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kyonoki - 京のキー

Three Men and a Very Tall Building

Dave, Mike, Rhod and Umeda's Sky Building.

28 08 05 - 16:55 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Typhools

No, Ki, beyond the following read more link, is the actual worst thing you can do in a typhoon:

"Among the dead were an elderly man - killed when he fell from the roof of a storehouse and another who fell from a ladder, local authorities said."

A 61-year-old man also died after being blown off his roof while doing repairs, said police.

A 55-year-old man died after falling from the roof of his house...

I could go on. Clearly, the worst thing you can do in a typhoon is stand on the roof. Especially if you are over 50.

27 08 05 - 09:52 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Photographing Typhoons

What is the worst thing to do in a typhoon? Well, fishing obviously. But a close second would be mountain climbing. Nonetheless I hiked up the mountain behind my old house to take some photos of the sprawling metropolis around Osaka Bay. Kobe is perpetually smothered in heat haze or engulfed in banks of cloud, making it hard to see the city-scape in its full glory. Typhoons blow aside the curtains of smog and clouds, making it possible to see how massive the Hanshin Region is.

27 08 05 - 09:29 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Trapped

21 hrs after getting to work, I am still here, and still unable to leave due to my perceived importance. I miss Ki, and I miss being at home. It's bizarre to me that the longest time Ki and I have spent apart in over six months, involves my being just 10 minutes away by bike.

Some interesting things have happened, though. I watched the sun rise on the roof (and learnt that it is called 日の出/hi-no-de in Japanese). I held a skipping rope so that my colleagues could exercise. And best of all, I found my recently mourned Mario and Luigi Kewpie keyrings. Some kind soul had placed them on a doorhandle near the office, and, just as I was sinking into despair at my predicament, there they were. They must have been there, hanging all alone, for a week.

We have nearly... nearly finished. I am so bloody tired that I can barely think. I'll probably have several minor accidents on the short cycle ride home. But after all this, I have a 4 day break, and the knowledge that, even if not gone forever, the next one of these deadlines is a fair way away.

Here's a photo I took, whilst killing time, of a chap washing down the street across from our office as his day began (and ours came to a close). Note the similarity between venetian blinds and PRISON BARS ;) Heheh.

25 08 05 - 15:02 - rhod - kyonoki| one comment - §

Wedding Pictures

Louisa on her wedding day.

25 08 05 - 02:42 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

The City Beneath Tokyo

A couple of years ago I visited the War Cabinet in London, home to the government during most of the Second World War. The buildings above ground are nothing compared to the tunnels and bunkers below the surface, built to withstand the force of a direct bomb hit. These are underground hiding places we know about, but conspiracies occasionally surface that beneath London are secret chambers and avenues, built in the past and hidden from the public. Maybe these ideas are nonsense, but certainly it is not hard to believe that in history the city has buried in it secrets that to this day lie hundreds of feet beneath our feet.
Shun Akiba, a TV reporter for Asahi news and later a journalist, is convinced that Tokyo's Government is concealing a deep secret. He believes that beneath Tokyo, there exists another city, though as yet he is unable to put forward a theory as to what this city might be used for, how extensive it is, or even who might know the truth behind it. After he picked up an old map of Tokyo in a second hand bookshop, his strange odyssey began. When comparing the map with others, he discovered that there were glaring mistakes and strange additions. All but abandoning journalism, he started a campaign to reveal the truth and released a book.
Is he barking up the wrong tree, or is there something the government truly wants to keep hidden. The truth is out there. You decide.

25 08 05 - 01:15 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Godzilla Vs. Atlantis

Recent studies show the possibility that Atlantis lies a little West of Gibraltar, close to the Pillars of Hercules, as described by Plato. Geologists have discovered that the submerged island of Spartel was destroyed 12,000 years ago by a massive earthquake, followed by a tsunami. The size of the island and the failure to dig up any man-made structures make it unlikely that Spartel was Atlantis, but have given the academic world a much needed boost. Plato described the city state of Atlantis as lying close to the Mediterranean, destroyed in a single day and night. Theories have varied on the cause of Atlantis' destruction. Many have put forward the idea of a tremendous earthquake that caused a tsunami, while others argue the Atlanteans possessed technology and weapons of great power that caused their own downfall. Now I put forward my own theory. After trawling through long lost documents, I discovered a drawing from the 18th century that clearly depicts Atlantis prior to its death. To the left of the picture is the image of a great lizard. I let you draw your own conclusions.

