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kyonoki - 京のキー

Tomifest '06

Happy birthday Tomi! We spent an alcohol fuelled few hours at Watami and SS Bar. Although the birthday girl disappeared, sneakily shooting off for more drinks elsewhere, we chilled out in the very red and comfortable loft of the small bar. A very fun night, though everyone felt a little frazzled by a tough week. In news this week, Erik's previously stolen bag has been mysteriously returned with all items accounted for (phew!), and... oh sweet gentle Jesus, that is it! No news. Same old work week. This pic of Akko realistically recreates the world as seen through the eyes of Tomomi, i.e. through a wine glass. Good times, good times!

28 05 06 - 06:13 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Roosts for birds

For a while now I have made mention of nest haired girls. Not so difficult to decipher...they wear their dyed brown hair (some of which is strange, straggly stick-on extensions) like avian homes. How should I stereotype these women? Ok, they carry Louis Vuitton bags...enough said. Well although you can find them everywhere in Japan, it is quite difficult to capture them on camera without making it too obvious.
So imagine my glee when 4 nesties settled down on the table opposite us last night. Not just any nesties, but ones with the biggest hair, most sour-puss looks conceivable, and a get up Bonnie Tyler would be drooling over. Catching them on film was not such a trial as I got various people to pretend to pose in front of them. The quality of the pics may not be great, but I think you can get the essence of what I am saying.
Because of their chain smoking, old woman sneers, it was impossible to pinpoint how old they are. Rhod and I have often commented that Japan, rather than being purely retro, seems to cotton on to fashion a few decades after England and the US (well, New York). As if we had stepped into a time machine, last night was very much about the 80s. A decade most people consider they survived, rather than enjoyed. Fashion that should have been bundled into a rocket and sent into outerspace rather than revisited. Ladies, I salute you (cough).

28 05 06 - 05:13 - Kieren - Photostory| four comments - §

Through the keyhole

From the look of this first shot, (rusting lettering, moody sky) you might be thinking to what horror movie does this apartment block belong. As the light of day draws to a close, we might well catch a glimpse of our heroine returning home, and knowing full well that all is not well and that dark secrets lie unquietly within. A child murdered in a water tank perhaps? However, once we leave the communist housing exterior behind us and delve inside we find that everything is much improved. As ugly as the outside is, the interior is welcoming and homely. Modest and warm and cosy. Surely this is not an appropriate home for a ghoulish story. Note the clean surfaces and orderly shelves. Surely there is no Indian burial ground below our feet. Two rooms in and we see that the owners have some peculiar obsession with the world of a certain Italian plumber. What we cannot see are the scores of figures stuck carefully to the wall about the door jam, the hundreds of computer games and handful of consoles stored away. Could this be the holy grail of geekdom? No rabid zombies to bother us here.
It seems as if the owners knew we were coming. All is ship-shape and peaceful. The silent hum of cars passing on the street below. The TV is quite dead and no video recorder to scare us with telekinetic tapes and long haired girls. A shiny new computer tells us that this couple have bid farewell to Windows and have been converted to the world of Mac. It is certain they knew we were coming, for the bed is carefully made and the tatami floor dusted down. No monsters would ever lurk in such a small space. What else do the surroundings tell us? Game players, avid movie watchers, techno freaks? Is there any hint of where they come from? Well clearly they have excellent taste thus is could only be a certain island of tea drinkers and rain. Which brings us to the end of this small tour and the more burning question left in our thoughts. Where is the toilet? Not in the bathroom, with it's cauldron like bath and decades old tiling. Not off the bedroom or kitchen. Let us glance outside. Oh yes, on the balcony of course. Japanese style in fact. And now we know that appearances can be deceiving, and the sad, decaying outsides of some old buildings often hide treasures inside.

27 05 06 - 08:10 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

So, Mario then.

It sounds ridiculous to me even saying it, but if any game has influenced the decisions I have made, and the direction of my life, it's Super Mario World.

Bear (?) with me, I'm sure there's some human interest in here.

I didn't miss out on the original Mario games, playing Super Mario Bros. over and over in a pub 'games room' in west Wales. Like many Brits though, the NES for me played a poor second fiddle to the versatility of the Amiga and Atari ST. So I didn't join the Nintendo fanboys until the SNES days. I first played Super Mario World on a demo unit, just around launch, in a San Francisco game store (on the corner of Polk and Clay), and it was love at first touch.

My poor Dad suffered and endless stream of 'Can I Can I Can I Can I?' that holiday, but utilising his geeky knowledge of international power supplies, he convinced my thirteen year old self to wait. And wait I did. Every month I would read the Nintendo magazines and study the adverts, waiting for a release date. Somehow I missed it though, and I remember vividly the day I walked past Cardiff's shiny new Virgin Megastore to see a 'out now' poster and a Super Nintendo image. I called upon my horrifying spoilt-brat skills, and the early Birthday present (very, very early) was acquired (parents were divorcing, Rhod needed treats). The following month was lost to Super Mario World, on a mostly broken TV in the back room of the new house that my Mum and I had moved into. Every moment I wasn't at school, I was desperately searching for secret exits, hidden keyholes, and multicoloured dinosaur eggs.

