Monday, 18 November 2013

Finding Diagon Alley

There's a Subway restaurant on one of the short little pedestrian streets that cut back and forth between Kawaramachi and Shinkyougoku. I visited so often the staff learned my order. Japanese Subway isn't quite as good as Canadian, I'm sorry to say, but it's still hard to beat a delicious hot sandwich. Plus, it was located directly across from a Rainbow Karaoke, where we went the night I met Seven and Hyeong, so while I ate I liked to amuse myself by watching the incredibly obnoxious promo video loop constantly.
It's just one of a dozen or so places I took to frequenting in the downtown core area. By the time my year of study abroad was coming to a close, I knew the place pretty well. The broad strokes, at least. Here's a place to buy beer. Here's a place to eat cheaply. Here's a place where you can buy books, and for some reason also clothing. I had a good understanding of where all the little oft-ignored shrines were tucked away. I knew where the karaoke places and the convenience stores were (at intervals of every ten and two steps, respectively).

This is why it was such a start to glance down a gap between two buildings and realise – whoa, there's a couple of people walking around back there. Where are they...? Wait wait, there's more of them! Are they – is there a bunch of cool stuff back there?

As soon as I stepped through – it was really like a doorway – I realised what I'd stumbled upon. There was a whole goddamned town back here! A whole network of thoroughfares and switchbacks, wide enough to drive a car through! Not that you'd want to; you'd forever be getting stuck behind slow walkers. It was a decidedly pedestrian affair, couples, families, old dudes, young girls, everybody just going about their business. I found out that Round1 has a parking lot behind it. OPA has a whole other storefront I never knew about, and it's every bit as ostentatious as the one on the street. There were cafes, a small bar, funky expensive clothing stores, and what might have been a lawyer's office. Or possibly a yakuza branch office; it's hard to tell at a glance in Japan.

As I wound my way around, I realised that I'd seen some of this stuff before, passing between the aforementioned streets. But it had never occurred to me to look any farther; like a hopeless Muggle, I'd been totally unaware of the Diagon Alley that was just out of sight, teeming with life and interest, if you only knew where it was. And really, it's utterly amazing that I never discovered it earlier. Perhaps some of you are reading this and marveling at my density, because you found it on your very first sweep through downtown. But I was amazed that even after a year and a half, Kyouto could still be hiding some secrets right in my territory.

It's one of the (many) reasons I love cities, actually. I'm an extrovert in the truest sense of the word, drawing energy from the people around me, so the more of them there are, the happier I am. Sobriety and mental elbow room be damned! Give me a crowd. Nature and serenity? Get some concrete and glass in there! Likewise, you can talk to me all day about familiarity and sometimes wanting to go where everybody knows your name, but I'd rather have dynamism. A city is like a lover – so complex and so deep, you could know them for a lifetime and still have more to learn.

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