25 08 05 - 00:22 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Bored now

It's all this talk of the Nintendo Revolution that's done it. Never has the game-geek side of the internet been so awash with photoshop-faked images, optimistic fanboy rants, speculation presented as near-fact and poorly worded imposter press-releases.

For a while it was (and every now and then it still is) fun to speculate about this gaming innovation that Nintendo is so confident and yet secretive about. Historically, they've been a company to make their fans wait - be it for news, a new system, or a European release of a game already playing in consoles in the US and Japan - but rarely are they so tight-lipped for so long, and it stopped being fun a good few months back.

Apparently (and by no means for the first time) they will be announcing full details of their mysterious 'Revolution' controller, along with a list of games that demonstrate how indeed it can revolutionise how we play, very soon. Apparently.

All that said, I'd be interested to hear what you all think it is. Their hype is clearly working...

24 08 05 - 08:51 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kyoto Protocol

It is nice to see that Japan is doing its bit for the Kyoto Protocol. As countries around the world struggle to cut the production of harmful gases and other contributing factors to the depletion of the ozone layer, Japan surely leads with way...by telling their office workers to dress up for the coming Winter months, thus saving on heating.
It is impossible to judge whether the Summer Campaign (to stop offices from using air-conditioning by ditching ties and allowing workers to dress more casually in the sweltering heat) was successful. Air-conditioning was cranked down, but not turned off, and so the massive problem of 'heat islands' within the cities is unlikely to go away any time soon. Is this about the environment or another way for local governments to save money?

23 08 05 - 19:13 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Deafening Silence

I folded away the futon, lay down on the tatami and read for most of the afternoon. Switching off the air-conditioner, I rolled open the doors and relaxed. Closing my eyes, I realised how noisy Japan is. Layers and layers of sound. Traffic droning by, the chirping sound of the zebra crossing, the blaring tune of a kerosene van. All of this may seem like any other city. The random shouts and catcalls from people, the occasional airplane, and the thumps and thuds of our neighbours. But on top of this there other noises, irrevocably Japanese. The attendants in the petrol station crying out their 'Welcome' and 'Thank-yous', the rally cries of a National Party van, the recorded sounds from delivery trucks. Japan is the noisiest place I have ever visited let alone lived. London, New York and Singapore seem peaceful by comparison.

Modern life is full of noise, the life of a city constantly thrumming with sound, but Japan seems so bursting with it that sometimes it seems a little overwhelming. It is a gift the Japanese have to block out the world around them, sleeping through anything, putting up with hearing everything their neighbours do, being bombarded by shouts of welcome and promotion in every shop. As Koizumi declared a national election in the near future it means that day an night political parties will be pumping their manifestos through loud-speakers. Shrines and temples offer islands of peace in frantic daily life, yet even they have speakers installed to pump through history, stories and notices.

As I switch back on the rattling air-conditioner, I ease myself back, resigned to the relative silence of the TV.

23 08 05 - 06:18 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Death for a Gate

Nestled in acres of forest, Chion-in rests on the very Western edge of Maruyama Park, the headquarters of Jodo-shu and the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), one of the three shoguns credited with unifying Japan. Built in 1234 and rebuilt after fire ravaged Higashiyama in 1633, Chion-in's palatial buildings lay hidden from view, up a long flight of stone sets.

Under the eaves at the front of the prayer hall (Miedo) there is an oiled-paper umbrella with almost all its bones exposed. Jingoro Hidari, a famous sculptor, left it here as a charm to ward off evil and fire. Elsewhere, above a beam in the Ohojo there sits a huge wooden spoon, over 8 feet long, representing Amida Buddha's merciful power.

