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kyonoki - 京のキー

Finger of Blame

I have always wondered how I would handle an emergency. I'm not really talking about a volcanic eruption sweeping over Kyoto, or a typhoon creating a disaster zone of the city, but a smaller accident at work or at home. Today I got to see how I would react and if I would be cool under pressure.

Walking up to the first year building, I turned to the corner to students screaming and blood spattered up the wall. One boy grabbed hold of me and started crying something that I couldn't understand. Sliding back the door, I found one another boy passed out on the floor. Minus his finger.

The classroom was a riot of noise and hysterical students. I remember at High School being taught about first aid, but the first thing that came to mind was medical dramas on TV. Wrapping the boys hand in my handkerchief, I tied it as tight as I could and told two students to run downstairs and get the nurse. I cursed my luck that it was a class that I taught alone, two floors above the nearest teacher.

My Japanese is mediocre at best, and I thank God that my students tried hard to understand me and gesture things they couldn't say. The twelve year old, though conscious, was pale and sweating. While some of his friends comforted him, I got the rest of the students to sit quietly, for once raising my voice in Japanese.

The doors in all schools in Japan are sliding. One of his classmates had slammed the door on his hand. While not maliciously, it had been vicious enough to crush his finger. A bruise or break would have been all, had the rubber protector not worn away, revealing the sharp metal edge beneath.

Which left the finger. No-one would pick it up, so I did it myself, laying it on my towel and thinking about where we might keep ice in the school. I sent more students off to the home economics classroom. It is the first time and I hope the last, that I have ever picked up a finger or missing body part. It was very strange and gross. But I was more worried than panicked.

A few minutes later and the ambulance had been called, the nurse and homeroom teacher were in the room, and the finger was on ice. Another few minutes and the student was been carried off to the local hospital, the students were mopping up the spilt blood and the first year classes were being called down to the gym. I was proud of how the students mucked together. Strangely it was the highlight of my day.

The student is doing fine. By the time I left a drawn out and pointless meeting, we had news that the doctors were reattaching the finger.
I am left with a burning anger that we should have to teach in such third world conditions.

29 09 05 - 11:37 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kraken

It is a weird thing indeed to come home from a busy day, throw down my bag, switch on the computer, and learn that Japanese scientists have managed to capture footage of a creature many doubted existed.

The film shows undeniable proof: Giant Squids are real. The monstrous Kraken, recorded in shipping logs for centuries and mentioned in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, isn't superstition or myth...it is fact. Evidence washes ashore with greater frequency and scientists speculate that the number of the giant sea creatures could be huge. It is with a kind of thrill that the sea reveals another one of its many secrets and all those old pictures of centuries past prove more correct than the cynical modern age believed.

28 09 05 - 10:27 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

New Perspective

Panoramic


(more)

27 09 05 - 12:33 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Military Precision

The harsh gladitorial cry rose up from the baseball ground and shook the school. A few seconds later and the crowd began to chant in unison, clapping and spurting out propaganda at the top of their voices. 'Red team to win! Those Whites are no good! Down with Blue'. I sat watching the classes march onto the athletic field, banners carried before them, each student goose-stepping in formation, arms limp by their sides, faces turned to the empty podium.

Little by little they took up their places under the watchful gaze of the teachers. Silence. Not a murmur or a whisper. The punishment in being so bold as to speak would be total humiliation in front of the entire school body. The Principal took up his place, surveyed his ranks, wrinkled up his face and began his speech. The words, half of which I did not understand, were harsh, drumming into the students the need to give everything they had for their team, that no less than their best would do, that here today they had to prove their worth for the school. School spirit. Team competition. No small battle.

Sports Day had come again...

Sports Day when I was in school was a jovial, care free sort of mess. There was competition between classes, but there were no hard feelings at the end of the day. The tiny silver cup given to the winning class was forgotten long before the contest finished. I hated and loved it all at once, just because it was an escape from class, a time to put aside petty differences. Maybe it is a rose-tinted view, but I nonetheless recall it as being a lot of fun.

