Summer strip

30 07 06 - 14:33 - Kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

The best things in life are free*

*Unless you are hounded by the fascist river police for daring to float an arm-stretch from shore. I do understand the dangers of the Hozu with it's rapids and strong undercurrents. There are signs warning you to be careful. But I do have common sense and would never go out so far that my feet could no longer touch the bed. Maybe I am just bummed at being forced to give up my very peaceful swim. Sometimes I wonder if the Japanese understand how much beautiful scenery is around them. People always like to be herded to the main tourist sights, but rarely stop to take stock of the mountains, rivers, and sea. If it is not in a book, not suggested by a tourist agency, then it doesn't seem worth the bother. Which in my eyes is perfect, as I get to have a stretch of the Hozu all to myself. For a little while we took to the water and paddled back and forth at the edge as river boats ploughed down the middle channel. Even with the sun sinking below the mountains, it was warm enough to float nestled in the calm pools between the rocks. Half of Rhod's (visible) anger at the police came from the idiotic suggestion that we go and play in a nearby stream. Thankfully. the cops didn't stop us from getting a few hours of rebellious riverbathing fun.

30 07 06 - 11:38 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Starfish and seduction at the shrine

Not sure if any words would ever be enough. Unlimited cheap booze + Rhod/Misako...do not mix. The gods were scratching their heads.

29 07 06 - 15:31 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Marble madness

For hours and hours, Rhod has been tinkering with his new toy. But Spacewarp ain't for children. It's much like a rollercoaster in many respects...but with marbles.

27 07 06 - 12:50 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Nijo-jinya

Nijo-jinya is off the beaten track, hidden behind a modest gate in one of the back-streets close to the castle. Misako and Akko had never even heard of the Edo-era inn until Rhod mentioned it. Kyotoites probably cycle past every day without realising that the normal looking house hides many secrets. You have to book a day in advance, and pay a modest fee for an hour tour. The guide speaks no English, so it is advisable to kidnap a Japanese person to act as a translator. We kidnapped the girls. Quite unusually, the house has been kept in the same family (Ogawa) all these years and is still low key. The house was built about 300 years ago, by a civil servant-turned-merchant (of medical supplies) who designed the inn for visiting daimyo (important members of the ruling class). Due to the paranoid atmosphere at the time, it was necessary to ensure the safety of these men from any number of violent forces and so the house was constructed to hide secret entrances, hidden rooms and concealed storage areas. The inn was highly lucrative, not only due to it's reputation as a safe house, but because it was close to Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace. Nijo-jinya has been unaltered since it's construction and is extremely rare. The ingenious layout of the house remains as impressive as it ever was. Wells act as emergency exits, stairs can be lifted and hid in the ceiling and cupboards have false backs. One of the most interesting rooms looks like an upside down boat and has an uneven floor to make you feel as if you are floating on water. Another stairway has a pull out trick-step (that makes a sound similar to a person running down stairs), that would convince your pursuer that you had descended when in reality you would be hiding in a room beside the steps. The trick-step would thus cause him to lose his footing and fall. An amazing house.

27 07 06 - 08:07 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Oh kawaii!

When I ordered a side-dish of fries, I really didn't expect to get a sickingly cute mini artwork of ketchup and mayonnaise to go with it. I am all for fancy food, but let's think about this for a second...it is KETCHUP! Japan makes everything far too cute for it's own good. The best bit was playing with the sauce, though in the end it looked as if both poor animals had been shot at close range.

27 07 06 - 07:52 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Waterbabies

Mike and Rhod take a refreshing dip in the river. A small stream pours into the gully, bringing freezing water down from the mountains to feed the Hozu. Down by the rapids it is cool and peaceful, all too easily lulling you into sleep. Well, maybe that was just me and Misako. Although there is strictly no swimming, after the tragic deaths of numerous swimmers a couple of summers ago, Rhod thought it would be safe in this small cove as it is a well-known landing spot for rafters (thus making skinny-dipping a bit risque). Even hugging the river bank, away from the safety of the cove, is a struggle as the amazing undercurrents pull at you as soon as you step into the waters. Rhod and Mike seemed to enjoy their brief paddle (note how white they are!).

