The Switch



Ki got us a Mac Mini this weekend, after his laptop finally gave in to alcoholism (it had its first ever glass of wine on Christmas Day, and had never really been the same since). I was once a confirmed member of the anti-mac group, but just as Apple hoped, my unreasonable distaste for their brand subsided with the arrival of OS X, and the iPod. Warning, geeky post after the jump... (more)

30 04 06 - 15:58 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Growing obsessions

Japan is like the Shangri-La of geek world, a paradise for collectors of all sorts of things. Hundreds of thousands of millions of shops cater to every taste, from the innocent to the uber-dork to the more perverted tastes of some. Slot machines fill most shopping streets and stand outside many retail outlets.

And this is my problem. I don't care much about little plastic figures or trading cards and never have, but... if someone else gives me a small collectible present or on the spur of the moment I put my money in one of these gachapon machines, then obsession immediately begins to riddle my thoughts and reason. Thus even Rhod (magpie of the Mario world) often raises an eyebrow as to my one tracked mind. Even Rhod. So here are a few photos of the current collections.

Pins and Pikmin (DS games don't really count, but I was quite surprised how many we have bought over the last year and bit) are the order of the day. The little Mario figurines that came free with Pepsi (which quickly got poured down the drain each time) are all safely stuck to the wall after being ripped from their caps...a complete set. Hundreds of post cards, pins and scores of little plastic creatures. Is it fun to have them, or fun to collect them? The age old question, one that Pokemon has exploited to full effect. After all, really it is the child in me coming out.

29 04 06 - 10:33 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Sick day

You know, it is great cutting school. But I thought the idea was to go to the mall in bad eighties clothes, your dad's red sports car and a girlfriend with spectacularly big hair, not to be imprisoned in bed, rolling around half naked in the baking April heat and going half mad talking to yourself. Quite a nice start to the week, sleeping and embarking on a Douglas Adams marathon. Having skipped this particular cultural education, I am playing catch-up working my way through the five books in the Hitchhiker's 'trilogy'. So this is me with bird flu. Yes, clearly barking mad. Good grief, my nose looks like one of the Muppets in these photos. You know, the yellow one with droopy eyes...can't remember his name, not a major character. Clearly need to brush up on my Muppet lore. Today I have half watched six movies, fast-forwarding and rewinding at leisure, have listened to scores of commentaries, read the most terrible book about Jesus being a real man (oh really? you don't say...why is it so horrible to believe that he was a visionary, a man who revolutionised the way people viewed God, who gave hope to those under the yoke of Roman oppression and might not in fact be the son of God) and then cranked up the most appalling pop songs before killing my computer (may well have been said pop songs and a suicidal hard-drive). But 12 gallons of orange juice and I am on the mend.

25 04 06 - 13:07 - Kieren - Photostory| four comments - §

Kyoto gone

Half way through the movie last night I couldn't stop sneezing and woke up at 5 this morning with a burning fever and increasingly achy body. Needless to say I have been crap all day. The slightest hint that the weather is gearing up for summer and a spurt of flu and movie posters start emerging for the July/August holiday.
Walking out of the building after V for Vendetta, I noticed this rather swish poster depicting the imminent castrophes facing Kyoto and Osaka. As far as I can tell from the trailer, the earth is facing sudden, massive activity from it's core, forcing calamity and tragedy upon the country. Meteors smashing into Himeji Castle, volcanoes exploding beneath Osaka, and Kyoto swept away by a biblical flood (at least the tower is gone). Prepare yourself for over-acting, cute little helpless children, Japanese actresses unable to emote and the end of the world (with a little help of cheeeeeeeeeese).

23 04 06 - 12:54 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Remember, remember

Ask not what you can do for your country; but what your country can do for you. The words of John F. Kennedy twisted about spectacularly to incite rebellion in young Evey.
Freedom! Forever! Rather than fear of the Thatcherite grip on power in the 1980s and what the throttlehold of conservatism was doing to the country, now we have a world post 9/11 in which our liberties are crumbling under the iron-fist of over-reactionary governments (a gay hating, abortion condemning, ultra-Christian President anyone?). The story has survived the years since it's creation to become incredibly relevant 'today'.
The shocking image of the Palace of Westminister erupting in flames and torn apart by a tube train loaded with explosives sits quite uncomfortably in the present climate of terrorism, yet delivers a hefty punch that makes us understand that we must never allow ourselves to go too far down the path of 'fascism'. The movie wobbles in places, but expertly creates an average looking London of the future in which fear pervades every level of society. Now that I have seen the film, I understand all the hype and am relieved that it was everything I hoped it would be.

