I visited my old neighborhood, and even let myself into the entryway of my old apartment building using my old key code, which still worked. My umbrella, which I had left behind at the foot of the stairway, was still there. On my way out a woman walked in and took her mail out of what used to be my mailbox; already my old apartment had found a new tenant.
Over the next few days I visited my former grad school as well as the school where I used to teach. I ran into some old friends and former teachers; most of them were unaware that I had moved and simply exchanged bored pleasantries. They don't realize that I'm a ghost, I thought wonderingly.
Perhaps being a ghost in Kyoto made me more aware of the presence of the town's other spirits. One in particular seemed to be stalking me throughout the week. I'd always known that Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the most famous heroes of the Meiji Restoration, had been assassinated in Kyoto, somewhere near the Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection; but although I must have walked by the spot a dozen times, I'd never noticed the little marker until I happened upon it during my recent visit. There was a sign which said Sakamoto had been attacked on that spot in 1867 by a gang of anti-reformists, and that his remains were entombed at in Kyoto at Ryozen Gokoku Shrine. In all my years in Kyoto, I had never heard of this shrine, and I thought noncommittally that it might be worth looking up later on.
This shrine appeared to do double-duty as Sakamoto's final resting ground and the major site in Kyoto for WWII memorials. A winding path led up the hill past several interesting statues, plaques and other memorials to various units from Kyoto which had served in the war. Of particular interest was the memorial honoring Dr. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist and apparently the only judge serving on the International Tribunal for Japanese war crimes who ruled all defendants to be not guilty, on the grounds that he believed the tribunal to be illegitimate. As a result, he seems to have become something of a hero to the conservative movement in Japan.
Other plaques along the path listed the names of all Kyoto residents killed in action in the war, along with some plaques inscribed with poems by their surviving comrades and other plaques emphasizing the sacrifice of individuals caught up in the war.
After the war memorials, the path led further uphill into a wooded area filled with tombstones, where finally I saw the resting places of Sakamoto Ryoma and his deputy Nakaoka lying side-by-side. Most of the crowd skipped the war memorials and came directly here. It was clear from observing the visitors that Sakamoto has become sort of a patron saint of young Japanese men and manliness. There were stone tablets where visitors could scribble little messages and doodles in magic marker. I saw several which said things along the lines of "Please help me to be a more awesome man!" Also more thoughtful entries such as this one, which reads "The Japan of today exists thanks to you."
All in all it was one of the more interesting historical sites I've seen in Kyoto, and I found the bizarre non-sequitur of WWII stuff thrown in with Sakamoto Ryoma intriguing. It further supports my belief that no matter how long you live in Kyoto, you can always stumble across something else worth seeing.