Other famous works of art include the depiction of a cat on one of the wooden doors of the Ohojo, looking three directions at once. The sliding doors of the Kiku-no-ma (Chrysanthemum Room), in the Ohojo, are famous for their Nuke-Suzume, pictures of sparrows so vividly painted that they are said to have flown away.

Near the Kuro-mon there is a large rock that legend says once bore cucumbers with the name of the god Gozu Tenno inscribed on them. The rock is called Uryu-seki.

With all its tall tales and imaginative stories, Chion-in is somewhat less interesting than the myths it has created, and the majesty and colossal size of its main gate. The largest of its kind in Japan, the gate dwarfs all other buildings in the precincts and towers above Gion. The second story of San-mon contains the seated statues of the master-builder of the gate and his wife, enshrined in two white coffins (shiraki-no-hitsugi). They committed suicide to take the blame for a deficit in the construction of the gate. A sad end to the architect of such a wonder.

22 08 05 - 01:17 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Love Cursed

Behind the main hall of Kiyomizu lies the small Jishu Shrine housing the god of marriages. In front of the main hall rest a pair of stones called Mekura-ishi (blind stones) placed 10 metres apart. It is said that if a person can walk with their eyes closed in a straight line from one stone to the other, while chanting his or hers loved one's name, then that love will be fulfilled in marriage. Jealousy and revenge also play a big part in the shrine's history.

Rebuilt along with Kiyomizu by Tokugawa Iemitsu after fire destroyed the precinct, the shrine still plays an important part in marriage today. The names of those newly married are often displayed in front of the shrine. For those still looking, 'ema' (votive pictures) offer prayers with vows of love. Each plaque is a letter to the god, begging for one's wish to be granted.

The god of Jishu is Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, whose story appears in the ancient history of Japan (Kojiki). The story involves a greedy rabbit that gains what it wants by deceiving others. Captured, it is forced to peel off its skin. Okuninushi, a sweet-tempered man at the time, healed the creature and forced the rabbit to mend its ways. Thus there is a giant gold rabbit standing next to a statue of Okuninushi in the grounds of the shrine. Gift shops and self-publicity make Jishu stand out like a sore thumb next to its more regal neighbour.

As good as Okuninushi is, so another god called Okage Myojin is indifferent to good and bad, and answers prayers at will, no matter what they might be. Hidden away in one corner stands the severed stump of a once immense tree, dwarfing the tiny shrine that sits next to it. This is Okage's territory, his place of worship where women would come to pray to him. The Japanese cedar in the photo was used in 2 a.m visits (Ushinotoki-mairi) amongst ladies throughout the centuries. Okage is considered especially benevolent towards women and so they would pray to him whilst nailing straw dolls to the side of the tree. These straw dolls were meant to represent rivals or enemies (also usually women) and in praying to Okage it was said a curse would be put upon them.

Maybe it is not so strange to find jealousy, hatred and envy in Jishu. After all love can bring out the best and worst in people.

21 08 05 - 23:36 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

The Temple of Pure Water

If all the shrines and temples in Kyoto burnt to the ground, and if I had to choose one to save as the perfect tourist spot, then it would have to be Kiyomizu Temple. It is far from being my favourite, but it seems to perfectly capture the spirit of old Japan whilst remaining less changed than most. The stream of corporate advertising is strangely absent, the neighbourhood (although bursting with tacky tourist ware) is devoid of concrete and traffic, and the hillsides are verdant and stunning. Built on stilts, slotted together without a single nail, the view from the balcony of the temple is breathtaking. The shadow of the encircling mountains frame the horizon. It is just a shame that the heart of the city is so lifeless and drab. Kiyomizu is the first temple I visited in Kyoto back in 1999 with my family and the first taste I got of the history I had studied.

Strolling through Yasaka Shrine through the twisting cobbled streets, you start climbing up towards Higashiyama. Channeled by hundreds of tiny shops (all reminiscent of the Edo and Taisho era) selling everything a tourist could possibly want, you work your way up Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka hills.

