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kyonoki - 京のキー

Soccer Balls and Baby Names

Misako and I killed a few hours by visiting two less than ordinary shrines. The first, Shiramine, is dedicated to sports and was the birthplace of the ancient game of Kemari (8 people stand in a circle and kick a small ball from one to the other, not letting it fall to the ground). Each year the most famous of Japan's sportsmen and women journey to the shrine to pray for good fortune and success in their fields, often leaving souvenirs with the gods. Misako is picking up one of the balls used in the 2002 Football World Cup.

The second shrine, Seimei, is where parents take prospective names for their new babies to have one chosen by the priests. In Japan names can be lucky or unlucky, depending on the number of strokes that make up the character. Misako's name was selected from a list her parents took to the shrine. Although small, both shrines are extraordinarily famous in Japan.

30 03 06 - 06:08 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

The Girl is back in Town

Martin and Rach are back in town for his work, so it's a good excuse to go catch up over a beer.

30 03 06 - 05:54 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Dressing Up

Misako at Seimei Shrine.
The costume was worn in the Heian era.

30 03 06 - 05:51 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Messing About By The River

In a couple of weeks it will be almost impossible to squeeze in a picnic under the cherry blossoms, as the hive mind of the Japanese compels them to drink themselves senseless under the colourful trees. But for now it was peaceful, messing about by the river. Seems like we were the first people in Kyoto to brave the cloudy March weather to slap some shrimp on the barbie.

26 03 06 - 09:59 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

The Grinning Komainu, Nishida-Sensei and The Philosophers Walk

All those extra blankets back in the drawers and T-shirts on, for Spring has come with something of a kick-ass vengeance. Clear skies, a forehead and nose well on their way to sunburn and my head rattling with the terrible jokes my boss told me (What sleeping animal do cars drive through? Tunnel -the Japanese rendition is toneru- because to means pig and neru means to sleep). I sat drinking iced coffee and eating waffles for breakfast, out on a verandah overlooking Ginkakuji with my old boss this morning. Nishida-san was not only my boss for three years, but a role model for how I feel a teacher should be. I hope that I turned out how he imagined.

For a lazy morning and afternoon we strolled along the Philosophers Walk, weaving in and out of the temples and shrines that nestle in the wooded hills of Higashiyama. I quite like this cheeky Komainu, who has a toothy grin and looks out of place in his sober surroundings. Nice to reminisce, to remember why I came to Japan. Sad to know that the best job I will have had in Japan was also my first. Fun to joke and see that the wicked sense of humour in Nishida-san has only grown sharper.

25 03 06 - 11:52 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Market Day and the Vernal Equinox

Every 21st of the month is market day at To-ji. Stalls crowd onto every inch of ground, flooding onto the sidewalk and up against the old temple buildings. The market day this month fell on a holiday to mark the start of Spring, so it was incredibly busy and almost impossible to squeeze through the masses of people bartering and gobbling down Japanese snacks. The photo gallery is not so interesting, though it shows the various wares on sale and how different European markets are from here. Seaweed, wooden flutes, tea utensils, pickles, calligraphy brushes, octopus in batter, old kimono, fish eggs, rice crackers, noodles, palm reading, fishing for goldfish, antiques, cinnamon sticks, yoghurt bread, paper masks, and endless other goods. Take a look at the gallery...Misako and Akko get down to some serious munching.

21 03 06 - 11:17 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Jenga!

Better luck next time Akko!

19 03 06 - 07:38 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Gingerbread House

Misako and I spent a washed out Saturday walking through the covered streets of Kobe, exploring Sweet Factory (a fairytale village of cake shops, bakeries and patisseries) and wrapping ourselves up for a stroll along the harbour.

19 03 06 - 07:35 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Ume Blossoms: Ki Tour 2

I ditched work early after teaching horrible brats and made it home to enjoy the sunny afternoon. I took my camera and cycled North, visiting that gaudy over-embellished monstrosity of a temple at Kinkakuji. On my way back from the pavilion I stopped by Hirano Temple where workmen were busy constructing stages in preparation for the cherry blossoms. I managed to snap a few photos of the early blooming ume (plum) trees. Hirano is pretty famous for Hanabi parties, though at a cost.
Slipping through the side streets I came out at Tenmangu Shrine where hundreds of people were already busy snapping the pink and white spattered trees. Crazily the shrine has an orchard brimming with blossoms, but you have to pay 500 yen just to walk around the measly patch of ground. I enjoyed the free trees much more, looking good against the old buildings and cow statues. Feeling Spring very much. And my new work? Well let's just say _____ it (fill in appropriate word).

15 03 06 - 11:36 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Shigureden

Today, we visited the museum for the Ogura Hyakuninisshyu (Ogura Anthology of 100 Poems by 100 Poets), just a 20 minute trip by the 'Randen' tram from our house. This was one of those brilliant surprises, where your expectations are totally surpassed in all ways.

