Pollen Problems

Japan's primeval forests, ancient bamboo groves and sprawling mountains of pine were the inspiration for thousands of artists even a mere 50 years ago. After the war came and went, Japan's economy burgeoned and bubbled so much that every aspect of the country's natural landscape was sacrificed in feeding the industrial machine that had been created. Sacrifice was not only for Japan's workers, but for it's flora too.

Hoping to grow rich from timber, the government initiated massive deforestation. The bald and scarred mountains were replenished with fast growing sugi (Japanese Cedar) and hinoki (Cypress) at the expense of the natural habitat that had existed before. Despite the un-profitability of the timber industry it did not collapse, buoyed up by government schemes and financial packages. Like an unstoppable flood, deforestation swept across the islands until almost all of the viable wood had been harvested, even though no profit came from chopping down trees.

Despite the tragedy in this a new side effect slowly emerged. The pollen released by the fast growing sugi and hinoki caused massive allergic reactions in the Japanese populace. As the trees matured millions of people began to suffer hay-fever. Whereas the previous flora was harmless, the new species caused misery on a daily basis through spring and early summer. Hay-fever has become so common that the weather on TV and in newspapers dedicates much column space to predicting pollen counts and the severity of hay-fever nation wide.

With streaming eyes and a dripping nose at work (my school lies cradled in the forested foothills of mountains) I have to say that the Japanese Government's plan was sheer genius. Of course they weren't to know the side effects, but they did nothing to stop the deforesting machine when it began turning against them.

31 05 05 - 03:24 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Tsuyu

Rice planting has begun, green shoots struggling to find their way above the flooded waters of the paddies. Tsuyu (Rainy Season) is here and I find myself sweating without moving a muscle, feeling that the air is a solid thing trying to crush me, squeezing at my head. Skies become grey and overcast, smothering the tops of the mountains and spreading themselves out in a makeshift ceiling, trapping and pushing down the air.

Spurts of rain come unexpectedly and Kyoto's dull urban streets erupt in green, reminding us all that no matter how many times the government mutilates the trees they continue to thrive. Nowadays rice fields squeeze themselves into the urban landscape, standing still while houses are constructed around them and roads cut through their dried-up neighbours. Their unique survival has a lot to do with the massive subsidies farmers from the government.

As Tsuyu sweeps up from Okinawa, June heralds in the humidity that is a formidable feature of Japanese Summers, infusing July and August with a breathless, tropical heat rarely felt to such an extent in Europe. As Big Ben stops under a day of freakish heat in London (where temperatures reached 31 degrees), spare a thought that this will be a cool day in Kyoto in less than a few weeks time.

27 05 05 - 07:14 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Rokuchuugakko

This is my new work place. Roku-chuu Junior High School like most Japanese schools it is not very remarkable, except for the fact that it lies in the precinct of< i> Narita Fudosan Shrine. There are 700 students in all. The first years in the North building, the second years in the West and the third years in the East (teachers in the South). All the buildings are unconnected so when it rains it is very much a case of grabbing your papers, throwing them over your head and running for the next covered walkway. And as rainy season is here in under a week, I will be doing this a lot.

26 05 05 - 05:43 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kingyo Calamity

Farewell Egg and Brain, wonderful goldfish who have swum to the great murky pond in the sky.

Like the hamsters we had in our youth, who died in dramatic and tragically comic ways (my own hamster went bald, my friend's ran off a balcony in its play ball), it is with a sigh and a shrug that we mourn the passing of a goldfish. No matter how loved they were, there is some deep resignation in us that they are the pet equivalent of lemmings, all rushing gleefully towards the cliff edge.