Kiyomizu-dera was built in 798 over a small spring. It was given the name Temple of Pure Water. Yasaka-no-To and Kodai-ji Temple sit a stone throw away.
The temple is perhaps best known for its massive veranda built out over a cliff. The balcony is the origin behind the phrase '(to do something) with as much determination as if leaping off the veranda at Kiyomizu-dera'. Rebuilt in 1633 after fire, the temple complex is undergoing renovation at the moment. Cranes still loom over the temple as piece by piece it is taken apart, repaired and rebuilt. In the photo workmen crawl over the massive scaffolding.

Walking through the Saimon (Western Gate), an elabourate eight-pillared gate built in 1607, you pass the Sanju-no-To (three storied pagoda) and wind your way towards the veranda itself, skimming a large statue of Ebisu (god of wealth and fisheries). Following the path down from the temple and up a second small hill, you come to a pagoda almost hidden in trees. Inside the pagoda is the Koyasu Kannon, a statue of the goddess responsible for the safe delivery of babies. Even now many pregnant women visit here.

Continuing down to the very foundations of the balcony, you come to Otawa-no-Taki waterfall. The three streams of water have poured over a shallow pool since ancient times and are said to possess divine powers. Taking a long scoop, people queue up to drink from the three streams representing health, happiness and intelligence.

If you only ever have a chance to visit a handful of temples in Japan, then Kiyomizu should be your first port of call, if not for it's own beauty, then the old tea houses, pagodas and hills that surround it.

21 08 05 - 19:18 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Fabled Friends

Dave and Mike, welcome to Japan. They brought the rain with them, just like Alex and Becki. Splashing our way from Yasaka, to Kiyomizu and Chion-in, we had time to let them drool over the new Nintendo releases before piling them into the taxi and sending them back off to the station for the Tokyo part of their trip. They will be back in a couple of days for part two of Kyoto.

21 08 05 - 05:00 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Soaked in Kyoto

This summer seems to have had more than its fair share of sudden, extreme weather. Torrential downpours, cyclonic wind, explosive electrical storms week after week, fueling a humid soup and baking heat. Like the influx of typhoons last year the weather seems connected to the earthquakes Japan has been suffering. Around each earthquake the weather goes a little crazy. First Tokyo and now Sendai. If Britain (supposedly) has the most changeable and unpredictable weather on the planet, Kyoto must be coming in at a close second.

19 08 05 - 05:52 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Shrine Vampires

Rhod returned home late from crunching today, vanished into the kitchen and began rummaging through cupboards for an old plate and some milk. He then disappeared for a few minutes, running down to the shrine close to our apartment to feed the waif cats, all desperately thin and need of a square meal.

The shrine makes up the ancient West Gate that once stood at the outer wall of Heian-kyo, but in the many years since has been swallowed up and crushed by small warehouses that press in on all sides. The creepy, dilapidated torii gates that twist their way up to the secluded shrine lay in shadow at all times of day, the vast ginko trees smothering out the sky. Each morning a little old lady brushes down the paths and sprinkles fresh water across the precinct. As she wobbles around the tiny shrine she shushes and gently kicks away the scores of cats that hang about scavenging food.

Cats in Japan are treated as supernatural beings, closely linked to the spirit world. Shrines are often overflowing with strays, shaggy, dirty and mangy. Dogs are booted out, but cats get the run of the place, breeding at will and screeching their way through the night (cat sex is not a pleasant thing...the horrible cry of the female cat is mainly due to her mate having a sharp bone in his penis). In Japan, vampires disguise themselves as cats with two tails. Cats with black marks are said to have the soul of a dead ancestor inside.

Rhod has taken it upon himself to be the saviour of the shrine cats. I bought some cat food and hopefully we can keep them from starving to death. Japan's track record as an animal lover is not a good one. Although there seems to be a trend amongst young people for keeping dogs instead of having children, dressing them up in t-shirts and snazzy berets, choosing small, yappy, deformed looking beasts, and giving them more love than their fellow humans, mostly animals are treated quite badly.

Like ghosts you see them skulking around the shrine at night, often frightening me with their late night howls. To the people who abandoned them, I almost wish the cats were sorcerers so that they could race back to their once-owners and take out their revenge.