The museum's quirky, high-tech approach to the ancient subject matter makes everything instantly accessible, interesting, and engaging. Despite the relatively tough subject matter of one hundred traditional poems, the presentation, and variation of ways to interact with the poetry, managed to draw the youngest infants, dodderiest of pensioners, and most excitable of foreigners alike into the subject matter.

The museum is largely the labour-of-love of Nintendo owner and former president, Yamauchi Hiroshi. His company's influence can be seen all over Shigureden; from the more obvious technological sophistication (tens of visitors at once, are led around a massive interactive map of Kyoto by their own individual virtual 'bird' guide flying over the city), to the games-for-all-ages philosophy (in one game, players help one of the hyakunin to remember their poem by solving riddles based upon said poem, all in a virtual 'well' which reacts with swirling waters wherever the player touches).

I can't quite express just how amazed I was by the technology. I'm one of those geeks that doesn't get excited by high-tech for the sake of it. I need a proven purpose before I get excited. It's exactly because this museum was so far ahead in terms of making great use of the latest technology that I was almost speechless as the kimono-clad assistant explained the rules to me in perfect English. After a brief yet thorough explanation of the history of the poems, an assistant presents each user with, essentially, a special-edition Nintendo DS handheld unit. These DS units utilise an incredibly precise local positioning system, however, and can identify where you are in the main hall of the museum. Stand next to a poem, and the poem will be read to you in traditional chanting. Move over the huge, multi-screen map of Kyoto, and the options change. Click the magnifying glass to zoom on whatever you are currently standing over (I saw both my house and office - think 'Google Earth' writ large, for the basic idea). Easily the most amazing feature, though, was the ability to select from many different Kyoto locations and have a virtual bird appear on the map where you are, and lead you, every step, to where you want to go. It's can't really be explained in a way that captures the magic of being guided by your own little 2D bird, whilst tens of other people follow their own guides to varying destinations, all in real time. Astounding.

I could go on, but I'd just be gushing more. I've never enjoyed ancient poems in a foreign language more. You really should see the gallery.

12 03 06 - 10:16 - rhod - kyonoki| one comment - §

Hanatoro

Hanatoro ('Flower and Light Road') is in its foundling stage, designed to try and lure tourists before the Cherry Blossom Season. Shrines are illuminated, candle lanterns line the curving lanes of Higashi-yama, and free samples of traditional music and flower arrangements scatter the hillside parks, restaurants and shopping streets from Sanjo to Gojo. Warm, crowded, welcoming, bustling, a taste of the best of Kyoto's seasons.

12 03 06 - 04:45 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Ki Tour

Lately I have been so funked out with work and Kyoto that I feel agoraphobic in my spare time. In a last ditch attempt not to hate the city completely, I fixed my puncture and took a ride to clear my head and get some sun. I am naturally a shy person, and absolutely hate having my photo taken, so today I decided to do the opposite of what I wanted. Thus I made some small talk with a Japanese guy who asked if I wanted my picture taken.

He was cool, a college graduate who has just returned from Utah and is spending his last month of freedom before starting work, marriage, slipping back into Japanese life. His name was Taka, and he thought it was funny I wasn't dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt as all the other Americans in Kyoto today.

Did I clear my head? A little bit. Japan is a burn out. I cannot say I hate it, but then again I don't have strong feelings either way. My work negotiations draw to a close on Monday and by then I will know what to do. Possibly I will be accepting my final job in Japan. Rhod has been having a real tough time, and my mouth is very much closed about his career. Things have just come off the rails, and it is time to focus once more. Kyoto is a well kept museum, starkly beautiful and filled with wonders, but uncomfortable and not homely, untouchable in many ways. There is a sense of unreality, of not quite being in the real world here.

Today was fun, but it would have been better dragging Rhod with me, to see places that have been too cold to visit over the past couple of months. The plum blossoms are out, Spring has arrived.

11 03 06 - 07:04 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Perishers

I haven't really enjoyed my time at elementary school, and am not cut out for this kind of work. Junior High School on the other hand poses a challege at times, stretches my brain muscles once in a while. I am a Junior High teacher for 75% of my work-time, and for the other 25% divide my time between two local elementary schools, aiding the homeroom teachers there with English.

Of those schools, one is huge and full of rich-kid brats (Daigosho) who are rude and stuck up. The other is small (Kunimatsu Midori), with kids from a housing-estate who, if wild, at least have a kind of friendly passion for speaking english. The contrast between the schools is something akin to a shack being built next to the finest kind of mansion. Everyone tells me I am lucky to have schools in wealthy neighbourhoods, I tell them they can take all the spoilt urchins they want, because it is only the tiny little poor school that keeps me going. Here are the three 5th grader classes, in all their Beanoesque glory. The pic here is of class 5-2 who had English presentations today...they did so well that I wondered where my 1st year Junior kids had gone wrong.