The course was set. Nintendo was for me. But sadly, in the fifteen or so years since that time, there has only been one 'canon' 2D Super Mario game (the peerless 'Yoshi's Island') , and that was in the mid-nineties. So it's been with great happiness, relief, and clearly buckets of nostalgia, that Ki and I picked up (midnight launch, of course) the New Super Mario Brothers. And it's everything I wanted, feeling both familiar, and entirely fresh. It's made me feel like a kid again, and I when I'm not playing it, I'm enthusing about it (noticed?).

It's important for many reasons to Nintendo fans. It's a rebirth, a new focus, a show of strength. But to me, looking back at the last time I explored a Mario game for every little secret, it's a brilliant reminder of why I am here in Japan, doing what I'm doing. I'm sorry you all will now think I'm a lunatic who hinges his decisions on a bunch of Japanese people making a crazy world for a variable-sized plumber to jump around. Mr. Miyamoto was told on meeting me earlier in the year that I came to Japan because of his games, and it's really inarguably true. He was pretty cool about it, whilst I writhed around in the most pronounced embarrassment I've ever endured.

Get New Super Mario Brothers, people. Get a DS and get New Super Mario Brothers. Just don't give it to your kids if you want them to stay in the same continent as you when they grow up.

26 05 06 - 15:22 - rhod - Photostory| one comment - §

Ratticus

Rhod and I went on a post-work date to a cheap and cheerful Italian chain restaurant Capricciosa. The food is good, though it is filled up with rude staff, overly drunk girls with massive hair and lost looking foreigners. The kind of place you choose because it is easy, or you are not sure what you fancy to eat. For a quick meal it is perfect to eat and run. Was perfect. However, there is no way you could pay me to eat there anymore. If you look over Rhod's shoulder in the picture you can see a red chair. The restaurant was quite empty and something caught the corner of my eye, just hanging around the bottom of the chair. Looking closer I was literally gobsmacked to see a rat slowly walking into the kitchen. Not a mouse, not a cat...a fat, hairy rat. Because I am English at heart, I didn't complain, simply paid and left. In all my years, in all the cockroach infested dives I have eaten in, never have I seen a rat in a restaurant. And I am still horrified. The little bugger didn't seem too bothered, looked quite at home in fact. No more Italian at this little hell-hole. I'd still choose the rat over the staff.

26 05 06 - 14:25 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Fish bowl world, guinea pigs and nut cases

Yes, it's back! Big Brother and hours of dull footage just to catch the briefest glimpse of an argument, a decent conversation or flash of romance (in the loosest sense of the word). Drama queens, tosspots, social misfits, militants, racists, homophobes, mental cases and the all too rare 'nice' one. So here is my threadbare argument for watching. I missed this cultural oddity first time around and it was only last year that I got to watch it for the first time. It is a strange slice of Blighty, reminding me of home when every Japanese program seems to involve b-list celebrities being tested on how little they know and commercials with the most annoying jingles in history. Ok so really there is no excuse to tune in, though it is just about the right length to exercise through. This year has been a lot of fun already with noone I would immediately vaporise. The usual group of stereotypes (a sexist, beauty queen, cockney lad, gay Canadian, dumb blonde, big boobed lass, northern cow, toff, Liverpudlian etc...), plus a guy who suffers Tourretes (already odds on to win).
One thing that is unmissable is the quick witted, droll and half barking-mad Russell Brand, who hosts Big Brother's Big Mouth. As a talk show it works so well because it takes none of the Big Brother experience seriously and instead makes fun of everyone and everything. Surprisingly risque when most shows would back off. Unlike previous years, there seems to be a calmer atmosphere to the house, with people, if not instantly likeable, at least tolerable. Already one man has walked (the bizarre and very gay Shahbaz, who literally fell apart on TV whilst creating drama from every single situation, monologuing to cameras all the time) and romance has sprung up. And what of the mystery last housemate? The golden ticket hidden in the lucky Kitkat (debatable) has yet to be found. With more people than ever before on air for more weeks than ever before, it sure is going to get dull and boring. But maybe, just maybe this year will prove an acception to the rule. Yes, I admit it. I will be tuning in most days after work.

24 05 06 - 10:40 - Kieren - Photostory| five comments - §

Realm of the dragon

This dragon waits for the day when the rains will cause the pond to breaks it's banks and allow him to escape and terrorise the people of Kyoto. A short trip to the Kamo and then it is plain sailing to China. Or is that just wishful thinking/madness?

