3 min read

Empty Kyoto

Empty Kyoto
Toketsu-kyo Bridge in Arashiyama, November 2022. 

March 2023: the end of the Japanese school year, the traditional “Spring Break” of western countries, the elimination of quarantine protocols for vaccinated visitors to Japan, and the several-weeks-early blooming of cherry blossoms all conspired to create a perfect storm of visitors to Kyoto.

For a few weeks there were so many, many people, more than I had ever remembered before, speaking so many different languages; all converging on the hottest cherry blossom spots for their Sakura Hanami.

All of a sudden there were hour-long lines for restaurants that we used to just walk into. It became impossible to walk on the sidewalk sometimes. Every train ride became an exercise in maintaining balance while being pushed in every direction by the crush of people.

It's not like visitors to Kyoto are something unusual; the city has been a top travel destination for more than a thousand years. And the locals have been complaining about visitors for a very, very long time.

But that’s how all of us got our first taste of the city, as visitors. Who am I to begrudge everyone else?

However, the frustration of trying to live everyday life with all these extra people made me nostalgic for the days of peak Coronavirus, when Japan was closed and everyone stayed home. It was so peaceful then. Except for the ambulance sirens, of course.

I wandered around Kyoto taking pictures of scenes that would have been impossible, before or after. Have you ever been to Kiyomizudera when no one else was there? Only the temple monks have.

I remember being at Arashiyama’s Tenryuji Temple in 2016, trying to take a picture of the famous garden and buildings without any people. I sat patiently for about an hour and a half, my shot composed, waiting for the moment when the ebb and flow of people would create an empty space for my photo. It never came.

In 2020, I had the place to myself and was able to calmly create the photograph in my mind:

My 2021 & 2022 calendars included some of these images of an empty Kyoto:

But looking back on that time, I think this subject would make a wonderful book. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and as such is worthy of some kind of commemoration.

So, that's what I'm thinking about these days, how to make a book.

It's not like it would be technically difficult, I've been making calendars on my own for more than 15 years, and I am very familiar with the tools and techniques of print design.

My thoughts are more about printing and distribution: should I try to find a publisher or should I do it on my own? How many should I make? What size? A small paperback or a large coffee table book?

How many could I sell? One really needs to print over 1000 copies to make the traditional printing process economically feasible. How could I finance it? A Kickstarter type campaign seems the most obvious. Are there really a thousand people ready to kick in $50~100 on this?

So many questions... I guess this is going to be my “job” for the rest of the year!