As "Hanami", the blossom viewing season, approaches it was unbelievable to find bulldozers and workmen along the Shirakawa pulling out most of the "ume" (plum) and "sakura" (cherry blossom) trees which lined the riverbank.

However much "nature" is revered in Japan, when it gets in the way there is no stopping the Department of Public Works . But, in this case, it is difficult to understand why these blossom trees had to be removed.

They have been silent witnesses to the passing of time and the seasons in this neighbourhood. They no doubt trembled as American bombers flew over Kyoto during World War Two and have watched the slow "modernisation" of this old neighbourhood. The "machiya" (Kyoto town houses) are disappearing faster every year, to be replaced by pastel coloured European style apartment buildings. The remaining machiya are overshadowed by towering structures of polished granite and steel.

In early summer the "hotaru" (fire flies) usually hide in the trees to escape the swirls of children trying to catch them. Later in the summer, these same children descend into the river to play a game called "Kingyosukui", where they try to catch small goldfish that have been specially released for them to find.

Every spring these blossom trees were appreciated by tourists and locals alike. The neighbourhood seemed unhappy but resigned to the fact that the "kouji" (works) were going ahead. There was no major protest.

And so in these last days of winter we mourn the memory we will not have of this year's "Hanami" on the Shirakawa. This stark scene of concrete and a few wiry willows is all that remains after the Kyoto City Government's "beautification" program.

In recent weeks the budget has been slashed for local works programs. Let's hope that any further "beautification" of Kyoto is postponed.


For more on the destruction of nature and history in Kyoto see the book "Lost Japan" by Alex Kerr and the ISSK web site (in this site's Links).