23 05 06 - 09:21 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Absent without leave

I should be at work, but yesterday had an uncomfortable argument with the principal. It was an incredibly stupid argument about my clothes. He wants me to tuck my shirt in. Ok, all very well if it were a universal rule. But I have taught at better schools and never been called messy. The idea that I look scruffy made me feel awful on the train-ride home. Besides, tucking a short sleeved shirt into trousers is a crime against fashion, looks hideous and suggests I should be wearing sandals with socks. So petulantly, I woke up this morning and called in sick. Actually I was unreasonably upset last night, though I think this has more to do with the Japanese way of doing things than actually caring too much about how I should dress. I have incredible guilt that everything I do at work is wrong, because most of the time I suffer from exotic-pet syndrome. I am treated like a friendly alien; petted one moment and excluded the next. So am I going to tuck my shirt in? No. I went shopping and bought plain t-shirts with collars. There is no way in fuck I am tucking those in. I am not Japanese, it is stifling hot and this is appropriate attire for walking around the classroom and playing games with the students.. As he said nothing about t-shirts I am thus trying to do right, whilst ignoring him. Horribly nervous about tomorrow nonetheless.

The rain has been pouring down in humid sheets all day. My friend Mitsuko called me, very bruised and needing to vent. Standing on an escalator on her way to work, an old woman had pushed past her, slipped, lost her balance, tumbled, grabbed hold of Mitsuko's umbrella and pulled them both down the stairs. Brushing herself off, Mitsuko saw that the teeth of the steps had shredded her tights and bruised her legs. The woman said nothing, simply complained about being sprayed with mud and dirt, and shoved through the crowd that had gathered. Broken umbrella, but luckily no broken bones. Mitsuko mentioned she had said nothing, which may be the best way to deal with it. I wouldn't have been so controlled. That woman would be eating my umbrella if I had been knocked down without apology.

One upshot of being AWOL is that I got to have lunch with Rhod, Erik, Paul and Andy, sweating buckets in the muggy restaurant and smelling damp over piping hot ramen. The pictures from phone-cam are of a small restaurant (traditional Kyoto dishes at incredibly expensive prices) beside a temple and lake opposite Nijo Castle, on which a dragonboat (Chinese?) rests; two gargoyles perched outside Nakagyoku Post Office; and our new gym, almost completed.

23 05 06 - 09:11 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

No brainer

Bicycle +
Japanese lady + accessories =
Disaster (usually for other people).

22 05 06 - 11:42 - Kieren - Photostory| three comments - §

My desk at the sweat shop

Here is a rare glimpse of the inside of the teachers room at work. Surprisingly photos are not allowed inside the school without permission. In the teachers room, never. I have not quite worked out the reasons why yet. Someone mentioned tighter security following the murder two years ago of an elementary school teacher by a former pupil. To me this sounds like a conspiracy theory. More likely the school worries about certain information being caught on camera. Not sure what that could be, though my over-imaginative mind has some ideas. Luckily I have converted my bag into a secret camera hodall, busily snapping people at unawares. Seems quite nuts to me that each request I make to snap some shots of the place I work at, the principal looks as if he just chewed on something incredibly sour and makes that sharp intake of breath that the Japanese make to say no. Well bugger that, no harm can come from posting pictures. Or can it? Is my work place harbouring some diabolical secret? If so, I want in on it. I remember my old high school as being fantastically Victorian, a cross between a mental institution and a cricket club. There were vast radiators, parquet flooring and a massive theatrical stage. Creepy, but satisfyingly Grange Hill in feeling. Japanese schools have that crumbling look of a public building left to decay on some quiet, deserted island. My desk and chair have been in use since the 60s, and don't I know it, as every now and then it tosses me off with no warning or reasons why. Welcome to Neyagawa 2 JHS.

22 05 06 - 11:27 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Takeisao

It is amazing where cycling will take you. Rhod has recently begun video-taping bits and pieces of our life in Kyoto, determined to keep it for posterity and eventually edit it all into a small feature for you at home to download. This of course may take a bit of time, so don't get too excited just yet. Funaoka Hill is the graveyard of Oda Nobunaga (yes, I also am getting confused about where exactly his true resting place is), and the furthest northern point of the original city (Heian-kyo) that Kyoto grew into. Of late I seem to be following Nobunaga in an odyssey that has seen me travel from the place he killed himself, to the place his funeral took place, to his final interment. Confused much? Well, yes. Nobunaga was said to have entered Kyoto again as a deity, though really this is bending my mind all a little too much. Takeisao Shrine was very peaceful and pretty, a famous star-gazing point, so I read. The sun has been out all day and I feel a bit frazzled by the heat, in fact would love to curl up in a ball and nap and not think about starting yet another work week without Rhod tomorrow. Goodbye weekend.

21 05 06 - 13:12 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Freak street

Close to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine there is a normal little shopping street, with unextraordinary shops selling unremarkable things. It is never very busy and wouldn't really catch your eyes, were it not for one unusual characteristic... ...or rather should I say, characters. Most shops have a strange little monster sitting outside, beside the pavement. Many have been constructed around a traffic cone and look like the latest offering for Halloween from Blue Peter. The theme seems to be rather ghoulish. I really like the idea of each shop owner creating his own little monster. Rhod and I have no idea what the purpose of this devilish celebration is (although they are there all year round), or if it is indeed linked to Tenmangu Shrine, but I love cycling down this avenue of macabre.