19 08 05 - 01:55 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Over the distance

I haven't spoken to my best friend for about 2 months, despite him having a new child. The last time I spoke to my mother was in late July, and the distance between each call grows. It's a funny thing, but even with the ability to just pick up the phone, or write an email, being far away from home still means you really do drift. Even when you don't mean to.

This isn't meant to be a soppy and emotional post at all. I know that Rob is still my best friend, his new baby will be fine, and he is as busy as I am. It's just that, every now and then, I realise how the 8-9 hr time difference means that those opportunities for impromptu phone calls are strongly limited. Similarly, with each week of non-contact, you become less aware of what the other person's schedule is like. Rob and Lucy have a new baby. Of course they'll be asleep sometimes when I call. Rob has a lot of international work, for weeks on end. I can't be expected to know his diary.

Rob is just one example. My mum, bless her, has a mobile phone and two work lines, and though I try them weekly, I usually only manage to get through her ridiculously anti-social phone-phobia every month and a half. Jo, my ex-flatmate and the closest thing I have to a sister, hasn't had the dubious pleasure of my conversation since around our birthdays back in May. My ex-colleagues, most of whom I am very close to, get occasional MSN messenger chats, but they are always smalltalk, and always light-hearted.

Yahoo messenger has recently added 'voicemail' to it's online-text-message system, which strikes me as a great idea - I can leave messages whenever I like, and let people know what's going on. A stunted, drawn out conversation is still a conversation. Sadly, no one uses Yahoo messenger anymore. I'm still finding my feet with this international communications thing, but I hope that soon, I'll sink into a schedule of phone-calls and emails, and everything will get closer together.

Until then, hopefully, my now secure blog-location will mean people can keep track of what's going on here. Or, at least, what oversized butterflies I have seen recently.

18 08 05 - 21:55 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Mothra!

Today we saw a monstrously huge, prehistoric-looking butterfly at Nanzenji. Having sweated our way through the temple gardens, we grabbed a cool drink and went to sit by a pond. As I downed an ice cold soda a shadow swept over us, blocking out the sun. I squinted at the immense descending silhouette, the largest butterfly I have ever seen in my life. As it swooped down the draft from its wings sent our bikes tumbling and sand and gravel flying at us, much like the effect of helicopter blades. Diving for cover, we watched as it dove through bushes and over a wall, barely able to lift it's massive body. I have seen smaller hawks.

Butterflies were originally moths but because their nocturnal habits got them eaten by bats, some sparked upon the idea of waking during the day and in the sunlight realised that their wings were pretty drab, so set about making themselves a little more glamorous. The butter in butterflies comes from the abundance of yellow ones when the Anglo-Saxons invaded the shores of England. As yellow as butter. Japan has tropical heat in the summer and humid heat breeds enormous insects, much like you would see in a 1960s Harryhausen movie. Mothra in the Godzilla series is really no jump of the imagination. Yet when I think I have finally come to terms with Japanese bugs, one appears to horrify me. After doing a little research I found out that the monster we saw was a Swallowtail Butterfly, of the Papilio Macilentus subspecies. In Summer they grow to huge proportions and are found across Eastern Asia. Called Onaga-ageha in Japan, the name translates as Long Tail.

Butterflies can only see red, green and yellow. Their top speed is 12mph, though moths are much quicker at 25mph. With 24,000 species of butterflies and 140,000 of moth, Antarctica is the only place on the earth that they do not live. Most butterflies live for less than 9 months (excluding their time as caterpillars). Some moths never eat anything as adults because they don't have mouths. They must live on the energy they stored as caterpillars. Many taste with their feet to test whether leaves are good or bad. Butterflies have skeletons on the outside of their body to keep moisture inside.

18 08 05 - 03:02 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Tombo

In England we call them Devil's Darning Needles, Snake Doctors and Horse Adder's, unaffectionate towards them though they do no harm to us or horses. In Japan it is one of the Emperor's emblems, respected as the spirit-guide responsible for carrying souls to Paradise. The Malaysians skewer them, smear them with bird lime and fry them with shrimp to eat. The humble dragonfly.