26 07 06 - 09:38 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Down by the Hozu

In this heat, water calls. The sea is too far, Lake Biwa is difficult to get to, and the Kamo is all too ordinary. So Arashiyama it was, with the rushing Hozu river. Packing up some towels, we picked up Misako and Mike (our upstairs neighbour) and bundled onto a train that took us into the mountains. Scorching hot, we looked down from the platform-bridge hundreds of feet below to the enticing green ribbon of water below. After some swimmers died, the ladders down to the river edge have been taken away so we scrambled over a fence and dropped down onto a grassy bank. Mike proved the most Spiderman-like after complaining he disliked heights. After some trial and error, we threw down our bags and gratefully dipped our feet in the ice-cool water. We had the river mostly to ourselves, except for occasional rafts sailing past and the old electric train struggling along the other bank.

26 07 06 - 09:30 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sandal bid for freedom

No sooner had I stepped into the fast running stream, to cross over to the main river bank, than my sandal was sucked away by the current and pulled into the Hozu. My heart sank as it shot into the middle of the channel. Just goes to show that there would be no chance if a swimmer got sucked out into river. Because the river bed is a mess of rocks, pebbles and stones, it is painful to walk barefoot, so sandals are advisable. Or in my case, not. Rhod bravely ran to the bank to see what he could do, but as swimming is dangerous, we could on look on as it happily floated away. Then a miracle. Because we were standing at a curve in the river, because it is so fast running, and because the Hozu is filled with swirling eddies, the sandal swung back and headed to shore. A nice young chap passed us a long broken piece of bamboo and we managed to save it.

26 07 06 - 09:22 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Throwing balls

Rhod tries out a new interactive game at Round One's arcade, blurred into action. Hundreds of coloured balls pour into a tray. As quickly as you can, you have to pick them up and throw them at a target on the large screen in front of you. Not as easy as it looks. Especially when your guide through the game is a candle holding elephant telling you to hit dead girls flying at you.

25 07 06 - 16:41 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Rarest of photos...one with Ki in it

25 07 06 - 07:23 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Daigo-ji

How strange to wake up with Rhod and have the whole day spread out before us. With no immediate work days in the foreseeable future, Kyoto is our oyster. For the time being. As the rain clouds shred and float away, the dazzling green of the mountains almost hurts the eyes with their lush blanket of trees. Temperatures soar, the ten days of unhalted rain has infused the air with soaking humidity and the cicadas have come creaking out in army-like numbers. There is something about the languid Japanese summer that fills me with a happy melancholy. Maybe it is because my happiest memories of Japan always seem to fall in the summer months, when I first arrived on these sun-bleached shores. The sound of kids playing baseball, the constant insect buzz competing with the burring of fans, the silent pull of the sea...Japan in the summer. Although I can still go out into the carpark and have a hose fight if I so wish, drought unlikely this year. Rhod and I walked around Daigo-ji this afternoon, strolling through the shady foothills and grumbling that photography was forbidden in the spectacular Sanboin gardens (WHY?). Daigo is a sprawling temple, tumbling down from the mountain-top to the pagoda where we halted (an hour clambouring up a mountain path in this heat is a no brainer), and very beautiful, quiet and relaxing it is too. In other news...one baby triop has hatched. Ok, off to have a quick swim.

25 07 06 - 07:21 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Big drums

For me, school's out for the summer. After finishing up my presentation for the Board of Education, I sniffled all the way back to Kyoto, having to buy a box of tissues to stem the incredible production of hanamizu (nose water) my body has started producing, only to find Rhod immobile with his new DS Web Browser. I have been sick these last couple of days and feel very fluey and knocked about. Checking on our new pet triops (not yet hatched), I whipped off my clothes to lie under the aircon on this, the most humid day of the year. Misako called after finishing her work and invited us to go and watch some taiko performers, one of whom was staying at her hotel. We cycled the short distance and met up with her and Akko about the busy junction of Omiya. The drum players were quite amazing, the deep thromming beats really shudder inside your chest and echo about the buildings. Of all the Japanese traditional instruments, I really love taiko with its simple and distinctive sounds. All that would have been well worth going out for, but no sooner had we crossed the road than a rider dressed in traditional Heian costume led a huge procession of men clad in white festival gear, shouldering a gold portable shrine. As the rabble poured into the empty carpark where the taiko drummers had been playing, we hurried back over the busy thoroughfare to watch the hundreds of men bouncing up and down with the shrine and chanting words of encouragement to each other. Wholly exciting, topped off with two men clambouring up to untie some half dead flowers from the shrine top.