21 05 06 - 12:56 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Reactions to The Da Vinci Code

We are back very late from an early viewing of The Da Vinci Code. Here in pictorial form are the immediate reactions, after stumbling out of the theatre a bit blurry eyed. Erik was probably most blunt in his dislike, while Rhod felt he had been mildly entertained. Misako and Akko both scratched their heads. I guess it has somewhat less of an impact in a non-Christian country. Critical reaction to the movie has been incredibly negative. If you have never read the book and do not know the big spoilers, then I guess it really would be quite interesting, if not mind blowing. I like the central premise of the book, though sitting through four endings was trying and after the scene at Westminster Abbey you really do wish they had called it quits. The characters sure can solve a clue just at the right moment! Everything about The Da Vinci Code is average; it has the wrong director, wrong screen writer and mostly wrong actors (Ian McKellen and Audrey Tatou not included). The flash-backs look as though they were filmed in someone's back garden. Certainly I cannot rightly understand the controversy the film is causing. These ideas are not new and have been floating around for many years. In some ways I find the ideas of the film quite refreshing. Jesus as a man, as a husband, as a father...isn't that rather more faith affirming, easier to believe that we are capable of great things ourselves, that we can do good and make a difference in this life?

20 05 06 - 19:13 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Hotpants for babies?

Hotpants for babies? Really? Misako, I don't think they are going to fit. We celebrate a break in the rain, and a sudden blue sky. Misako get possessive about her coffee.

20 05 06 - 09:00 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The mad professor's lair

I have always wondered what the Crystal Palace was originally like: a spectacular introduction to the modern world. Kyoto station hints at the breath-taking size the Palace might have been, if it were envisioned in the demented mind of some mad inventor. What it shuns in beauty, it makes up for in sheer size. Hardly surprising that the Astro Boy Museum is located inside, as it seems to have sprung from the same animated world created by Osamu Tezuka. I am not sure about the design, for the single reason that from the outside it looks plain and uninspired, when it should be a focal point. Much of Kyoto hates this mad lair. But it is comfortable to wander around the open space and enjoy the views from the roof, where a small bamboo grove and lawn have been constructed. I had fun relaxing with Misako before we caught the train back home.

20 05 06 - 08:55 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A little fall of rain

Rainy season is a bitch. A sticky, icky, gross, damp son-of-a-bitch. Without tsuyu we would have hot, dry summers, without the chest-heaving discomfort of humidity. And it seems that rainy season has turned up a couple of weeks early. All week a maelstrom of clouds have rolled across the city, making everything close and muggy, and threatening rain every time you dare to leave your brolly at home. One plant seems to thrive in this season, and it has a vile semen-smelling pollen that reminds me of cowslip and feeling sick and groggy with hayfever. This plant grows everywhere and is about as horrible a smell as ever you could find. Listening to the rain is extraordinary. It keeps winding itself up to ferocious downpours and then backs off to a light drizzle. A constant cycle of wet and damp. And the good news? It is going to cut nicely into the weekend. Well my weekend, Rhod will be handcuffed to his computer at work.

19 05 06 - 16:38 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

I think I'm turning Lesbian

The sound of tears would be my own, as Rhod crumpled under the intense humidity of rainy season. After clinging to his leg for some time, he beat me off with a stick and ignored my pleas to stop his madness. Finding the clippers he began to hack off his 70s hair into a somewhat more manageable whole. From tears of despair to sudden bouts of laughter as his head went through numerous stages of being. In spite of saying that Rob and Lucy didn't like his military look when he did it previously, he hacked away happily with the comforting words: 'you'll get used to it in 2 or 3 weeks'.
Coming close to one mistake, he pulled it back to a close shave. Veering dangerously close to militant lesbian, I stepped in to sort out the back of his head, which looked as if it might have porcupines crooning for miles. Part of me fears he is becoming a lesbian. He keeps wandering around the flat mumbling, 'I feel so liberated!'. Coming last in a long line of famous actresses who shaved off their locks . I'm sure it will look normal after a while, but now it feels as if some bloke has walked in off the street and plonked himself down in front of the PlayStation. So viewers, what do you think of Buzz?

19 05 06 - 16:09 - Kieren - Photostory| seven comments - §

Happy Birthday Rhod!

Happy Birthday Rhod. 29 years old today! These pictures will make no sense to you at home, but hopefully will mean something to Rhod. Especially the little critters to the left.
Such a shame that he is working the hardest week so far on Starfox, into bug fixing and round the clock maintenance. I guess we will delay his birthday until the weekend.
When I left him this morning he was fast asleep as usual, but I left a poster of Marty McFly for him to drool over when he dragged himself out of bed. Now I have Michael J Fox staring down at me over his watch. Was he ever hot? Maybe I am missing something.

17 05 06 - 10:49 - Kieren - Photostory| eight comments - §

Dog-cat

A dog who thinks he's a cat... A cat who thinks she's a dog... A cat who thinks she owns a bunch of humans.

16 05 06 - 14:25 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bridge of sighs

Rhod contemplating the dry river bed at Imamiya. Why is it that many of Kyoto's rivers no longer flow with water before and after rainy season?

