Kyoto's finest featuresHaving just finished a Saturday at work (Someone kill me, I didn't hate working on a Saturday), I left the office to be faced with a truly beautiful sunset over the western mountains. If you read the guidebooks, or the local tourist maps, or even talk to many who have been here, you'll hear that the most impressive sights in Kyoto are Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji(!), or perhaps the more adventurous would suggest Sanjusangendo and Nanzen-ji. Why is it that the beautiful mountain-scape that surrounds the city on three sides is so rarely mentioned, I wonder.
More than the ample (and yes, sometimes beautiful/tranquil/impressive) temples and shrines, it's Kyoto's protective mountains that make me so happy to live here. Amazing cloud formations develop within them, cinematic mists hide them, the midday sun brings out a their brilliant green, just as the setting sun silhouettes them. Despite their ubiquity (they line the east, north and west of the city completely, with only occasional tunnels allowing transport), it's easy to miss them on a day to day basis. That just makes it all the more uplifting when you do stop, look beyond the schoolkids playing baseball, and notice five or six peaks in the distance.
If only my eyes worked as a camera, in the last year I would have built an enormous library of award-winning photographs, I'm sure of it.
I miss Ki-chanCrunching keeps me away from Ki. This makes for sadness and loneliness.
See you when I get home, baby!
Gang WarFlashing red ambulance lights woke me up from my zombie-like reverie this morning. As I arrived, a student was carried unconscious into the pulled up vehicle. I peered in as the medics strapped an oxygen mask to his mouth and noticed the red buttons on his uniform.
The black Germanic, military uniforms of the boys have embossed gold buttons, but gangs often replace them with different colours. Deep maroon denotes one of the gangs at my school. As clever as they think they are, like the FBI dealing with Mafia the school councillor has carefully recorded files on the activities of the known ringleaders.
Walking in to an empty office, one boy sat miserably close to my desk, unblinking and pale. Ignoring him as a lackey, I asked the clerk what had happened. When walking to school, some elementary school boys had come across the unconscious body of a second grader. His mouth had been foaming and his cheek shattered. Just now the parents were supposed to be at the school, but had yet to arrive.
As the boy was found unconscious, it seems that his gang has been torn apart by internal struggles. Another boy had decided to usurp power and viciously attacked the victim, breaking his cheek bone. He then scared the younger members of the gang into complete silence. The unconscious body was not discovered until twenty minutes later.
Of course nothing can be proven until the boy is fully conscious. He has been kept sedated.
Slowly I am learning the more nasty facts about our school. The gang leader has only recently returned to his studies after a long time in a juvenile correction facility. As in the finest mob stories, he has returned feeling betrayed and wanting revenge on other members who he considers weak. On probation, he must not set a finger on another student or else face prosecution. He is smart, however, and has been manipulating others into doing his dirty work.
After some months it appears that war is breaking out, not between gangs, but amongst themselves. Each grade feels oppressed, knowing that this incident could spark off more violence. It is with interest that I notice new alarms installed in the school bathrooms and the absence of certain students during class. Sadly, I know that what is coming cannot be prevented.
Shikoku MuraI added this gallery, dull as it is with photos of crumbling houses, because I was genuinely impressed at the great lengths Shikoku is going towards saving its heritage. Walking around the old huts, tea rooms and store houses was quite an experience. Piece by piece the houses were taken apart in their original locations all over Shikoku and brought to the slopes of Mt. Yashima, where experts reconstructed them in -although not necessarily their natural- rural surroundings.
Shikoku is aware that unlike most of Japan it remains less urban, and pockets of tradition and ancient culture linger. While the grey concrete tide slowly washes over the island, the government salvages what it can for posterity.
Shikoku Mura was nothing less than impressive. Far away from the the city below, the peace and tranquility is affecting. For me, it was easy to imagine how life must have been at home back then. It is a shame that whole villages are not preserved together, but I am grateful for seeing this much. The vine bridge from the Iya Valley was absolutely brilliant. Only a few feet above a pond, it was nonetheless terrifying in its swaying and the huge gaps between each step.
Have a peek at the pictures in the gallery.
Poor BuggersI love the story behind the Okedoi-taki Waterfall in Risturin Gardens. As ponds were dug out and the stones carefully carved, there remained the small problem of no natural springs to power a waterfall, a necessity in most Japanese gardens.
Rather than make do, the Japanese came up with a simple solution. Workers carried buckets of water halfway up Mt. Shuin and poured the contents into a massive barrel. Every time their lord and his guests strolled past the pond, they would tip out the contents, thus creating the illusion of a real waterfall.
How far is too far?When it comes to customer service and care, how far is too far? Sorry for sounding a bit Carrie Bradshaw, but I'm a little worried.