23 04 06 - 05:23 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Oodles'a'noodles

Here is a step by step instruction manual on how to eat ramen (buckwheat noodles). As a staple of the salaryman (businessman), you will find it cheap, delicious and delivered in seconds. With the chopsticks, slurp up the noodles as loudly as you can. Noise is ok, for it is to cool the piping hot food you are stuffing into your mouth. With the giant ladle you can also drink the meaty broth, made from miso (fermented soy beans), pork and bamboo.

This gem of a shop is just over the road and usually empty. As Rhod's hair indicates, this week we are still in the 70s. Later on we are off to watch V for Vendetta. Very excited.

23 04 06 - 04:37 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Back to the 70s...when this tower was cool

I had to drag Misako kicking and clawing at walls up the twenty or so floors to that pinnacle of 70s chic, Kyoto Tower. Not because she dislikes heights, but because it is the least desirable tourist spot in the city. Trudging through communist-era shops and through deserted floors that are hauntingly unchanged, we had the observation deck to ourselves and a gaggle of junior high school kids. The views were surprisingly clear given how cold and cloudy it is for April. That said, Kyoto is the most unremarkably drab city from the air, framed by enticing mountains that lose some of their allure from above. There is something sad about the rotting edifices of the industrial monster that was Japan. The public works of the 60s and 70s are slowly decaying, sticking out like sore thumbs in each city. I am glad I had the opportunity to climb the Tower, but I don't think I will be taking anyone who visits to see it.
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22 04 06 - 10:17 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Bath and beyond

It was about time we caught up with the newly weds, so Louisa sent me some photos of them house-sitting in Somerset and their Easter travels. Am a little concerned exactly what Jason is snorting in one of the pictures, though it appears to be Tim Tams (aren't they just Penguins, what is all the fuss?). Pulteney Bridge (not to be mistaken with Putney Bridge) is only one of three in the world lined with shops. Louisa sports the latest in woolly accessories in front of the Royal Crescent and various trees. And just to put us in a seasonal frame of mind...lambs. Seem to have had an influx of pictures from Britain recently and it is making me itch to go back and throw aside such concerns as language barriers (well in the South East anyway) and two hour commutes.

20 04 06 - 12:10 - Kieren - Photostory| five comments - §

Castle my castle

My mum and dad playing dungeons and dragons at Orford Castle in Suffolk. Henry II built the castle from 1165, draining away marshland so that the hamlet of Orford nestled more safely inland. It was briefly captured by the French king after Henry's death. All that remains now is the rather impressive keep. This is why I love history. How spectacularly amazing is that castle (you can see more in the Family Griffiths gallery) and countryside. Damn it if Britain doesn't look great in all the photos my dad has been sending. Hope to drag Rhod there when we go home. All this history around us, all the time. We are pretty lucky. This photo puts me in mind of Gone with the Wind for some reason. On some rather good news I will leave you. Today I fought my corner with work and came out alright. I will leave an hour earlier and nothing more will be said. A swipe of the forehead and relieved phewww. Changes are acoming.

20 04 06 - 11:51 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Dogs, cats, chatterbox

Robert the dog on his weekly bound through the forest and fields close to my mum and dad's house.
Esti and Rhea sunning themselves in the garden. There seems to be a rustic theme with these photos, snapped by my dad over Easter. Or is it that England really is still rustic.
A chatterbox caught in it's natural habitat.

17 04 06 - 13:42 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sunday sunday, so good to me...



After ditching our bikes to take a taxi home last night, we caught a lift with Misako's dad to pick them up. The sun came out for a brief spell, so we took a slow stroll around the shops. Misako is looking very sad in one of the photos, as her DS Lite has still not arrived, a month after she placed an order. Nintendo, pull your socks up.