15 05 06 - 13:52 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Starfox HQ




















A heady rush of bodies scrambling away at their keyboards; minds focused in on the momentous task at hand; pale, ghostly figures living off junk food, tidbits of information from the aftermath of E3, and on half an hour sleep every other couple of days. Here we see the staff of Q-Games, who are busily trying to bring us Starfox. Yes, quiet viewers, for all are supposedly 'busy' at work.

Except, well, I just don't buy it. Here we clearly see the manipulation of the press. Can I believe any one of these poses is natural? No. They are all set up, conning us in to believing that making a game is akin to boiling an egg. Any doofus could do it and there is plenty of free time in between. Note Erik in particular, clearly taking inspiration from a C&A catalogue. Rest assured, that once the camera turned off, the work whistle screeched out and the room of geeks (this is not libelous, it is fact) got back to their jobs. Come on boys, keep morale up.

'...Star Fox DS, though, is the shit. It's easily the best-looking 3D game on the system -- surpassing even the beautiful Metroid Prime Hunters -- and the control is fantastic. You do all the ship movement and aiming with the stylus. You'd think this might make your hand fall off, but the genius of it is that every button on the system is used to fire your cannon...' from Wired online.


15 05 06 - 12:09 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The staff working 24 hours to bring you the news...

Acquainting you with the people that make Kyonoki -sort of- happen.

15 05 06 - 12:00 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mad monks and Englishmen

Koto-in's startling green entrance. The tea house was moved here by one of Sen-no-Rikyu's disciples, after his death. Bamboo groves conceal the meagre wooden buildings from sight. Sen-no-Rikyu minimalistic room, where he practised tea ceremony and created a whole new way to perform chado. One of the greatest figures of tea ceremony, he was undone by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's anger at discovering Rikyu had placed a statue of himself on the Kimmokaku (the main gate of Daitokuji). As the shogun could never bow to one of his subjects, he forced Rikyu to take his own life. These tombs are for Hosokawa Sansai and his wife. Sansai dedicated his life to carrying on the work of his master Rikyu. The famous kabuki dancers Nagoya Sanzaburo and Izumo-no-Okuni are also buried here. The thick stone gates protecting the mausoleum are quite unusual.
Daitokuji was patronised by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who greatly expanded the temple buildings after the funeral of Oda Nobunaga in 1582. Many of the temples are dedicated to military commanders who deceased in this period. Daisen-in is a zen garden, cramped into a tiny space. This very energetic monk decided to practice his English, taking a shine to Rhod. Photos are not allowed (a cunning way to making a lot of money, clear from the outrageous ammounts of goods on sale), but I felt hard done by the whole experience so snapped this sneaky shot. After this we cycled back home to watch a movie with Ogi and his wife, and to let Rhod get an early play on his new game (supposed to be a birthday present) Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2.

14 05 06 - 11:05 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The three goddesses of the plague

Five years ago I passed by this spot with my mum and dad, stopping to snap a few shots of the Noh Stage and not thinking much on the derelict mess, so completely overgrown was it all. Today I saw that it has been completely rebuilt and renewed and looks quite beautiful amongst the trees. In order to protect Emperor Ichijo from plague in 994, the three goddesses who dwelled upon the place Imamiya Shrine now stands, were consulted. After the epidemic retreated, the people worshipped the gods and built a shrine to them. People visit the shrine to ward of illness and old age. It was interesting to see a daughter and grand-daughter helping their elderly mother and grand-mother to a small arbor. Carefully she rubbed her body and then rubbed a small stone sitting on a cushion, hoping to ward off sickness and transferring any ailments to the piece of rock. One of Kyoto's most mysterious festivals, the Yasurai Matsuri, takes place in April to prevent illness.

14 05 06 - 10:39 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bath time

Absolutely pouring with rain and chilly enough for me to root around for my pj bottoms. Spent a stir-crazy day watching bits and pieces of TV shows. Alias is winding down and going out with a bang, and keeping me happy with bitch fights and some serious ass kicking. Then I noticed one birthday present I hadn't tried out. So I stripped off and dived into our tiny bath (which looks like it should be in a 1970s Russian housing project).

The 'Bubble Light' (thanks Tomi) is a waterproof lamp that changes colour and can basically be put anywhere you like, though the box has it in the bath. So I experimented for an hour, finding it strangely hypnotic and relaxing. I also discovered that it makes me look shiny and alien-like. Cool. Another well spent Saturday afternoon.

13 05 06 - 10:43 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Starfox DS

With Nintendo's E3 conference done and dusted, and the first reports from journalists already on the web, I can at last discuss the project (in name at least) which has been keeping me away from blogging, as well as from living a normal life, sleeping normal hours, keeping fit, seeing or calling my friends, seeing Japan... And I can't really complain too much about any of that disruption because the project is Starfox DS - the latest game in a series that I first played when I was a young teen, and probably the first 3D flight game I played, too. I couldn't be happier to be working on it. I really, really love the project, the game, and most of all my responsibilities. Work is hard, sure, but more than that, it's good. I can't really say a lot more about the game because it's still up to Nintendo to do all the information management. But just that I can say that my game is featured on Nintendo's own homepage - and pretty prominently at that - is another life goal ticked off the list for me. I don't know why I'm such a lucky f**ker (I barely know how I got here) and clearly it has to end sometime, but I don't think I'm taking anything for granted. Well, I guess some days I would rather pack it in and work on a farm. Maybe in a few years. As Nintendo staff have said (indirectly) to me (in poorly translated interviews) for my whole life: "please look forward to this game". (more)

11 05 06 - 16:30 - rhod - Photostory| one comment - §

Keep us in check. Please.

