Expat to the nextpat

Day 7: Shimogyo, Kyoto

Courtesy of Zoë Noble Photography

We met two very different expats today.

The first served us the best coffee of our trip so far, at an Arabica stand in the Fujii Daimaru department store.

Courtesy of Zoë Noble Photography

A Texan who’s lived in Kyoto for two years, he dropped delicious pins all over our food map and talked about his company’s plans to open up shop in Berlin; he’s thinking of joining them. He speaks fluent Japanese and was quick to extol the city’s virtues, although he admits that he may be missing something back home in the West.

(He also introduced me to Envy and Tricot, two of the best Japanese bands making music today. Outside of BABYMETAL, of course.)

The second was a bowler-hatted barman from Dublin.

He dropped his Irish brogue every time he pronounced “Kyoto” and tried to convince us that the city is better than Tokyo. He moved here 11 months ago with his now-ex-girlfriend, and by sticking around, seems to be trying to prove something. Much like the bar in which he works, with its English-only menu of ostentatious cocktails and speakeasy over-styling. Trying too hard.

Are there more Westerners here than in Tokyo? There can’t be, but they stand out more. In the capital, white faces are lost in the sea of Japanese rolling over the city’s streets, flowing in and out of its subway stations. Here in the ancient empire’s seat of power, there are far fewer people, and fewer places for tourists to be. The locals have their hangouts, which thrive without translating their menus into English, and instead we take to their shrines and shopping districts, snapping every single geisha we see.

Courtesy of Zoë Noble Photography

We’re happy to have the inside track on some hidden Kyoto gems. Like Berlin, the city doesn’t make its charms immediately apparent, but unlike our adopted home, there’s no anti-tourist malice intended. The skaters who rolled past our current favourite ramen place, and the black-clad hipsters browsing the Dickies in that bonkers store atop an otherwise unremarkable mall — they know something.

And we plan to find out what.