In Japan, it's customary for a hairdresser to send a courtesy card a week or so after your cut, to check that you like it, and such like. But now, as I approach what would be re-cut time for any person with a higher grooming standard than my own, I return home to find the following:
"Hello, how are you? Was the game made on business completed? Moreover, it comes to cut it by all means. We will wait."
A second card, with a picture of Mario and a smiley face, and Miki, my wonderful lovely hairdresser, who speaks no English, has clearly gone to some lengths to write this. The concern, then, is that this is just a little too friendly for someone I have met once, for 40 minutes, in a nearby salon. I'll go back; she's lovely, after all, and my cynicism should in fact give way to the understanding that for most people, this would be a welcome reminder that their hair has clearly become too long again. I might ask her to stop sending the stalker cards, though. I'd rather not think of a salon full of stylists, scissors and shampoo poised, waiting excitedly for me to return.
End of the World
|The currents of the Seto Sea and Yashima Bay collide at this headland, treacherous but unseen.|
|This dangerous tidal clash led to the destruction of the Heike fleet at the end of the 12th Century, following the Battle of Genpei. Standing on the outcropping of rock you look across a great stretch Japan's Inland Sea, dotted as it is with forested islands. What you cannot see is the table top mountain of Yashima behind, a strange, green version of Ayers Rock.|
|Rhod plays dare with his hand, as the greedy koi at Ritsurin Park fight each other for bread.|
|Some flop out of the water, piggy-backing on others to leap at the tasty morsels. Others lay gasping, struggling to get back to the water. The pond water broils and bubbles in whites, oranges and grey.|
Temple of Doom
|Indiana Jones never had to put up with crap like this...no...wait...|
Rainy Day BlogI'm settled down in front of the computer, completely grouchy for no particular reason, other than the pouring rain outside and many hours to kill before the bus back home. We're snug and warm inside an ultra modern capsule of technology, sponsored by the city of Takamatsu and in complete contrast to the less than wealthy town spread out around us. Partly, I am angry that schoolkids sit in unheated classrooms, with ancient chairs and desks, and crumbling buildings, while money is pumped into pet projects like this 'Sunport Takamatsu', to bring tourists and imaginary wealth back to Shikoku.
Also, I'm quite sad that the hundred year old bikes we rented (in no ways fancy, but at 100 yen a day both bargains) had to be returned and there will be no more pounding through the city's numerous, deserted arcades.
Takamatsu has been a jumble of fun and strangeness. I have been tearing our Lonely Planet guide up in sheer frustration for the past few days. A spacious and beautiful city? Maybe, if you take away all the buildings and streets and people. On rickety old bikes, Rhod and I have managed to see more than we could have done by bus, ignoring tourist trails for a more haphazard approach to sightseeing.
Never have I been gawped at more in my life than here. The people
seem surprised to see foreigners at all, let alone on bikes. Takamatsu
isn't very tourist friendly, but then again it works in our favour, for
the locals are nice and the streets spectacularly deserted.
As with a lot of Japanese cities, sight-seeing spots have the air of
decay, slowly falling into bad times after the excess of the 80s and
We reached Mt. Yashima only to be told the rope-way had closed down the previous year, and that buses no longer run to the summit. On the bright side, if public transport hadn't failed us we wouldn't have cycled around the peninsular, down coastal roads with Mediterranean views over the Seto Sea and its smattering of islands. Cutting down a dirt track, we emerged on a cliff edge where the ancient Battle of Genpei occurred 900 years before, the currents below us colliding in a strange swirling of water. Without a sweaty doubt this was the highlight of the trip for me.
Our energetic cycling continued on the olive groves of Shodo Island, but in the end failed miserably as the island is effectively a massive splurge of mountains with grueling roads. But the sweeping beaches, quiet farming villages and Grecian hillsides were enough to keep us happy for a morning. Taking the bus or taxi anywhere was so expensive that we took the ferry back to the mainland early and explored the city some more.
Famous for seafood and udon, Takamatsu has thousands of tiny little fish restaurants. So naturally, we went for Indian at 'Spice Kingdom. Our first proper curry for a long, long time, and a real treat of a restaurant.' 'Spice Kingdom The last few days have been great for catching up on sleep, relaxing and working out (through excessive cycling). Now we had better be off to swear at the rain some more. In a few hours, we're going back to civilisation.
A Little TripOur bags are packed, school work is thrown away, I am scrubbed up and ready for four days of holiday and most importantly my i-Pod is crammed with songs for the three hour bus ride to Shikoku tomorrow.
Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, flanking the Inland Sea. We will take the early morning bus from Kyoto, drive down to Osaka, sweep West through Kobe, Himeji and Okayama, before spinning South across the immense bridge that joins Shikoku to Honshu.
I booked the hotel some time ago, and we should be by the sea. I am getting excited that we will be able to walk along the beaches, island hop and hike into some of the most untouched mountains in Japan. I am getting more excited that Rhod will be home soon, and tomorrow is our one year anniversary.