At work, barricading the door to the computer room with desks, I finally stole internet access. So what did I do with my newly won freedom to surf the net? I spent an hour reading random blogs, because there is nothing more interesting than sneaking into other peoples lives and having a root around. But after an hour I suddenly realised that I was unable to remember where I was, who I was, or what on earth a computer was...my mind had shorted out before it melted completely. Because blogs are on the whole potentially the most dangerous weapons at a persons finger-tips...killing hundreds through sheer boredom.

I am thoroughly pissed off at wasting an hour of my time reading blogs that go into such mind-killing detail about a person's life that I actually felt the fabric of time tearing and pulling me down into oblivion. Taking a piss is more interesting. Each time I switched to another, I wondered how and why I read the whole thing. It's like when you see a car crash and can't help but gawp at it. Or else see a chihuhua and want to kick it. You cannot help yourself. There's a positive side - the feeling that my life no longer seems boring, and I could probably do a nifty trade as a contract killer of bloggers.

Yes, everyone has an opinion, everyone talks about crap. Yes, yes we Brits love to complain about things. But there is only so much we can take. Rhod and I write this blog because we want to feel a little more connected to the people we have left behind across the pond and around the globe, because we want to show pictures of what we have been doing, and because we want to record this strange period of our lives. The idea that readers might think we are making ourselves out to be superheroes tackling life's hardships, perfect and blameless in an unfair world, horrifies me. I often wonder if there is a point to blogging, and I have to come to the conclusion that you have to be sane, or at least mostly sane. Too many people out there are clearly barking mad. Which might be entertaining if their life involved a little more than making tea and breathing.

Blogs are diaries, but they are also diaries everyone can read. Have an opinion, but don't have it all the time. Balance things out the way newspapers do. Life is not hard all the time. So readers (if there are any), if ever Rhod or I lose the plot, if ever I start humourlessly talking about what I cooked for dinner or what items of clothing I bought at the store, if ever we cross the line into bad taste or monotony, either comment at us in CAPITALS, or else send a bomb in the post. PS: Kate and Emily, I have never met you, but thank you for your incredibly kind comments. Your blogs have kept me glued...in a nice way, not the watching Sunset Beach kind of way.

11 05 06 - 10:02 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Fantastic laser eyed robo-cats, Dickensian tragedy, oh and bluebells

My mum on the mud flats of the Stour Estuary, looking like something from The French Lieutenant's Woman or as if she is fleeing the police in a Charles Dicken's novel. Quite a sinister and unforgiving landscape, one I remember wading in as a child and getting stuck up to my thighs. I was pulled out by my friend's father, though it terrified me thinking of all the unfortunate souls in the past who must have been swallowed up by the river. The houseboat looks quite out of place. I cannot imagine living there when darkness creeps up and all the lights vanish into the eery creaking of the boat on the water. Here is latest in Japanese robo-technology. Now that Aibo is dead, time for robot cats. But what is the point of just having a robo-cat, when you could have a robo-cat with lethal laser eyes. For those of you that find the idea of cats of mass destruction terrifying, here is a calm and beautiful picture of bluebells carpeting the woodland of Bradfield. My dad walks Bob the dog here every weekend and it really does look quite fairytale, though a little creepy at the same time. There are many stories that in WWII a fighter pilot crashed close-by the forest and was killed. It is said his ghost walks there still. My dad was so taken with the new Japanese technology that he immediately had our cats converted. Notice the frightening yellow glow emanating from Esti's eyes. Rhea finally got one up on my brother by vapourising him over breakfast. As England struggles to shirk off it's Winter coat it is quite haunting to see some of the landscape and compare it to a Japan that is all set for the long, sweaty days of Summer.

10 05 06 - 11:33 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Amazing Mister

For those of you that haven't heard the news, Rhod's game was announced yesterday. It is very strange to go to google and find pages of fan gossip concerning your boyfriend's project. Very strange indeed, but I am so proud.

10 05 06 - 09:40 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Move over Mario

Ahhhhh (contented sigh), 'tis the season in which all normal thought processes are frazzled in the sun and under the relentless drip-drip of sweat, when Rhod's monstrously long eyelashes snare bugs the size of pennies and he leaves me empty lunchboxes in the post box (don't think too much on this point). It is also the time of year that geeks tremble with anticipation, their sticky hands poised over their wallets and their eyes melting from the bombardmment of information about next generation consoles and games.