In Japan you get the impression that if a student loses his race then the world is at an end. Tears stream down the hardiest of boys faces, apologies are bowed to the team, teachers wear grim expressions, all as if it is more than friendly competition. Which in a way it is. The school is segregated into three teams, three colours. Each class is a different colour. Rather than fighting for your class, you struggle for your colour. Teachers too are placed in one group or the other, not simply as organisers, but as team leaders. Today a young teacher bounded up to me excitedly and asked me what team I would like to be in. Throwing some hints about the strongest team, she suggested I join hers. As the foreigner, I am allowed to choose my side.

I smiled at her and said that I wouldn't be attending Sports Day. Not my choice, but the wise company that employs me. Yet another missed chance to bond with my students, whilst I traipse off to my pseudo-job at one of the elementary schools. The teacher's face instantly crumpled and without another word she whisked off, leaving me feeling embarrassed and conscious of her disbelieving sighs.

Sitting out on the steps today, I watched the practise unfurl, aware that I was again the black sheep of the school. A Switzerland in human form if you like. Without a team for the next week and a bit I will be without a role in the school. Maybe the comparison with Switzerland is not so wrong, as it seemed as if I had stumbled upon a Nazi rally. Let me expand. I don't think I am being unfair.

Japanese junior high schools practise for Sports Day religiously for weeks before the event. Classes are canceled, clubs are put on hold and whole schedules rearranged. Everything is carefully coordinated and planned, down to the opening ceremony march. As the somber music of the National Anthem played out over the neighbourhood, I felt that I had slipped back in time to the war years. Immaculately turned out in their sports gear, the students again and again were directed how to march, run, sit, line up and participate. Every single tiny detail thought of.

Smooth, sure. But all that wonderful, chaotic fun was missing.

This morning my teaching partner saddled up to my desk and told me that today there would be extra practise. On Monday some elderly people walking past the school had watched the opening ceremony march, and had later called the school to complain that the students looked messy and undisciplined. What they were saying was 'in my day things were very different'. Hmmm, yes quite. I was both shocked and saddened. Older generations fear that if youth is given a free reign then the world will stop spinning, so they try to cow them with their own values and ideals. Older generations didn't exactly live in a golden age, they have made more than their fair share of mistakes that we are still living with.

So far, 25 hours in September have been taken up in just practising for the big day. Athens spent half that time on the Olympics. A step up from mere controlling, the school wants no surprises, wants to control each part of the celebration. I don't think I would be too surprised if they had decided which students had won. Just to make sure everything went smoothly next week.

Please, please loosen up a little.

27 09 05 - 08:41 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Please, oh Please...

In case you can't make it out, this traditional Japanese form of prayer has been filled in by someone called Ben, and it is his wish "for superheroes to be true." Brilliant.

26 09 05 - 14:08 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

One Thousand and One Buddhas

Sanjusangen-do is a plain wooden hall, 13 metres by 64 metres. It has unremarkable, plain white screens in the place of windows, and from the outside, aside from its sheer length, looks rather dull. It's name alludes to 'the hall with 33 spaces between the columns'. Step inside and it is easy to understand why so many people crowd here.

One thousand and one Kannon statues crowd around the seated figure of Senju Kannon. Sanjusangen-do is in fact the only thousand-Kannon hall left in existence and remains an ancient marvel. Rebuilt in 1266, the hall has survived since then, its golden army silently staring out into space. Legend has it that all the busshi (sculptors of Buddhist art) working in Japan at the time were commissioned to create the statues inside the hall.

I felt as if I had stepped into a Harryhausen film, ready for each one of the arms to start moving, each rank to step out wielding weapons, their clunky stop-motion bodies jittering forward.

Raijin, the god of thunder, is perhaps the most well known of all the statues in the call. He carries circular drums on his back and drumsticks in each hand, looking down at the earth and ready to make his thunder.

25 09 05 - 07:20 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

On Mount Hiei

From the monastery

On Mount Hiei I look out

On this world of tears,

And though I am unworthy,

I shield it with my black sleeves.