Most of the sushi restaurants were full to bursting, or else there were long lines of tourists, so we tried a more out of the way eaterie beside the river, and hidden behind Pontocho. With the freshest fish (some poor chaps swimming worriedly in tanks beside the entrance) and a clear view over the Kamo, we spent a relaxing lunchtime in a mostly empty restaurant.

So nice to just spend a lazy day with Rhod. Got a bit upset this evening, especially hearing my mum and dad's voice and finally letting go of all the feelings I have been holding in over the last few months. Which leaves me with the simple answer that I have to change things. So tomorrow I will be talking quite frankly to my work about how unhappy I am. So fingers crossed, I will have an idea about what course things are going to take. Either I have a job or I don't. Wink.

16 04 06 - 08:20 - Kieren - Photostory| three comments - §

Rainy day off

Ye gods, each weekend seems to be drowned out in torrential rain. As the inmates of Q Games struggled with another weekend of programming, I cycled into town to meet a post-salon Misako. Hair the same, eyelashes somewhat curlier. Permed no less. Unable to really enjoy shopping (sigh of relief from me), we went to the Red Rubber Band Cafe for a giant cup of coffee and a bitching session on the sofa. Why is it that all waiters in Japanese coffee shops are thinner than thin. Looking straight on they look to be quite well proportioned, but as soon as they turn you lose sight of them and wonder where they've gone. We wasted time, shopping in the arcades. One shop specialises in selling giant bamboo shoots. Although they vary in price, the most expensive retail for about 25,000 yen (120 pounds or so for 3). With an absent Rhod and Erik, we went for Korean Nabe and drinks at a whole host of bars in Pontocho.

15 04 06 - 19:10 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Easter pig

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none... and this little piggy went straight into my mouth. Delicious. Oh dear. Because I didn't think about it, Erik and Rhod convinced me that last weekend was Easter and so I gave in and handed over Rhod his egg and chocolates, which were all gone in a flash. Then my mum mentioned she hoped I hadn't opened any of the boxes and snuck a bite. So all that is left is this little chocolate pig. Such a shame to crack the wee beast open. Well I say shame, but God it was a great stress reliever. Happy Easter! Again.

15 04 06 - 03:55 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Printclub posing

After a somewhat comically tragic day (I sliced open my ankles on my business shoes, I had to deal with three vile self-loving Canadians for three hours of meetings, I had two horrible introductory classes, I am supervised by Himmler, I spent an hour and forty minutes commuting home, I had to change trains 4 times, I had my bike towed away, and I got rained on before getting to the safety of home), I decided to post these cheery little pictures. Of all the tiny little photos I could have chosen, I had to have the most recent because Shin's masterful posing is sheer genius. Good times, good times. As Rhod's coworker mentioned, yes I do seem to have my eyes closed in each picture. This is mainly because the fluorescent lighting could blind you at fifty paces, and also because I am stinking drunk. Come on, the only reason anyone but highschool girls would get into one of these bizarre alien photobooths is if they were drunk or held at gun point. Still, you can do lots of fancy things with them, like super-imposing your faces into a pot of stew...classy.

13 04 06 - 12:51 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Cats and dogs

April showers does not describe the nightmarish weather descended on Japan over the last three days. It is raining a whole menagerie of animals, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Noah sailing through the city centre. Drizzle, torrential rain, thunderstorms, lightning, fuggy haze, drips and drops. Every kind of precipitation you can imagine. With everything damp, the weather seems to fit my mood as I struggle with my new school. I feel lucky to be home in one piece as numerous people are unable to use umbrellas and seem determined to poke my eyes out. And if you must use an umbrella whilst riding your bike, please make sure you can see where you are going and of course make sure you can ride a bike in the first place (high heels and mini-skirts really don't help). Seems like the weather has not left off yet. With Kosa haze (a light sand storm) blowing over from the Gobi Desert in China, could this year be a marker for what we can expect in the 'post-greenhouse effect' future.

11 04 06 - 12:09 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The good and the bad this week...