What with all the breathless wonderment of E3 (tongue, this is cheek), I have decided to go into the computer game business myself and have created 3 games over an afternoon of exceptionally busy doodling at my desk. All are close to my heart and represent not so sly attacks upon the more ridiculous aspects of life in Japan. The messages are there for all to see... things that have been bugging me today.

Let me set the scene for you in game one. Average Joe wakes up with a throbbing hangover, half buried in a pile of garbage. After being dumped by his girlfriend, he drowned himself in few dozen pints of beer after work, only to half heartedly stumble in the direction of the train home and collapse in an alleyway, unconscious.

Blearily opening his eyes, Joe discovers that he is still somewhere in the city centre, that he is missing his wallet, and that he is very late for work. What's more, rush hour is over, all the men are safely at work and the evil nest-haired, Louis Vuitton toting, fake nailed, badly dressed, high-heeled shoppers are flooding into the city to , well, shop. Your task: recover your wallet, find your cellphone, call work, get money, go home, get changed and go to work (see game three).

Survival is the key. Your vacuous opponents will utilise their ludicrously high-pitched voices, foul tempers, path-blocking shuffles, and stultifyingly shocking fashion to make your task a formidable challenge. Grab what weapons you can and get the hell out of there. Bitch slapping, kicking, biting, clawing and shooting as you go. After all, it's what they'd do to you.

As with many games, they can sell out or die on the likeablity of their main characters. For my second game, the possibilities of product placement and capitalising on cute goods are phenomenal. Meet Pomegraine the Evil Sunflower. He is having a very bad day. His little patch of park in Kyoto is about to be torn up to make way for a new apartment block, his best tree-friend Bomblebox has been chopped up for firewood (his leaves were far too messy) and there are rumours of hideous experiments on pine trees in some nearby temples.

You have 24 hours to pack up your roots, and decide what route, to take. Do you face the dangers of the city and flee to the safety of the mountains and the fabled sunflower ranch? Do you avenge your kind by declaring open war on the municipal government and 'flora maintenance'. In a post-Kyoto Treaty world, you are an eco warrior with a difference. Plants are not welcome inside the city boundaries, so each moment will be a battle to stay alive.

So we come to the last game: survive your morning commute.

You are a fresh-faced salaryman, off to the office on your first day of your first job. Rush hour is about to hit Tokyo and despite your well made plans you hit a snag. Your bike has been impounded for being parked within the 98% of the city where that sort of thing is simply not allowed. Your only course of action is public transport. Navigate the thousands of commuters, busy stations, and crazed old ladies with nothing better to do, whilst keeping your appearance pristine and your genki levels up (hint, the nicotine, caffeine and sugar cocktails you can find at any convenience store will help). Get to work on time, looking good, with no sweat and without having killed anyone, and you win the game. Not as easy as it may sound.

09 05 06 - 09:46 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Holy comics Batman!

For your viewing pleasure, (and to sate my creative urge on the Mac) here is Part 1 of 'Nintendo Freaks'. Parts 2, 3 and 4 will follow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Keep your eyes glued to this spot.

08 05 06 - 13:08 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Table at The World

For a smokey dive of a place, the food at Chikuya ain't half bad. Every inch of wallspace is covered with postcards, posters, business cards, random fliers and leaflets, all yellowed with age and the constant fug of cigarette smoke. The waiters are moody, rude sods. The tables and chairs look like they were made by a one handed ogre. Yet the drink and food are good enough to keep us going. Through the gloom, I managed to snap a couple of photos on my cellphone before realising it has an incredibly strong flash which half blinded Rhod and myself. Very full, I am sat listening to Rhod playing Space Channel 5.

05 05 06 - 15:43 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kodomo no hi

As the more famous tourist spots in Kyoto overflow with visitors on Children's Day, we took a lazy stroll this morning through the mostly deserted arcades in the city centre, taking coffee outside and doing very little... except a little bit of John Travolta outside one temple. Weaving in and out of the temples and gardens that fill the spaces behind the shop fronts of Teramachi, we visited Yata-dera and Honno-ji, strange islands of calm in the heart of the city, swamped on every side by apartment blocks and department stores. Yata-dera is famous for it's okuri-gane (sending bell), which you ring to aid the spirits of loved ones to Paradise. Unusual because bells are meant to call to spirits, not nudge them away. Honno-ji was built (in reality expanded and rebuilt) on the spot where Oda Nobunaga commited seppuku in 1582. After lunch with Erik (who had his bag stolen at a bar the previous night) and Rhod we took a slow cycle back home to bid Mitsuko farewell. Again, it is always horrible saying goodbye to her. Mitsuko is like a shot of energy, making me remember particularly why I loved Japan and how there are things that will never change no matter how horrible my job may be (not so much anymore), no matter how far from home I am.

05 05 06 - 07:24 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

My neighbour Suzuki

Mitsuko Suzuki is clearly mad. I used to think that she is as un-Japanese as you could ever find under the Rising Sun, but now I have come to realise that she is very Japanese at heart, that she is herself and that counts for a lot. Because she is so open and honest and kind, she may seem two pennies short of a pound, but is the fiercest friend you could hope to have.