Don't fret, I haven't gone all crazy spiritual. Just a little dash of Japanese Poetry by Abbot Jien, inspired over 1000 years ago by the same views that I experienced today on Mt. Hiei.

24 09 05 - 15:38 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

Warrior Monks

'The only things in this world that do not bend to my will are the floods of the River Kamo, the dice in the game of sugoroku, and the Sohei of Hiei'. Wise words indeed from the Emperor's father, who had born witness to these warrior priests descending from their mountain retreats, overthrowing the government and pressing their demands upon the ruling families by force. In the Sengoku (Warring States) Era, the Sohei (priests in military uniform) underwent rigorous training in martial arts whilst they lived and prayed at Enryakuji. Because they became a powerful force in opposition to the government, Oda Nobunaga stormed their mountain hideout and burned down all the buildings to end their strangle-hold on the city.

As a teenager I read an account of the warrior Kumagai during the Heike Wars. He mentioned the huge forces of Sohei monks that would be mustered on one side or the other before battle. Such was their influence and strength that even famed generals would trek up to the mountain temples to try and persuade the Sohei to join with them. My imagination was sparked enough for me to remember it when I came to Japan, but the journey is not quite as simple as all that, and it was only today that I got to stand amongst the trees and halls in which the Sohei trained.

The journey to Enryakuji is quite stunning, gob-smacking when you consider that our hour and a half of cable-cars, rope-ways, forest paths and roads, would have meant a day trek for the monks when they descended to Heian-kyo (Kyoto). The mountain looks over the city, dwarfing the range of other hills, forests, mountains and valleys around it. As the old rope-way creaked and moaned up its course, the city vanished far below as if we were flying. Another trip across a gorge and Kyoto was so far below that it was difficult to even make out. I have never been so high up in Japan before and it made me smile with glee.

Without a car, Enryakuji is not easily reached. Because of the time consumed in getting there, through forests and down rocky paths, it is not really an ideal honeypot for tourists, and there were far fewer people than I expected. Because of confusing signposts, we rather up-liftingly stumbled upon the temple a good half a kilometre before we expected to. On surmounting yet another remarkably steep, stone stairway set in the mountainside, we stepped out into a burst of vermillion. It was worth the sweat and exhaustion.

The priest Saicho spent 7 years of spiritual training on Mt. Hiei as a hermit. After these difficult years he lay the first foundations of Enryakuji in 792. Emperor Kanmu feared that evil spirits would infiltrate his new city from the North-East, the direction of their abode. Saicho (himself Chinese), constructed Enryakuji as a spiritual fort, protecting the city below, whilst remaining outside the Emperor's jurisdiction. Women as well as the police-force of the Emperor were forbidden entrance to Hiei, leading to a mass migration of criminals to Enryakuji. Such was the influx of 'un-welcomes', that the priests were forced to take up arms to protect themselves.

At the end of the Heian Era, there were about 3000 temples scattered on the slopes of the mountain. Following the attack by Nobunaga, only 3 pagodas and 120 tatchu (minor temples) were rebuilt and now remain. The Komponchudo Hall, rebuilt in 1642, contains a small row of flames burning before the altar, called Kiezu-no-Tomyo (the light that never goes out). It is said to have been kept alight since the temple was founded over a thousand years ago.

As I write this I am tired after the long journey, but happy that I got to see where all these religious men took up arms against the corruption and decay within the Imperial city, and had the gall to do something about it (even if it was for their own greedy purposes). The Sohei were more impressive than the untrained ranks of the armies at the time, and continue to inspire tales and stories of great daring in present day Japan.

24 09 05 - 10:51 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Vernal Equinox

Teru, Tomomi, a sleepy James, and Misako. As most of the country celebrates a day off for the turning of the seasons, we harassed our working friends to come out for a quick bite at the local Italian and a quick drink at the comfortable SS Bar. Why SS? Who knows. Congratulations to Tomi on her new job at the Oaks Hotel, good luck to Teru who has yet to buy anything to sleep on in his new flat, and cheers to Misako, looking fantastic.