09 03 06 - 08:08 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Double Whammy of Pain

I don't really know what the whole 'whammy' thing is about, but I certainly had a double one today.

Last night, on my one day off of the crunchy week, I started to feel shivers and a painful throat. Around bedtime, I felt like I was ingesting glass every time I swallowed. When Ki was leaving for work this morning, I was feeling shakey and unslept, but still able to face a working day (in favour of losing a day's holiday, as is The Japanese Way). That was until about five minutes after he left, when, in the darkness, I started to see lights. The migraine had probably been going for about ten minutes by that point, but as I couldn't see, I couldn't see that I couldn't see ;)

So, that was the last straw. No work for me today. After four or five hours of aching, sweating, shivering, coughing, throwing up, wretching, wretching some more, forcing down unrecommended quantities of aspirin, and then some nice medicinal coffee, I started to be able to move around upright. SHEESH. Just when you think these things are all in the past, you know?

Anyway, sorry for the rant, but it's therapeutic. Other than this painful blip, everything has been going very well. Work is on-schedule (though said schedule is very, very tight and days like today don't help). Ki has been re-arranging the house in a Spring Clean Frenzy, leading to a somewhat streamlined existence. The weather is picking up, and yesterday I managed to cram a whole load of fun into my day off, prior to my body shut-down. Highlights of this week are few, as mostly it will be worky worky, but come Saturday, it just might be that I can procure a DS Lite for myself. Maybe. Provided there aren't further stock issues. And stuff.

06 03 06 - 13:10 - rhod - Photostory| one comment - §

Peace Out

After being beaten up by four 3rd grader girls I finally relented, and did the peace sign. Today was my last class with the 3rd years. I will be absent from Graduation Ceremony (f****** elementary school visit, again), so, good luck guys.

06 03 06 - 08:43 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bowling

That popular Japanese game Where's Misako? Can you spot her?

05 03 06 - 10:37 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Misako and Sushi

Misako really wants some sushi! But she is going to have to clear a space on the table...sushi graveyard.

05 03 06 - 10:35 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Graduation is coming (3-2 and 3-3)

It's that time of year when the last classes come around before graduation. My role at school was so blurred and uncertain at first, frustratingly cold at times, but these two classes made me feel at home and although the kids are borderline insane, they kept me sane. Thanks to the dudes (do you practise photo-faces in front of the mirror?) and to everyone else for being so warm. I wonder if I have made a difference over the last eleven months.
Class 3-2 (thanks for the ass slaps).
Class 3-3 (after a 10 minute toilet break for make-up touch up and hair-brushing).Check out the galleries.

03 03 06 - 09:41 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Phone Conversations

Even the simplest of tasks (write a short phone conversation) turned on it's head. What wonderful drugs are my first graders on? Where applicable I have rearranged the sentences to make the grammar work, and in class helped them come up with vocabulary that could express what they wanted. In no way did I come up with these stories.

Aya: Howdy. Yuka: Hello, this is Yuka speaking. Who's calling please? Aya: Hey there, it's Aya. I was just wondering if you are doing anything now? Yuka: Well yeah, yeah I'm washing the lions. Aya: The what? Yuka: The lions. Aya: You gotta be kidding me. Yuka: No, no. The lions are my pets. Aya: Really? I mean God I didn't know. Yuka: Well I really can't talk about it. Actually......I'm a lion. Aya: What! Well you know it's a shock, I never noticed. Yuka: Well yeah, I don't like to talk about it really. Aya: So you're cleaning your pets. Yuka: Not so much pets, as Googigut. Aya: Googigut? Yuka: My uncle. Aya: Your un- Oh oh, you know what, I had better go. Yuka: ROAR...I mean sure. Aya: Bye then. Yuka: Thanks for calling.

UFO 7: Hello. UFO 5: Hello. 7: This is UFO Seventh, can I speak to UFO fifth...pleaz. 5: Speaking. 7: This is UFO Seventh, can I speak to UFO Fifth. 5: SPEAKING you stupid fool. 7: I was wondering when the invasion is planned for? 5: Didn't you get the memo. 7: I think I vaporised it. 5: Again? You are such an idiot. 7: So, when is the invasion? 5: It happened. 7: No way. I missed the invasion. 5: Yeah, last night. No problems...most Earth people got sucked up and eaten. 7: NO WAY! I am starving. Where are you? 5: Tokyo. 7: No way. 5: I get to keep the whole city. I have 500 Earth slaves 7: Man, I always miss out. 5: Cause you are a fooooooool. 7: When's the next invasion? 5: Secret. 7: Why? 5: Cause you are the fooooooolest. 7: Bye. 5: F^^^ Y^^ Earth lover.

That is all.

02 03 06 - 07:35 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

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

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