Reading the Air: Lucky Heron


Kokoro and Nohmen prepare to leave to go to the temple in Kyoto. They continue to talk about the suffering of others and how they can be released from it. Nohmen drives their simple van with ample headroom for his long back and legs, along the roads around their apartment building which are narrow and ancient.

The single-carriage way systems are based on a grid design, which is difficult for Nohmen as a foreigner to remember because all junctions look identical, but Kokoro knows by heart.  There are also numerous rivers and canals traversed by quaint bridges, some ancient and some new.

Then, as they drive along a narrow river bank, the tall windscreen is suddenly obscured momentarily by something large. Nohmen comes to a dramatic halt.  At first, they have no idea what it was, but then he steps out of the driver’s seat to see a large grey heron flapping away with its shaggy wings towards the river. It lands to stand still in the shallows.

Hora! Look! Sagi-san.  Heron!’ Kokoro shouts in delight.

‘Amazing!  They are not afraid of humans or cars!  This would be almost unheard of in a city in Europe. We must have disturbed its fishing down in that ditch.’

backstreet Kyoto

Nohmen is also delighted, excited by one more unusual thing to discover about his adopted country.  The plentiful bridges provide good hunting places for the large numbers of herons and white egrets, and many other rare birds. The busy centre of Kyoto is not very far from their apartment, and yet, because the mountains are always nearby, people and their dogs, and large fishing birds exist in close proximity.

Sagi-san. This very lucky, Noh-chan.’

She uses the familiar short form of his name.  Kokoro adds the polite suffix of ‘san’ even to a bird, all designed to avoid using the pronoun ‘it’ which is considered disrespectful.

They continue on cautiously through the streets packed with singular dwellings, for there have been very Kyoto small bridgesfew building regulations for residential areas until recent years when Japan has become more and more prosperous.  Some of the rickety structures and dilapidated older houses have been removed, and instead light, smart earthquake-proofed houses built in a trice.

The hushed bicycle is the most favoured form of transport for local people, their riders fearless and determined to take the shortest route to their destination. This often means travelling the wrong way on one-way streets.

Kyoto bicycles

Life here is vigorous and energetic but quiet.




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