If there is one single thing I miss about Kobe, it is Mi-chan. I met her by accident when I first came to Japan. She was the girlfriend of one of my night school students, Hirofumi (now a Nursery School teacher!), who had panicked about the language barrier after inviting me to go bowling and so brought her along. Mitsuko's English never fails to amaze me, as she has never set foot outside Japan, hasn't studied it since college and yet is so headstrong that she never worries about getting by. When she broke up with evil Hiro number 2 (tall two timing fuckwit) she moved into my spare room for a year and it was brilliant sharing a house with her. One of the hardest things was telling her that I was gay. She was understanding and incredibly cool, but had trouble grasping what 'gay' really was. Because in Japan it is often viewed as something quite comical, like British sitcoms in the 70s, she kept telling me that I could borrow her clothes any time I liked. I think I must have gone around in shock for most of the next month, avoiding her room as best I could and not daring to do her laundry. After a lot of explaining she got it, and was strangely on most of my first date with Rhod. When we get to see each other, it is for only a few hours, but it never feels like time has passed or things have changed. Mitsuko, you are stark raving mad, but I love you. My Japanese, bust obsessed, wife.

05 05 06 - 06:57 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A lady called crazy

In what is fast becoming the tri-annual visit from Mitsuko, we spent Kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day) mostly eating and shopping. Gaining access to Elton John's 70s collection, Mitsuko here is sporting sunglasses from Japan's Summer selection. Is it bad to say that she doesn't look too bad in these specs.

05 05 06 - 06:43 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

White water ride and the spectacular picture

Don't ask me how, but I managed to snap this shot of us rafting down the Hozukyo River. Because of a small wormhole in the closet, I was able to wait up on this railway bridge, whilst at the same time enjoy the boat ride down below. As I have had a doubly busy day I am thoroughly tired.

03 05 06 - 10:09 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

The river wild

Full gallery here

Rhod really doesn't have a lot of time off work, though this is holiday season, so it was good to be able to drag him off for the day. Misako and I talked about rafting a few months ago, but we didn't have the inclination to do it until my birthday today. So we woke up early to take the Romantic Train from Arashiyama through the mountains (with conductors dressed as oni, Japanese demons) to Umahori and the base for rafting down the Hozukyo River.
Because today is the first of many holidays this week, the train and rafting station were packed with tourists from all over Japan. After a short wait, we hopped on the front bench of the long boat and began the hour and forty minute journey through the mountains down the twisting ribbon of the Hozu. Guided by three gnarled old men (one was almost 70), we got to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the blazing noon heat, all with cheeky reverie from the boaters. As they have been doing this for over forty years or so it is not surprising that they don't wear gloves to pull the huge oars. Popeye would have been put to shame siding up to their forearms. Rhod was brave enough to try and row the boat on the last stretch of the river, as we stopped off for beer and cooked squid (Misako flirting with the younger sailor). Being at the front, we got a little wet (we got to hide under a plastic sheet, Akko and Rhod getting the brunt of the spray), but mostly we dried out in no time. My arms are incredibly sunburnt now, but it was worth it for such a fun start to my 28th year. The rocky bed of the river was quite stunning, many of the boulders really did look like animals and human figures. Now we are off to dinner and to kanpai in the evening.

03 05 06 - 09:41 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Wee baby and Misako in kimono

This little wee beastie is Misako's nephew Hinata, who was born in December. I have tried to get a picture before, but they haven't come out well from Misako's cellphone. Very cute, though he has amazing old man expressions at times. Misako entertained an important group of Nintendo managers at her restaurant recently and dressed up for the occassion. Kimono are incredibly famous worldwide, yet it is still something of a surprise to see them worn. They are still in popular use for special occassions, despite being somewhat less popular with younger people. Getting a photo of someone who looks good in a kimono is a difficult thing to do, especially as the girls wearing them around town are, eh-hem, not a good example of how to wear traditional clothes... Glad to have finally seen how an ancient Misako would have looked.

03 05 06 - 09:27 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

9 carat week

Golden week begins here... from the verandah of Kokuzoin.

02 05 06 - 11:12 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Arashiyama in 9 easy photos

With a click of my fingers I have changed Spring into Summer just in time for Golden Week. From my birthday until Sunday is a lengthy holiday season (Rhod not included). So what better way to get in the mood that by taking a tram to Arashiyama. The photos in no particular order are of Kokuzoin Temple, a verandah overlooking the Togetsukyo bridge and Hozu river, and Rhod, Misako and Akko messing about in boats. I love swimming, but I have to admit I really didn't get the hang of rowing. While it was the girls and my first attempt at boating, two little squirts kept shooting up and down the river with annoying ease. A little piece of advice: don't stop off at the floating shop and purchase beers for the journey back to the pier. We all got a bit drunk and unsteady on the water. After a long Tetris battle over Wi-Fi, we returned to buy me a new computer as my old one died of alcohol poisoning (no joke)...so Rhod and I have a mini-Mac, way cool.

01 05 06 - 10:59 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

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

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