White people in Japan don't aknowledge each other.
I also took the Shinkansen and visited Heian Shrine. And it was quiet. Quiet not because there was no one there, but because those that were, were hundreds of miles away. Their voices echoed off the rocks and ancient trees like cicada. I could see them at the corners of my vision, in gaps between the leaves, and wedged in the joints of the wooden temple pillars.
I took a walk around the gardens, and at around the halfway point I sat near a pond of carp and read my book. I had to fill up my time in Kyoto. After fifteen minutes or so a group of school children passed me by, laughing and chatting to each other. They divided along the different paths. A few passed me, paying no notice, while others took the further path. Their chatter circled around me like dragonflies. I was overtaken with an overwhelming lust to understand what they were saying. This immediately made me self-conscious. My better self wanted to be silent - to blend in.
Lonely people don't want to be noticed. They hold a very odd philosophy - that you cannot expect someone to be nice to you just because. Each small moment, passing misunderstanding, and crippled conversation, has to be owned. However co-incidental, it has to be constructed. It has to be real because losses in control are so harsh. The feeling of venturing into an izakaya and being given the sign of crossed fingers - no English here - makes you want to crawl into a hole.
Eventually I rose and walked around the rest of the gardens. I hopped across the stepping stones and viewed the grand red arches reflected in the white gravel. I asked in passable hand signals for an old lady and her daughter to take a picture of me in front of the golden pavilion. I'd been told to take pictures home, otherwise I'd be in trouble.
Kyoto was getting dark. I wandered around Gion. So many beautiful old buildings and houses. A rare part of Japan that hadn't been bombed to shit in the second world war. The lights from the windows were practically the only illumination now. I wandered along the banks of the Kamo river. Restaurant balconies extended above the water, and trees dressed up in fairy lights flashed and reflected in the water. Girls clacking by dressed up for the town in Kimonos and Geta. Boys wearing suits on their arms. I thought desperately of how my girlfriend loved water and lights like this.
In Japan it is not easy to enter a restaurant or bar. Unlike Europe the windows are typically frosted glass, and it is custom to hang curtains above the entrance. More often than not you don't know what it is going to be like until you enter. Stepping over that threshold is always a small leap of faith. And you know, even when you do, you will at the very least have the Japanese menu to compete with.
Coming out of Gion, I paused at a restaurant and scrutinized the outside menu, trying to infer from whatever vague intuitions I had if this was a good place to eat. I only had two nights in Kyoto. A lady rode up and skipped off her bicycle behind me. She entered the restaurant and frantically gestured at the owner, pointing to me, smirking. The owner scuttled to the door and invited me in in broken English. Eventually another man joined us in the restaurant. That made three. I ordered, but soon realized this was a restaurant that provided a single serving at a fixed time, so I had to wait.
At around 8PM the three of us were served, and I enjoyed some of the best food I'd had in Japan. We ate in silence, and I leisurely drank the beer I had ordered, and the green tea I'd been served. When the tea in a small handle-less mug became empty the owner would skip over again to refill it. It would be rude to let me see the bottom.
Eventually I bowed, paid, and headed back to the ryokan I was staying at. I picking up a couple of cans of beer from the nearby 7-Eleven on the way. That evening I drank my beer, downloaded Lost in Translation, and cried through the scene where she visits Kyoto.