When me and my brother were young we used to bug our parents until they drove us into the heart of Constable Country to feed ducks. Secretly we preferred clambering through the fields of cows and horses to the small streams concealed by trees and underbrush. Here we would patrol the sandy banks looking for sticklebacks. Occasionally we would catch a few, but most of the time was spent fleeing from giant dragonflies. My dad told us that they could sting so we were terrified of letting them near us. Growing up in the countryside I treated them with a kind of suspecting eye, sure that they were up to no good.

Along the Kamo there are thousands of dragonflies, whirring away, swarming on the surface of the water where they will lay their eggs. Everywhere you go in Japan you see dragonflies in all shapes and sizes. Rhod seems to be pretty much open mouthed every time we come across them.

Despite what my dad said I am dubious as to whether they really can sting you. But then again I wouldn't like to find out. Dragonflies are awesome.

The Anax Parthenope dragonfly is the world's fastest recorded insect at 17.8 mph. Dragonfly larvae hatch and grow underwater for up to 5 years. Within 6 weeks dragonflies have mated, lain eggs and died. Their larvae breathe through their rectums and their lower lips greatly enlarged to act as a scoop to trap prey in concealed hooks. Dragonflies can see up to 12 metres away and have eyes that are bigger than a mouses. They can also fly backwards!

The pre-historic Meganeura Monyi dragonfly had a wingspan of 70 metres and a probable speed of over 30 mph. It was the largest prehistoric insect. Nowadays the largest kind of dragonfly lives in Borneo, with a 19.4 cm wingspan.

Although we live nowhere near a river or pond, there is often a solitary dragonfly in the car-park of our apartment block. Everyday he is hovering about the cars closest the entrance, occasionally with a mate. I called him Smaug (wink) and say hi each afternoon, but now I realise that Smaug isn't going to be around for much longer I feel very sad for him.

17 08 05 - 23:29 - kieren - kyonoki| three comments - §

Crouching Tiger

Making sure not to waste the last days of Obon, we took our bikes to the Eastern hills and set out for a shrine or temple. Skimming the southern part of Heian Jingu and following the canals to the Lake Biwa Canal History Museum, we cycled about it to Nanzen-ji. Parking at the Chokushimon gate we strolled up the worn flagstones to the Ho-jo gardens, beneath an aqueduct that looks like it belongs in South Wales, and to the remains of the Palace gardens.

In 1264, Emperor Kameyama built a palace (Zenrinjiden) here. He believed deeply in Zen Buddhism and changed the palace into a temple in 1291. Only one part of the original gardens remain, the buildings all lost to fire (1394) or destroyed in the Battle of Onin (1448, 1467). Most of the buildings were replaced in the Momoyama Period and the old palace in 1703. Nanzenji was ranked above the 'Five Great Zen Temples' of Kyoto, effectively making it the most important Zen temple in the city.

Hojo Garden (the Head Priest's residence) is incredibly famous. Rectangular in shape, white sand is brushed to represent the ocean, while its rocks and plants represent an Earthly Paradise (Shagri-la), lying far over the sea. The two rocks separated by sand depict a mother tiger with her cub and are known as Tora-no-ko-watashi (tiger cub crossing the ocean).

A panoramic view of Kyoto can been seen from the upper balcony of the Sammon Gate. Built in 1628 the gate lies in a wooded glade. The legendary robber Ishikawa Goemon (Japan's Greatest Robber, immortalised in an Edo era Kabuki play) was said to have exclaimed 'Zekkei kana!' ('what a fantastic view!'), when he stood here.

The Tora-no-ma (Tiger Room) in the Sho-jo Hall features 39 murals depicting tigers. The most famous of these, a masterpiece of the Kano school, is the Mizunomi-no-tora (Drinking Tiger).

Many restaurants around Nanzenji specialise in the famous Kyoto dish yudofu (boiled tofu). The dish is said to taste best in the cherry blossom season or Fall, when the grounds of the temple are at their most beautiful.

