at night to familiar, dear faces in strange houses. It was about 4 in the afternoon, and it was cold, and I’ll be leaving this region for Tokyo – home – in two more days but I don’t really want to, not yet. I didn’t want to leave Osaka and I don’t want to leave Kyoto. It’s Kansai I don’t want to leave, not while there’s still so much to unearth.
Chibeta isn’t my neighbourhood ice cream place, it’s someone elses. I won’t have time to come by again and try out more flavours before I leave, and that makes me a little sad. It’s the same with travelling: everyone I met I wanted to talk with longer, stay with longer, get to know better. I could only glimpse, fleetingly, the various tips of people, their communities, their dreams, their everyday existences.
Is this what travelling is about then, you ghosting through other people’s lives, only trying one flavour of ice cream at a time? I have no answers, but I have enjoyed every single flavour, and every single person, which is probably the most important thing right now. In short: I’m in Kyoto, and I don’t want to go home just yet. You’ll be hearing from me.
East corner, Sasayacho and Senbon-dori intersection
Tues – Sun, 11:00 ~ 19:00