What was it like when you first arrived? Specifically, what was the foreign community like then?
KR: Kyoto mostly attracted people with interest in aspects of its traditional culture — theater, shiatsu, meditation, aikido, ceramics, tea, ink-painting, shakuhachi — and it was a relatively small and tight-knit community — people knew what other people were doing and it was easy to make friends and get connected with like-minded individuals or groups. It was a friendly atmosphere — if you saw a foreigner across the street who wasn’t obviously a tourist you might even wave to each other.
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JE: Flowers, gardens, temples, Buddhist statues, stillness…
KR: Its scale, its multi-layered past, the level of sophistication and subtlety in crafts and arts, its solid base in Shinto and Buddhist traditions that permeate the city and contribute so much to defining its identity. Knowing that this is where many of the essential elements of Japanese culture evolved and blossomed, and have survived — I still find it hard to believe that Kyoto was the US’s first nuclear bombing target, and remain deeply thankful that it was spared.
There’s a different sense of cultural continuity here, in contrast to the cities that were fire-bombed during WW II. And even an endearing naivety, as I see it now, in how it has attempted to modernize. Of course we KJers found developments like Kyoto’s in-your-face post-modern train station building shockingly absurd at first, but now it’s getting easier to see the changes as just additional layers — probably we become more Buddhist in outlook, more accepting of change, as we get older here.
This is a big question, but can you tell the simple version of how Kyoto Journal came about?
KR: In the mid-80s a writers’ group was meeting every month at John’s house, and we realized we had a range of interests and talents that could be combined in a magazine — and that Kyoto in all its aspects was an endless source of inspiration. We were amazingly lucky in being introduced to Shokei Harada, of Heian Bunka Center, which was the publishing wing of the Kampo Harada school of calligraphy. He became our publisher, and supported KJ from 1986, for 75 issues until his retirement in 2010. So in 2011 we began the legal process to become a registered NPO, and started the transition to digital publication.
JE: Also, back in the beginning, because of its culture, we felt that Kyoto deserved an English magazine…