Nanzenji is one of the most beautiful and peaceful temples I have visited in Kyoto.

17 08 05 - 01:50 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Cormorant Fishers

During the height of Summer the spirits of our ancestors return to this world, prompting families to visit their hometowns so that they might pay their respects to the dead. Obon is a festival in remembrance of the dead, when highways are choked with thousands of cars full of people attempting to get back to their place of birth. It is a time for visiting graves, of family coming together, a mass exodus of people travelling from the cities back to the countryside, children holidaying with their grandparents.

August 16th marks the end of the Bon season and is the last day of vacation for most people. Kyoto plays host to Daimonji, a final celebration before the summer draws to a close. Giant bonfires called Okuribi are lit on mountains around the city in the shape of the kanji (Chinese characters) DAI (large), MYO (miraculous), HO (doctrine), a boat (FUNAGATA) and a torii gate. The fires are said to act as beacons, guiding the spirits from our world back to their home in the Nether-world.

Rhod and I cycled through Saga to Arashiyama to watch the final bonfire (torii) ignited. Parking our bikes by the river we squeezed through the thousands of people crowding onto the bridge and got carried down to the food stalls. Edging our way to the river bank we watched floating lanterns being made in the thousands, carried down to the water and set free, carefully corralled a few hundred feet to a jetty, where they were scooped up and the paper given away to tourists for luck.

Taking photos was a nightmare, as everywhere but the food stalls and floodlit shops was pitch black. Wandering around we decided to wait for light-up time sitting by the weir, a little way up from Togetsu Bridge. Pleasure boats drifted up and down the River Oi, setting off fireworks and waiting for Daimonji to begin. Meeting Ogi and his wife, Atsuko, we saw in the distance the burning hillside of Daimonji, a huge fiery character that marks the beginning of the brief celebration.

Thirty minutes later and all eyes turned to the hillside a little beyond Arashiyama. Four pin-pricks of light that had been burning since early in the evening all at once swept down and across the darkness. More and more fires began until the huge image of a torii gate was emblazoned in the black. To oooohhhs and ahhhhhs we scrambled through the mass of people and shoved our way across the bridge to try and get a better view of the mountain. Brilliant idea, but we totally failed.

A little way off from the crowd we walked up the river in peace. The pleasure boats lazily swung up and down the waterway, an eerie mist hanging over the water from the smoke of the bonfires. Everything was silhouetted, dark and still and silent. Then came the biggest surprise for me. Every year I see posters on the train, depicting fisherman who train cormorants to catch fish for them. Yesterday I finally got to see one up close. This type of fishing is little more than a tourist show nowadays, but hundreds of years ago this kind of fishing actually took place. Three men in long, shallow boats circle the river whilst dangling a bucket of burning wood over the side. Cormorants, with wires attached to their necks, are set down in the water and allowed the freedom to fish. The fire attracts fish towards the boats and in seconds the birds have driven themselves below the surface. As soon as they emerge another man grabs and and pulls them into the boat. The wire ensures that the cormorant can't swallow the catch and instead drops it into the boat. It is remarkably harsh for the bird, but amazing to watch. I managed to get some photos crouched on the stone bank, desperately trying to hold my camera still enough to catch the scene. They are not great, but the best I could manage.

One thing is a bit puzzling. How has the tradition of the fishermen wearing straw skirts carried on, despite working with spitting, sparking wood? How many fishermen have gone up in flames in the past?

Daimonji is quite beautiful, but for me, the cormorants win out. I am glad to have escaped the madness of the Kamo river for the tranquil quiet of the Oi River and the fisher-birds.

17 08 05 - 00:30 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

DiSaster

Rhodri, sorry. I feel so bad. I left my Nintendo DS on the floor and managed to kick it and shatter the top screen. It is completely broken. 15,000 yen wasted, but more importantly it was from you.

12 08 05 - 02:23 - kieren - kyonoki| one comment - §

The Train Station in the Sky

Rhod first came to Japan as an English teacher two years ago in the countryside around Kameoka, before throwing it in to follow his dream of becoming a games designer at Lionhead in England. A few twists of fate later and he is back in Kyoto, giving himself a massive pat on the back. Now his dreams are getting crazy. He is working indirectly for Nintendo. I am glad he came back to Japan or I would never have known him and that would have been terrible.

