Keage Station. It’s quiet, empty. I am the only person to have gotten off the train. The subway tracks are located deep beneath the ground and it’s just me and the silent hum of the escalators as they carry me upwards past pictures of the stars of the local zoo. I emerge into the dark, slick streets in front of me, cars whooshing by. Turning right and right again I pass through the tunnel that takes me to Nanzenji Temple. For many people, this is the end of Path of Philosophy which starts further north near Ginkakuji Temple. I wonder if, like me, after the long walk they are too templed-out to enjoy what I am sure is a magnificent structure and its grounds.
Not tonight though. Tonight I am starting at the end. It is week one of my long-exposure photography course, and I had an idea to photograph the aqueduct located here. The problem is, I’ve never been there. And it’s night, and I’m in a neighbourhood I don’t know well. Nevertheless, this area, normally teeming with tourists throughout the day, is empty. It’s just me and the rain. And the water of course. Above me is the Keage Incline which is the terminus to the Lake Biwa Canal, which still brings water to Kyoto. Japan is a country whose lifeblood is water. Water fills the ponds which provides a home for koi, turtles and other water birds. Small canals bring water to the rice fields to flood them in the early days of summer when the rice planting begins. Water is also something to fear and respect, from the typhoons and tsunamis, to avalanches and floods. Yet despite being so integral to life here, it is often hidden, put aside. Culverts and small canals are often covered so that we may go about our day without fear of falling in or twisting our ankles. Yet here in Keage, the small culverts are left open, and it a real pleasure to see the crystal clear water moving along, just as it always has. The murmur of the water and the tiny splashes are sounds I have not heard for some time, living in the city.
As I wander in the area, I am drawn to so many things. The light rain has given a beautiful sheen to everything, the streets glisten in the lamplight. I take pictures of trees, of gates, of monuments. And somehow, on this random path of picture taking, I find myself staring at the aqueduct, a somewhat incongruous structure here in Japan. In almost any other country I would be leery of such a place, with its dark, hidden areas, and me, all by my lonesome. However, this is Japan, and no one is out on a cold drizzly night. So I set up my tripod and wait for 2, 4, 8 minutes, as the light is low, and now is the time to think in moments, rather than fractions of time. There’s something about waiting for the light. It’s cold and dark, yet I feel almost meditative, waiting for the enough photons to reach my film so that an image will eventually emerge. There is nothing I can do to make it happen any faster, and somewhere in that helplessness is a kind of serenity. I never really think of myself as a night person, but in moments like this, I know that this is where I feel most comfortable.