23 09 05 - 16:09 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Yoshitsune and the Tengu

Rhod scratching his head at the famous Kurama Tengu that once trekked through the mountains on his wooden geta. We followed the Eizan railway to the ancient forest of Kurama, feared since ancient times as the haunting ground of evil spirits, robbers and the heroic, historical figure of Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune became a legendary hero, tragically forced to commit suicide at 35 after being pursued across the country by first his family's enemies and then his paranoid brother. The wars between the Genji and Heike that took place in Kyoto in the 12th century gave rise to many famous legends and tragic tales. Yoshitsune came to Kurama to undergo spiritual training and learn the art of war, taught by one of the long-nosed goblins, called Tengu. At 25 he became military commander to the Genji, but after remarkable success was betrayed by his brother.

Kurama's temples are relatively new, rebuilt over time, though their history stretch back 1200 years. The cycle up through the mountains is a little more impressive than the buildings that perch amongst the forested slopes. Walking up the treacherous paths you come to small markers and shrines where Yoshitsune was said to have done this and that. Paying respect to such a beloved hero seems a worthy thing, but the man-made structures seem almost disappointing when you sit and look across the hazy shadow of the mountains.

There is a reason legends are powerful...it is because they grow in our minds into fantastical stories that cannot be proven one way or another. A scattering of small stone markers take the sheen off the heroism of this young man who grew to try and lead his family to victory, but inevitably failed, betrayed by that family. Walking through Kurama, it is much better to imagine what might have been than pay some coins to be told what are clearly folk tales.

When you have so much natural beauty in one spot, it is hard to walk through the halls of buddhas and pay much attention to the worries of man. If you wanted proof that gods exist, better to glance outside.

23 09 05 - 10:18 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kumo no Yama

Cycling along the banks of the Kamo towards its source in the mountains, we struggled up the twisting roads, gears clinking continually as the paths climbed up only to flow back down into the forested hills. As the river cut itself into deeper and deeper valleys, the forest engulfed the mountain sides and we pushed harder and harder through the shallow incline of the road through tiny villages, clinging to the thin strip of flat land. Stopping to rest, and to watch the vernacular train trundle up it's old rusty track, Rhod pointed to an immense web spun out across the dead tree trunks lining the road.

And in the middle of it's web sat the largest spider I have ever seen up close. My curiosity got the better of my absolute terror, enough to push Rhod close to snap this shot. The further we cycled into the mountains, the more spiders we saw. I hate them with all my heart, but have to admit that their webs are feats of incredible daring and beauty. As we strolled through Kurama, at the entrance to the Nio-mon and across the tree tops, one spider had sailed the seven feet over the path to anchor his monstrous threads together, creating a web big enough to ensnare small birds.

23 09 05 - 10:13 - kieren - kyonoki| two comments - §

The Problem with Japanese Baths

Now you can see exactly the problem we have with Japanese baths. It would be fine if we chopped off our legs and head. Often it feels like I am trying to cook myself in some kind of cauldron. Of course these baths traditionally serve the whole family, who shower before jumping in. Baths can remain full of water for days, heated by a small device that pumps out the water, reheats it, then pours it back. I have to say I have fallen in love with them.

23 09 05 - 09:40 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Big Spoon

Rhod hugging a big spoon on Miyajima.

20 09 05 - 11:06 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

8.15

Every now and then I get so stir-crazy that I need to get far away from run-of-the-mill things. My mostly rose-tinted view of Japan came from hiking sweatily up sun bleached paths to the tip of Miyajima island. Whether it was because I had never climbed so high up by myself, that I had never been able to see so far out to sea, or that I was surprised at just how beautiful Hiroshima bay is I am not entirely sure. But I wanted to share some of my happiest memories with Rhod. Living beyond our means for a couple of days we soaked up the salty air, glitzy bars and swank restaurants in one of Hiroshima's more exclusive, though not necessarily more expensive hotels, clinging to the edge of a rocky peninsular overlooking the bay.