Having a rare moment relaxing together over lunch. Tomato ramen is very much the meal of the moment in Kyoto.
Apparently stabbing gay people is fun for all the family. 'Pop-up Pirate' has been replaced by 'Pop-up Hard Gay' (no puns intended), with copyright lawyers rubbing their hands with glee. Japan's pseudo-queer, ultra-camp TV talent is given the plastic makeover. Jaw to floor.
Londoners scratched their heads this week at yet another artistic offensive by the elusive 'guerrilla' artist Bansky. While a phone box copped it, BT said it might look good at their headquarters. Rather missing the point, they tried to retract the comment, laughing it off. I think there was a little more on the artist's mind than a bit of corporate art.

10 04 06 - 13:04 - Kieren - Photostory| seven comments - §

New day, new work, Ni-chuu

Chin-up for the first day of my new job. I spent most of the morning swallowing back my concerns that I have come as far as I can as a teacher and am wasting my time following a career I am now uncertain about. More positively, being a teacher in Japan suggests you have some responsibility, which you do not. I wonder whether being a teacher in England, specialising in a subject that comes more naturally to me, would be more desirable. So, the good: all the attitude seems to have gone with the old school, the teachers are younger and more vibrant (also much better looking), the students immediately seem confident and cheeky, the school seems wanting to encompass me into school life much more quickly. And the bad: fewer classes but a lot more work. The commute will be about the same (by no means a short trip), though more hellish (today was my first experience of seeing commuters shoved into the trains by station attendants, literally pushed in until the doors would close...luckily the moment the train gets to bursting point I can get off) and I will be getting home considerably later. My one hope is that my time will be utilised rather than wasted. Fingers crossed.
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10 04 06 - 08:29 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Happy Easter!

These lucky chaps got a dose of harmless dye in their eggs, brightening up this holiday season, but will probably end up at a rescue centre when parents realise that their colourful chicks won't stay this way for long. The Easter Bunny at rest. My mum and dad sent Rhodri and I lots of chocolate goodies, which I felt bad just gobbling up, so whilst Rhod took an afternoon nap I decided to take a snap shot of him with all that Easter goodness. Note the stylish egg halo on the unconscious Rhodri. Easter is quite difficult to explain to the Japanese. Jesus died and all that, but what a funny coincidence that the Christian holy days fall on pagan celebrations. Or is it rather a stroke of genius? Transforming ancient holidays that already existed into Christmas and Easter. So Jesus was born when? Happy Easter!

08 04 06 - 09:05 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

With feeling...

Not my favourite passtime in the world, but it was nice to go out with Dale, Erina and Kitty, so suffering karaoke for an hour was not so bad. With hanami cherry-blossom viewing over, we settled down for a few very expensive drinks and couple of songs. Rhod and Misako battle it out with dance at the JJ Ichi Maru Maru Club. A kind of run-down rec centre in the middle of the city. Erik reveals that Shin is his work idol (his words not mine), causing bamboozlement amongst everyone present, but luckily diverting attention away from his disco sweater. It was fun to have everyone out, and steered away from the usual haunts, though not fun to mix cocktails and beer. A lot of water before bed tonight.

07 04 06 - 19:09 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Battle of the Towers

So the first battle between Kyoto and Kobe begins. Got to say, Kobe wins hands down. Port Tower is small and tasteful, overlooks the sea and looks great lit up at night. Tokyo tower is big for the sake of being big, an ugly rip off of Eiffel to boot. Kyoto's was out of date before it was completed, and there is such a thing as blending into your environment.
As part of the public works program, sought to pull Japan from post-war depression, the government embarked on massive building projects. Whether they wanted them or not, almost every city was given a tower. In most cases, unsightly, ugly and wholly pointless.
Thirty or so years on and most look terrible. Kobe has to have points for having a tower that shunned fashion and size for a more modest effect, although I suspect this has more to do with economic issues than anything. Kobe 1, Kyoto 0.

07 04 06 - 08:56 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Blossoms

I promise that these will be the first and last shots of blossoms on the blog. They are pretty, sure, but come on get over it. Just to note that fruit trees in England and Wales also have blossoms, shocking I know. The British fortunately don't need lame excuses to drink. If anything we have too many excuses. The photos from left to right are of Misako under the first cherry blossoms in the Imperial Palace, a plum tree blossoming early in Arashiyama, and more ume (plum) blossoms over a Komainu statue in Higashiyama. Japan looks pretty, but it is more about the sense that the long cold of Winter is over. If the country left a little more of its countryside intact then we wouldn't be forced to celebrate nature on a fixed schedule.

