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
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| - § ¶
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.
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| - § ¶
27 09 05 - 12:33 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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'.
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
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
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
One Thousand and One Buddhas
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
is in fact the only
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
, 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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
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
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| - § ¶
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
23 09 05 - 16:09 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
Rhod hugging a big spoon on Miyajima.
20 09 05 - 11:06 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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
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| - § ¶
Ki and I just spent the single most pleasant, relaxing, interesting, fun, romantic, cultural, long weekend in memory, in Hiroshima
. 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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
A Micro Perspective
The Jewel of the Geek World! A quote from Rhod.
13 09 05 - 13:55 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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
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| - § ¶
ba, ba, ba baba baba baaaaa (ba baba, baba, ba bababaaa)
Oh Kawaii! Looks like a Russian Cossack dancer.
12 09 05 - 11:53 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
Great seeing Mart and Rach in Japan again. Sad they have to leave again so soon.
10 09 05 - 04:56 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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
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
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
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
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
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| - § ¶
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.
this morning, forcing thousands of people to
evacuate their homes in the South of the island, drenching Kansai
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| - § ¶
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| - § ¶
Rach and Martin Return
Dinner with Rachel and a camera shy Martin at Koganko.
04 09 05 - 14:04 - kieren - kyonoki| - § ¶
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| - § ¶