Hiroshima is forever bathed in the solemn light of its horrific history. When I first walked around the Peace Park, it was with a sense of unreality. My stomach had butterflies the entire time, knowing much about it from an American perspective and one of my smaller theses. Walking through the city, I somehow could not swallow that here, in this place, a single bomb had wiped out thousands of lives, destroyed families, smashed buildings and started a frightening new type of warfare. Even though it is rebuilt, even though men and women endured the hardships that followed, it is still with a strange sobriety that you explore Hiroshima.

Many people have seen pictures of the aftermath and the desolation of Hiroshima following WWII, but few would be able to describe the city today. Hiroshima is comfortably unremarkable, a spacious, if somewhat ruralised city. The way of life is cranked down a notch, the people seemingly a little way behind the fashion, influence and speed of Tokyo or Kansai. Its natural beauty overwhelms anything built or destroyed by man, its history preserved in the island of Miyajima and the ruins that lie in the mountains that cradle the city.

I studied Hiroshima intensely before I graduated, already tired of American History and wishing to put a spin on World War II Politics. Black Rain and Hiroshima are two incredibly influential books, definitive versions of the 6th August that should be read to be believed. Memoirs and memorials from survivors pick out stories that give a lot more hope, tell a lot more about human kindness and courage and bravery in the worst conditions than they do crush you with terrible facts. The arguments for and against the bomb are endless and it is easy to get caught up in figures and legal reasoning, whilst forgetting the horrors that were inflicted upon the citizens of this city.

The Peace Park and Atomic Dome stand as bleak and haunting reminders to wartime aggression. Using shock tactics the museum sets out to batter your heart and mind into agreeing that peace can only come with the removal of all nuclear warheads. Things are not quite that simple unfortunately. It certainly stands as a deterrent and reminder to what has happened and what could happen again. Defined by its place in history, struggling each year to promote peace, Hiroshima has a place in my heart because of what it is now: a relaxed city, clean and spacious, calm and friendly, sitting upon the edge of spectacular mountains and a beautiful sea.
It was the most amazing holiday with Rhod, sitting and forgetting the stresses and strains of work. I think Tolkien was right...for the British there is something magnetic and alluring about the sea. Just smelling it, walking by it, exploring rock pools, hunting for crab and fish, and taking boat rides around the forest covered islands, seems to satisfy something deep down inside me. I cannot imagine ever living far from the sea.

Thanks for a wonderful weekend Rhod.


20 09 05 - 10:56 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Hiroshima

Ki and I just spent the single most pleasant, relaxing, interesting, fun, romantic, cultural, long weekend in memory, in Hiroshima and Miyajima. It was Ki's idea to (finally) shift us out of Kyoto for a bit, and take in some worthwhile history and sightseeing whilst we were at it. Let's just say, it was a great success, and I'm very, very happy we went. All photos accessible from the galleries.

20 09 05 - 05:43 - rhod - kyonoki| one comment - §

REVealed

Well, it was a long wait, but against all odds, and despite all of the time I have spent conjuring up ideas about what the new controller could be, today I was still taken aback by quite how comprehensively Nintendo aim to change how we play.

I have the genuine pleasure of working in a creative, vibrant games company, and something as innovative and unusual as this controller sparks off a lot of discussion. Today there were so many ideas thrown around that I could never recall them all - plant potting, flower arranging, archery, billiards, it goes on. But most important was the energy. The console is inspirational, and as such, I look forward to five years of truly excellent, truly different game experiences.

More when I have time to process it.

16 09 05 - 15:45 - rhod - kyonoki| two comments - §

Happy Mario 20th!

It's no understatement to say that this game, and the company which built it, have been some of the most important, and defining, things in my life. The country I live in, the job I do (and thus many of the friends I have), the things I studied, the way I think and play, my hobbies, the music I listen to, and the numerous debts I've incurred (!) are all down, in no small part, to Nintendo and Mario.

It is with that in mind that I salute his virtual, unlikely self on this, the 20th anniversary of his release in the household games market.

*sheds a tear*

13 09 05 - 14:45 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

A Micro Perspective

The Jewel of the Geek World! A quote from Rhod.

