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February 8, 2007

When You're Running

The front door, discernible only by its English moniker, is one of thirty. The crumbling building, which has seen and survived dropped bombs and Richter-rocking earthquakes and post-war occupation, is one of thousands. Japan is a place of numbers and Kyoto, its cultural capital and certified purveyor of tsukemono, is no exception. In this uniformly-packed city where the porcelaneous faces of old-world geisha meet the constant arcade fire of pachinko parlours, it's easy to get caught in the web of the gaijin caucus. Yet, away from the east-meets-west pick-up joints and misplaced fawning is a city teeming with riches; a culture built on a strict adherence to age-old practices; a religion that still inspires reverence and encourages ritual visits to stunning temples like Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji; an unfathomable world in the cobbled streets of Gion that, as you inch tediously closer, creeps further away. But, as these old-world ways seep seamlessly into the new, there is no sign of the young turning their collective back, and it seems the oft-chequered but always engaging past of Japan is safe in the hands of the future.