When we arrived in this Kyoto neighbourhood 3 years ago we were treated with polite distance and even now it has taken some of the locals a couple of years to get used to our presence and say "konnichiwa" first. However, the first time we entered Yamaguchi-san's shop he was enthusiastically greeting us before we even had the door halfway open. Yamaguchi-san is the friendly proprietor of the Ichigokan (Strawberry Hall) video rental shop.
He knows our life stories, work schedules, likes and dislikes and our opinion on all things Japanese. He is one of the few Japanese people we know who unhesitatingly and helpfully corrects our Japanese. We hardly ever discuss movies or the videos we watched. With the TV booming all the time it is more likely that we will talk about something on the news or the sumo. Often we receive a small present of fruit or even a magazine when we rent a video from him.
Originally from Fukui prefercture, Yamaguchi-san has been living and working in Kyoto for more than 30 years. Although he doesn't live in the neighbourhood, Yamaguchi-san is here every evening, holding court from behind the counter. He works over 12 hours a day and rarely has a holiday. Running the video rental shop is his second job. His "day job" is at a computer company. For him the video shop doesn't feel like work, "It's like fun," he says. "My shop is a stage and every day there is a new drama. The customers talk to me about their lives, their dreams and their problems."
"My video shop is different," he says. "A good relationship with the customers is important to me. I like all my customers. They are mostly students, businessmen, housewives and old men. Only people I like come here. I hate drunk people or chapatsu (people with dyed hair, usually gang members). They are not welcome here and I tell them not to come back!"
As usual we have gotten sidetracked and in true Japanese style the real purpose of our visit has been left to a brief moment at the end. What does Yamaguchi-san think of the neighbourhood?
"This neighbourhood is a real Kyoto neighbourhood," he says. "People have been born here, married here, had children, worked and died here for hundreds of years."
And what does he think of Kyoto people?
"I hate Kyoto people", says Yamaguchi-san. "They don't speak from the heart. They say they like things they hate and they never give a straight answer!"