13 09 05 - 13:55 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kamikaze Bats

The logistics of America landing on Japanese soil to struggle through the final stages of World War II were mind-boggling. As Japan became more desperate and destitute it followed through policies that were as hopeless as they were self destructive. kamikaze pilots troubled the American fleets, occasionally striking home and for times crippling the Allied offensive.

Meanwhile, in the flats of the Arizonan desert, a wooden city had been constructed to test America's latest weapon. Scientists had been working around the clock to come up with a weapon that could be dropped close to the Japanese archipelago, but that would remain undetected to radar. They had hit upon the poor old Mexican bat. Each bat was made to wear a small waistcoat containing napalm, a detonator carefully concealed within. The idea was to drop the bats close to settlements a few moments before dawn. As the sun rose, the bats would scramble to find cover in the nearest shelter. Japanese houses were perfect as the bats could conceal themselves under the overhanging roofs and in the eaves. A little while after the sun had risen, the bats would self ignite, burning vast tracts of land to the ground. Japanese houses were made of wood and a conflagration would be devastating, as proven in Tokyo.

Poor, poor bats. Sacrificed for a war they had no idea was being waged. Thankfully American ingenuity insured that most bats awaiting their own kamikaze journeys were rescued, government officials slapping their heads collectively. Releasing the bats just before dawn beside the make pretend city, the scientists were horrified when the group did a U-turn and made straight back to base, their homing instinct kicking in.
Amusing, but not a precedent. In World War I the Russians had come up with a similar idea, strapping explosives to dogs and sending them against enemy tanks. Although well trained, when put to the test the dogs skittered forward before charging back to their owners.
There is a lesson in this somewhere, although my idea of cannon-ball canaries is still very much on. Dumb animals or dumber humans?

13 09 05 - 11:55 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

ba, ba, ba baba baba baaaaa (ba baba, baba, ba bababaaa)

goomba


Oh Kawaii! Looks like a Russian Cossack dancer.

12 09 05 - 11:53 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Supping Contemplation

Great seeing Mart and Rach in Japan again. Sad they have to leave again so soon.

10 09 05 - 04:56 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

The Intruder

Alien voices drift in through an open window, harsh and severe, like soldiers driven to the brink of madness by low rations and tropical diseases. A Japanese guard strolls back and forth, nervous, dagger clutched in his sweaty hand. I look at the door and can see the slumped form of dead and injured bodies. From outside comes the sound of muffled shouts and trouble. The oppressive heat has all but knocked the rebellion out of me, thoughts of escape far from my addled brain and sweating body.

This is not quite just an overactive imagination. The dead bodies are teachers acting out a part. The Japanese guard in front of me is actually holding a ruler instead of a knife, and the school is locked down for another intruder drill. After the death of teacher in January, and an increasing number of violent attacks in Elementary Schools, teachers are being prepped to deal with an intruder.

Anyone with violent intentions towards the students at my school would have to pull off an entrance worthy of a Marine. Security guards roam the school grounds, while security cards are distributed to all teachers, video cameras are monitored from the computer room, and all guests are checked thoroughly before entering.

At 10am an alarm started sounding after there were violent shouts outside the dining room. I looked around the deserted teacher's room in shock, hurrying to find out what was going on. Scared out of my wits by the alarm and a sudden announcement that all classrooms were to lock down because there was a stranger stalking the hallways, I turned the corner and could not quite work out what was happening. One teacher was lying on the floor, while another two attempted to subdue their co-worker who was wielding a ruler, with what looked like a giant swimming pool net. I tiptoed backwards and slunk off to my desk, where a note had been stuck on explaining I was to stay where I was and that I was kidnapped until given the all clear.

I take my hat off to the teachers. They threw their souls into acting out their parts, screaming and yelling their way through the 20 minute production.

I am not going to mock the idea of the intruder drill. It seems like quite a brilliant idea, if not really preparing the school for what might happen. The last attacker of a school to hit the press was in fact an ex student, which makes you wonder about things. This kidnapped soul can sleep safe at night knowing that the latest in high tech Japanese anti-intruder technology is being distributed to schools across the country...giant swimming pool nets.

