New Year and a Niggling Mystery in Miyagawa-cho

Maiko in Miyagawa-cho pass by plastic bottles placed to ward off cats during their New Year's Greetings
Maiko in Miyagawa-cho pass by plastic bottles placed to ward off cats during their New Year's Greetings

I spend a fair amount of time wandering the back alleys and side streets of Kyoto, and there has been a small mystery puzzling me for quite a while now: I often see PET bottles filled with water lined up along walls or wrapped around the bottom of telephone polls or lamp posts in these narrow passages, mostly in more traditional neighborhoods.

I could never understand why these bottles were there, but I never thought to ask anyone about them, either. Then on January 5 this year I was in Miyagawa-cho photographing 2 maiko I know. Despite the hordes of photographers, I managed to be in the best position (right in front of the mouth of the alley) whenever the young women entered or exited an alley.

Sometimes the geisha and maiko go down an alley and return the same way, but other times they enter at one end and exit at the other. This can be a tricky situation if you want to be considerate to the other photographers, which I try to be most of the time. If you are in front and get up too quickly, you can block other photographers behind you.

On the other hand, if you wait too long, you lose any chance of following after them at a respectful distance and get ensnared by the hordes of photographers at the other end of the passageway.

I've learned from experience that no matter what I do, I won't be able to win. No matter when I follow, some little old Japanese man always whines that I've ruined his shot, even if the geiko and maiko have already disappeared around the corner at the other end of the alley.

Anyway, I had photographed the maiko in three or four alleyways already, and I was getting bored of taking basically the same shot over and over again of them holding their obi as the recede into this distance.

At this particular alley most of the little old men had fallen behind, so I didn't have to worry about blocking anyone else. I followed the maiko, framed the photograph -- and noticed something weird out of the corner of my eye: a row of those mysterious PET bottles!

Suddenly, the PET bottle were much more interesting to me than the maiko, and I quickly recomposed the image to include them in the photograph. "Well, at least I can finally ask someone about these PET bottles," I thought after I had made the photograph.

I asked a friend who knows all about the customs and traditions of old Kyoto a few days later, and he told me that the PET bottles filled with water are put in alleys to keep Kyoto's many stray cats away from that alley and from doing their business on the walls.

My friend wasn't sure if this was an effective method or not of really keeping the cats away, but at last I had an answer to my nagging mystery!

Whatever puzzles that have been perplexing you, I hope you find your answers in the coming year.

Finally, I just want to say that I will definitely be adding new posts on the last Sunday of every month this year, but I don't know if I will be able to blog more regularly than that. I apologize for any inconvenience caused, but there is only so much time in a day and many other projects that need my attention.