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Traveling In Style : CORRESPONDENTS' CHOICE : STREET SCENES

March 01, 1992|Karl \f7 Schoenberger, Times business writer,\f7 formerly of Tokyo bureau | Six Times correspondents from around the world offer brief portraits of fascinating streets in cities they have covered.

TETSUGAKU-NO-MICHI, Kyoto

A tiny street that is really a path and sometimes little more than a dressed-up drainage ditch, Tetsugaku-no-michi, or Philosophy Road, threads through the soul of Kyoto, the old capital in western Japan. It skims the foothills of the Higashiyama, the city's eastern range of little mountains, and connects a string of 14th- and 15th-Century temples, which are tucked into the shade of the pine, fir and cryptomeria forests on the eastern side of the path. To the west is a jumbled view of a 20th-Century urban landscape, sometimes quaint with tile roofs but more often blighted with ferroconcrete blocks and heavy traffic.

Tetsugaku-no-michi becomes delirious with the seasons: Its cherry trees explode in the spring, its momiji (baby maples) turn shockingly crimson in the autumn. In summer it swelters and exhausts all who tread upon it. In September, the fragrance of the hidden kinmokusei olive blossoms intoxicates its victims. A dusting of snow in February can transform a walk along the street into the realm of pure fantasy. Early morning mist in the foothills, any time of the year, turns the lane into a living brush painting.

Automobiles are more or less banned from Tetsugaku-no-michi, but they cross it at points over compact bridges. (The road runs along a narrow aqueduct.) Otherwise strollers, young lovers, brooding loners, elderly pilgrims and families of snap-shooting tourists own the turf. Many of them stop and sit on stone benches and think--thus "Philosophy Road."

Times are changing in Kyoto--traditionalists are outraged, for instance, at the Kyoto Hotel's plans to build a tower addition that they say will mar the city's low-slung skyline and its panoramic views--but as long as there is a Tetsugaku-no-michi, walkers will be able to turn their backs on the city and lose themselves in the quiet umbrage of the eastern hills.

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