09 09 05 - 09:39 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Kiyamachi fightooo

On Saturday Rhod and I escaped the claustrophobic, smoky darkness of ING and stumbled out on to Kiyamachi. A picturesque stream bubbles beneath the drooping branches of cherry trees, the old site of timber yards that hugged the Kamo. They would float their trade from the mountains to the chopping shops. Nowadays seedy bars and strip clubs line the stream, the roads either side bustling with crowds dining, drinking, or looking for something a little more racy. I call it Whore Alley and the less than lovely ladies hover about the road, approaching clients and chatting up the hundreds of bouncers and pimps that line the doorways to the neon-bathed buildings. Not a nice place, but frustratingly containing some of the best restaurants and bars in Kyoto. There is no real sense of menace, more of an overly tired bustle that lasts most of the night. I have never seen a fight or been close to one, although on the weekend we missed the tail end of one.

A group of men were being carefully corralled down a side alley. Like a car crash, spectators had gathered on the sidelines to watch. There is something horrifyingly magnetic about spilled blood or the possibility of some. A man had started a brawl and disappeared in the time it took the police to arrive. Rather than breaking things up, they pushed the men down a side street, while they continued to pull and push at one another.

08 09 05 - 10:35 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Childish Things

Morning assembly today expanded on the dangers of mechanical, plastic farmyard animals. Now it occurs to me that in a world constantly in fear of the next terrorist attack, that their time could be a little better spent. How relevant is it really to fear falling cartoon animals. Consider that three children a week are wheeled into the nurse's room with cuts and bruises from peacock attacks. Four permanently pissed off birds stalk the playground at their leisure, picking off students left right and centre, the grouchiest school mascots on Earth. If you get too near, the things actually growl, shivering their fancy tails at you like whips.

As I walked to class, three students high-fived me, slapping my hands whilst sing-songing, 'Gibbon jive!' Once you get past the murder of English, there is a certain charm to the phrases elementary school kids come up with, mimicking TV shows and music, but somehow managing to dissect an entire language. I used to correct them, but somehow it seems much more fun that they come up with their own unique gestures and phrases. My favourites include, 'Good joy' (good job), 'Oh my Goat!', and 'Hard Gay' (students sadly shake their head dramatically, trying to convey that it has been a particularly tough day). It is a little disconcerting when they come up and ask, 'You hard gay, me hard gay'.

Childish, but I snigger every time, sending them off to their home-room teachers, who sit opened mouth trying to work out if the students are being exceptionally rude. The students beam and grin and I wonder if they are completely innocent of all they say.

07 09 05 - 09:18 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Psycho Farm and the Plastic Pig

A student was almost killed by a plastic pig today. It fell right out of the sky. Must be a Tuesday!
If I am sitting at my desk at the hour or half hour, I can make out the faint sounds of plinky-plunky music drifting through the school. Every time I hear it I grate my teeth, wanting to hunt down the clock maker and torture him by locking him in a room with his invention for the rest of eternity. Today I was late and so finally saw what was responsible for the tortuous noise.

The entrance of the school, for some reason, is shaped to look like a Swiss Cottage, with flowery window boxes, sloping roof and a huge clock above a balcony. As the clock struck eleven I stood mesmerised as the doors to the balcony swung open revealing prancing farmyard animals dancing to the inane song. So horrified was I by this sickly sweet Disneyesque display that I watched it to the end. As did a group of first years, hypnotised rather than enjoying the 1980s tack.

Typhoon Nabi hit Kyushu this morning, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes in the South of the island, drenching Kansai in thick broiling clouds and torrential downpours. As we await the progress of the storm, the weather is about as crazy as you can get. Wind thrusts from all directions, the top of the higher apartment buildings can barely be seen so low are the clouds and the rain flies at you horizontally. Yes, it is cool.