On Sunday he dragged me out of the apartment, wanting to take the short train ride back to Kameoka and their summer fireworks festival. I tagged along with a sour-puss face, knowing how insanely busy festivals get and how nightmarish the trains would be. Nevertheless he kept on wearing down my defences and we got off at Arashiyama to wade in the river for a while. Meeting Erik we hopped back on the train and Rhod took us to Hozukyo, the train station in the sky.

Leaving Arashiyama behind, you strike through the North-Western mountains encircling Kyoto and plunge through scores of tunnels beneath the forested slopes. Passing through the first tunnel you emerge onto Hozukyo Station, which is built on a bridge hundreds of feet above rapids which cut a gorge through the mountains. Stepping off the train we found ourselves on a thin strip of concrete that acted as the platform, large barriers blocking the view of the river below. As a station it is breathtaking, deadly silent save for the rushing water beneath your feet. A long way beneath your feet.

We took steps down from the platform, under the bridge and onto the mountain road. The river Hozu slices through the mountain range, its many tributaries gushing through gorges and ravines. The river bed is a mess of boulders and scree fallen from the lower slopes. There is a large sign, warning you not to swim in the river. A few summers ago, many people lost their lives, dragged downstream by treacherous undercurrents. Rhod remembers that there was a ladder which you could climb down and work your way to the river. The ladder is gone now and new barriers erected.

The beauty of Hozukyo is not undone by the avalanche protection that smothers some of the mountains with a concrete coating. Even the river management is minimal, the concrete formed to look like natural rock. We wandered a little way up one mountain so that we could look back at the station. It is pretty amazing. The station is the bridge, spanning the valley, two tunnels capping each end of the platform. It is strange to see trains come through and stop dead so far above the ground. Some people were walking down by the river, but as we didn't have much time we made do with the promise of coming back.

Hopping back on the train, which shakes the station and gives you the uneasy feeling that although the bridge has stood for many years there is always the first time everything, we went to Kameoka. Sailing through the many tunnels we came out on the vast Tanba plain and watched with sinking hearts as literally hundreds of people swarmed through the paddy fields and roads towards the river. Many people were wearing yukata and the atmosphere was insane. Thousands and thousands of people jostled through the main streets of Kameoka, looking for food and snacks before the show. Surviving a riot in the supermarket, we ate a piecemeal dinner while the sun set and the police began the arduous task of stopping all traffic.

As the fireworks began we watched from the 6th floor of the old building where Rhod used to teach. In a sense his journey has come full circle, back to the place he first started out in Japan. With a cool breeze on our faces we oohh and ahhhhed at the showers of gunpowder that were crafted to look like fish, willow trees, happy faces, cherry blossoms and constellations. Below us thousands and thousands of people watched silently, occasionally applauding, as rocketed bangs echoed across the plain. There is a kind of peace in watching fireworks, an awe and calm before the nightmare crush of the journey home.

10 08 05 - 03:27 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Hell's Kitchen

It is back to the 1950s for me. A pin-striped frilly apron, the smell of cinnamon, and gentle wafts of oven heat that mark baking day. As I am fairly impoverished at the moment I cannot afford an oven, so I am making do with a tiny toaster oven-type thing. Please imagine the kind that little girls have when they are young. Ever since college I have found baking quite relaxing, often spending my free afternoons whipping up a flour-storm in the kitchen. I can't much see the point of slaving over a few scones, so I like to make things in bulk. I can remember cramming scones into cupboards, the microwave, any spare space I could find because I had made so many. With military precision I have turned our tiny apartment into a cookie factory...cinnamon, Earl Grey Tea and cocoa cookies. The problem is that the oven is so small that I can only cook 6 at a time and it takes 15 minutes per baking. I should be finished around Christmas time. With the holidays comes my opportunity to hone my amazing cooking skills. Hmmmm.

01 08 05 - 20:09 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

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

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