07 04 06 - 04:41 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Spring Break in Photo

Here, in photo-story form, is how I have spent Spring Break. With Rhod working every day, it hasn't been much of a vacation. Kyoto has been so incredibly dull, sleepy in the seasonal warmth and sinking under the weight of camera-toting tourists hunting for blossoming trees. Misako has been around to hang out with, dragging me out of sweatpants and forcing me to shave. Damn it if I didn't want to just wallow in my woes. In no particular order: Misako found that nobody was home in the gingerbread house, we got drenched in Kobe, Rach and Martin flew over for a week, jenga proved tough even without a few drinks, Nishida-sensei took me on a tour of Higashiyama, Akko battled with crowds at Toji market, and Misako prayed for...well I can't tell you that! Two more days of freedom before I start my new job. I am a little nervous, but more frustrated than ever with teaching. I really don't care much any more about pleasing my company and have to start considering my career path in England, something which seems rather insurmountable and terrifying at the moment. Spring vacation is over.

07 04 06 - 04:11 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kyoto Vs.

Two panoramic views of Kobe and Kyoto. Rhod is from Kyoto, I am from Kobe. But which city would win in battle? Kobe was razed in the war, and has emerged as one of the most spectacular Japanese cities, modern and cosmopolitan. Kyoto relies on the fact that war left it alone and it's unadaptability, preserving tradition where Kobe swept it away. So let the fight begin Rhod!

07 04 06 - 03:40 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kobe

At a glance Kobe and Kyoto are remarkably similar. Their populations match, they are both tourist honeypots, they are famed for food, and both sit in the midst of Kansai's most beautiful scenery. But for all that they could be from different planets. Kyoto clings to its past, while Kobe has successfully reinvented itself after suffering war, economic stagnation and earthquake. So, which is the better city to live in? Over the next few months we will be investigating.

07 04 06 - 03:38 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Micro Travels

This is the first test of the new photo system. Rhod and his gameboy-micro on their travels. The first three shots were taken in Hiroshima.
Clearly the game Rhod is working on is nearing completion, as it appears that he has not shaven in a couple of months. The last three shots are at Kurama, Enryakuji and the Temple of Very Many Buddhas. As you can see, the gameboy-micro is so small you can carry it through atomic ruins, up mountains and into the rather dull sanctuary of a Japanese temple.

07 04 06 - 03:15 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Wedding at Kamigamo

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a bride and groom entering Kamigamo Shrine. Like most crazily hatched plans, I really didn't think this one through: visiting all 17 UNESCO protected World Heritage Sights in the city. To be fair, I have cracked about 10 already, so thought that with another week of holiday to swallow up I could try and do them all. Wrong! There is a reason I haven't visited them before...they are on the very very edge of Kyoto and often stuck half way up a mountain or with a hefty waiting list. Still, today I dragged Misako with me to Kamigamo which was pretty far North and confusing to find (thanks for the terrible directions man on motorbike). Nice and peaceful, but I have to say I have been a bit spoilt with shrines and was not overly taken with this one. Fun to cycle up the Kamo River in the sun though!

03 04 06 - 11:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

All in a Day

02 04 06 - 05:28 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

All Fool's Day

The first of April some do say
Is set apart for All Fools' Day;
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose or pure merriment.
-Poor Robin's Almanac (1760)

The history of April Fool's Day, also called All Fool's Day, remains clouded. The theory about the reform of the Gregorian calendar in the late sixteenth-century, is likely to be the most widespread and most accepted.

April's fool is a man who doth allow his hard earnt work to come to nothing at the hands of those who care not one wit for his leisure...
-Anon

01 04 06 - 12:04 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Sakura

Misako under the first cherry blossoms of the year, at the Imperial Palace (Gosho).

01 04 06 - 02:48 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

Microcosm of an Evening

Posing.
Squirming.
Performing.

01 04 06 - 01:38 - kieren - kyonoki| - §

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

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