Goldfish can live for many years, but rarely make it to a ripe old age. They are all too often victims of overfeeding or fungi. Everyone seems to have a story of goldfish tragedy. Tomomi dropped hers down three flights of stairs during a move in Hong Kong. In my own family our pond fish once disappeared over a Summer, picked off by a grass snake cunningly curled up within the brick-working.*

If these tales are very much a case of been-there-done-it, then Hiroe has a story to top any you have every heard. Her father loves goldfish and has kept them all his life. He has a penchant for the big tennis-ball-sized fish who look as if they have more brains on the outside than in. Some months after buying them, he decided to clean the tank. Because of their size he filled up his bath and kept them safe while he scrubbed away the algae. Now, while he was emerged in slime and gunk, his wife peered into the bathroom and noticed that the bath was full. Here is where we would expect the obvious conclusion...the plug was pulled, or else his wife stripped off and jumped into a nasty surprise. However this is Japan and baths are often left filled for days, the water reused by each family member as they are showered and clean before they bathe. She simply switched on that unique feature of Japanese bathrooms, the heater. Hiroe's father, proud of his work and admiring the gleaming tank, went to scoop up the fish and found carefully boiled pets floating and ready to eat.

Let this be a tail of caution to you fish lovers.

Egg and Brain were loved a lot. We are not sure why they died, but we miss them. Grace, however, lives on...black lips and all. (more)

24 05 05 - 05:22 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Rain gods and Umbrellas

Before people turn their thoughts to wading in the rivers of Arashiyama and before they hike to the cool climes of the mountains, escaping the bowled humidity of the city, it will be time to root through belongings to find elusive umbrellas gathering dust. The rainy season is just around the corner, waiting to infuse Spring with the tropical heat of Summer. Chances are though that no matter how many umbrellas you gather up, it will not be enough to see off umbrella theft, and the cyclonic winds that batter, break and send them sailing up into the sky.

Surely there is a god that holds on to all these umbrellas and stockpiles them in an immense mountain in a secluded part of Japan. There is no other country on earth that sells umbrellas in such abundance for such a small fee.

With the comfortable cherry-blossom Spring over, subtle hints of the heat to come emerge without much notice. Salary men shirk their jackets, the trains hum with air conditioning and the sky drains its colour to a haze that is neither blue nor grey. Everything loses the crispness of April and May to that overexposed look of June and July.

Unlike nowadays, people in the past would abandon the city for the country and cross over the mountain passes to escape the soupy heat of Kyoto. With all our air-conditioning we think we have the Summer tamed, but maybe we are not quite that smart. If you spend just a few minutes inside a temple you will feel how cool it is. Just wood and plaster and open air. No modern-fangled technology and no sweat.

Rhod and I are luckier than most people. We live on the very edge of Western Kyoto, next door to what used to be the Western Gateway to the city proper. In a few short minutes we can reach Arashiyama and can swim in the river or else walk into the mountains. While people throng to the Kamo river to sprawl, relax and wait for the elusive Kyoto breeze, for us it is still possible to escape the heat in a few short minutes. Kyoto is perfect, for it is still possible to find a peaceful space to be alone, away from the hustle and away from the secret drone of the city. Maybe in such a space there is a mountain of umbrellas, a heaven of parasols.

24 05 05 - 03:57 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Apartment, updated

Having recently completely overhauled the apartment, so that Kieren could move in with his voluminous possessions, I figured it's time I showed you how it looks now. So I have put pics in the gallery. Also, it is Ki's birthday today, hence the cake at the end.

23 05 05 - 08:42 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Golden Week

Good lord, we've been cycling a lot. It's been an amazing week, including Ki's birthday. We've been all over Kyoto on our trusty bikes, and found a few things we didn't even know about. See the photos. Enjoy!

23 05 05 - 08:42 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Renewal

In Japan there are good and bad ages. There are three ages for men and three ages for women that are considered to be bad. 25, 42 and 61 for men. 19, 33 and 37 for women. This is called yakudoshi. Women get their bad luck over with early on.

When praying at the New Year, people pray that their bad luck years will pass smoothly. Last year was one of those years. I went from 25 to 26 and maybe I didn't pray hard enough because bad luck is following me around.

The Japanese famously celebrate the impermanence of things. Even modern thinking is hinged around the idea of seasons passing and a cycle of loss and renewal. What is dead is forever reborn and we all get chances to start again. Sometimes those changes are big and sometimes small. I am lucky that I am about to start a new journey...a new job, and home, partner and friends.

23 05 05 - 05:48 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

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Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.

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Ki (Gold for wealth, …): Yeah – it had this gaudy,…
ted (Gold for wealth, …): Hi Ki, I found it just…
Ki (Gold for wealth, …): Hi Ted, Did you visit thi…
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