The wind pulled at my clothes, funneled into the school's inner courtyard, trapped and spun around like a mini cyclone. The plastic animals rolled out and proceeded to move drunkenly, shuddering painfully to each note and spinning around on a rusty mechanism that squealed in agony. In fact the squeal sounded as if it came from the animals themselves, doomed to perform this act forever, or until the hinges that fix them to the display snap. The recording is cracked and old and out of tune, and from the manic grin on the animals faces, they have all been driven insane. This is no mere cute farmyard scene, it is a pig holding a flute as if he were trying to stab his comrades, a chicken headbutting a drum, a lamb attempting to stamp on his neighbour. Disturbing in a deep seated way, I felt at once what darkness George Orwell saw in pigs.

One huge swelling of wind and there was an almighty crack. The pig took off, shattering the donkey as it tried to end its misery. Arching into the courtyard all faces looked upward as it plummeted to the ground, dagger-flute in hand. From the perspective of the first years it must have seemed that the shiny pink pig had launched himself at them, eyes cracked and smile beyond humour. Most scattered. Smack! The head lolled off to one side. As it hit the ground everyone let out a squawk of horror. One tiny student lay smothered by the plastic pig, only arms and legs visible. Luckily for him, the pig was remarkably light and he suffered only a light bruise on his cheek. The pig did not fare so well. The last I saw of the head, students were kicking it down to the playground.

As the police tape goes up around the farmyard, I pray they put these animals out of their misery. It is enough to give students nightmares for weeks. Well, not so much students, as me. Please let the head not be rolling around the soccer pitch tomorrow.

06 09 05 - 09:24 - kieren - kyonoki| two comments - §

Phone Rage

I just had my first experience of a company using a foreign call centre for 'support', with RealPlayer.

'Real' is one of the least popular companies I can think of. I'm yet to meet a person who has an opinion of them more positive than 'indifferent', and I know many who launch into long, painful stories of computer crashes, bad performance, and in one occasion a totally hijacked PC, whenever the subject of Realplayer comes up. Despite this, they have somehow garnered the support of such reputable sites as the BBC, and as a result I gave in and subscribed to their BBC World package, so that I could keep up to date from Japan. Big mistake, and the last time I give them 'one more chance'.

I stopped using the service a few months after getting it, deciding that theBBC website was perfectly adequate for my needs. On trying to quit, I was presented with a phone number to call. A US phone number, for a call centre that is only open between US 9-5. Not the ideal hours from Japan. On the various occasions that I tried to call, they were closed, until, some months later, I became determined enough and angry enough to keep trying. However, the first hurdle (that of not being able to cancel my account online, despite having started it online, and it having been entirely about online, from an entirely online company) was nothing compared to when I actually got through.

The lady spoke perfectly good English, albeit a bit overly formal and more obviously scripted than most of the pre-recorded phone services. Her script was like an obstacle course. Firstly, the email address: my reasonably simple yahoo.co.uk address took a good 3-4 minutes to get across. "oh, yahoo" she eventually realised, before then automatically forgetting that I had been saying ".co.uk" over and over, and resorting to .com. That hurdle identified, she was equipped to cancel the account.

But wait! *Why* was I cancelling my account? "I don't need it anymore". "So, would you say you have been too busy to fully explore the features of the product?". No. I just don't need it. "Ah, so you have no time to use the product". OK, yes, that sounds fine. "When you started using the product, do you feel you fully explored it?". Yes. It was the BBC news, but on my computer. "OK. Sir, may I offer you one month for free?". No, really, I don't need it. "I can confirm this free month in an email to the same effect, if you would like?". NO. Please just cancel the account. "Alright then sir, I can surely confirm that I have done that for you, but as you have already started this month you will be charged." FINE OK JUST LET ME OUT NOW.

Good lord. I was honestly shocked, and suddenly realised what it is that people are complaining about in the UK. I have simply never had less respect for a company than I now do for Real.

05 09 05 - 14:58 - rhod - kyonoki| one comment - §

Rach and Martin Return

Dinner with Rachel and a camera shy Martin at Koganko.

04 09 05 - 14:04 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Big Gallery Update

Just a note to say that Ki has been busy recording images of our recent touristy activities with Mike and Dave, and that the best shots from these trips are now in the ever-expanding Kyonoki Galleries. Go. Look. Enjoy.

01 09 05 - 05:21 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

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

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