24 07 06 - 15:20 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Dissection of a festival

24 07 06 - 13:04 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mothra

The inspiration for one of Godzilla's greatest foes was not from the twisted mind of some young screen-writer, but something a little closer to home. Lurking in sun-drenched spots, these huge beasts are a reality for the Japanese. Of course I would have to jinx my luck of so far avoiding moths in the aftermath of the greatest human/insect battle of recent years, which I barely managed to win after hours of tearing my house apart. Joking aside, this thing was 2 inches long. Spotting it on the laundry, I had asked Rhod to move it but he did a half-arsed job and as I brought the towels in, there it was. I ran for my life and am unashamed to say screamed like a lady. Rhod heroically and humanely set it free after snapping baby Mothra.

23 07 06 - 13:37 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Checkmate

In amongst the swirling smoke, drunken reverie and lecherous glances of The Hub patrons... ...time slows down, we are transported to a picnic table overlooking a leafy park in some European clime... ...where two oldies are battling it out over that most ancient of games, in an eternal battle of wits.

23 07 06 - 05:46 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Tosspot

I woke up nice and cheery this morning, supped tea, sucked in lungfuls of warm summer air, put my feet up to peruse the daily news and was shocked to find a slur against my name: accused of being shockingly drunk last night on Misako's blog. Eh-hem, but dost my eyes deceive me? Ok, so I was a bit chatty at dinner, but only because I had been sulking earlier. Quickly I checked for signs. No hangover, a full memory of being a bit jolly last night but no blank spaces in the chronology of grouchiness, no immediate bad mood, no sleep deprivation. Unless I have been drunk all day I think certain people have exaggerated my couple of drinks. In my defence I was cycling slow home, not because I was having issues keeping away from lamp posts, but because I desperately needed to pee and feared any sudden jolts would set me off, I didn't eat any of the fatty restaurant food because I had just come from the gym and the cocktail list was pages long. So there.

22 07 06 - 11:09 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Starfox Command

TV ADVERT! HOME PAGE. It's pretty much all over now, and time to sit back and watch! Hello normal life, it's good to be back.

21 07 06 - 01:57 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Goodbye Gion

18 07 06 - 09:32 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Charlie says...

Meaow. Now say it with me...Charlie says you should look both ways before crossing the road. Except in Japan Charlie would have been tossed, unloved onto the streets and his fish prized from his paws and eaten before it had stopped twitching. Desite Charlie being quite creepy to a little kid, it got the message across to me quite well. Something perhaps lost on the lunatics I had to avoid on my short cycle home from the station. A guy slammed into my bike at full speed while I was waiting at the traffic light today, throwing me off (it is lucky my saddle is too low, as I managed to disentangle myself before being pulled down under it). As it was pouring with rain and the sidewalk flooded I was soaked from head to foot. The young chap made no attempt at saying he was sorry, so I did the grown up thing. I splashed him back by stomping in the puddle. The fact that I was stationary when hit gives me some leeway in saying that Kyotoites have not grasped how to use modern technology circa 20th century and anything with a wheel seems to fill them with trepidation. Oh well, bruised wrist but better than being struck by a car. Four days of perpetual rain, of damp clothes and close air. Two more days still to go according to the news. Supped tea and cake with Akko and Misako, missed Rhod a bit and watched Cars. I am not a great fan of Pixar beyond Finding Nemo and to a lesser extent The Incredibles. Their stories are timeless and heartfelt, but I always find myself clock-watching, waiting to get to the climax and the payoff. I am happy Lasseter will take control of Disney animation (especially considering his love for 2D animation), but just hope he takes a chance on something that is not a buddy movie.

18 07 06 - 09:28 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The art of pain

Misako decided she needed her feet massaging today to help her unwind from the bad luck she seems to have been carrying around with her all weekend, which also might go a long way to explaining why every day has been broiling clouds, drowning rain and the tumultuous sounds of battling thunder. She persists that there is a fug of bad luck around her, though it seems mostly to involve her dropping things. The first hour of Gion was spent looking into the black waters of a storm drain, discoloured by the hundreds of cigarettes washed into the soup and left to ferment into a gut wrenching smell. Parking her bike, Misako had locked it and dropped the keys perfectly down the slit in the drain cover. A broom, pole and net turned up nothing but vile muddy lumps but not the keys. The lock was cut at a nearby bike shop to much weeping. So prior to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, we killed time at a small massage parlour specialising in feet (a kind of shiatsu). Incidentally I will definately be watching the movie again with Rhod as it is great entertainment and although a little over-long was perfect escapism. The movie does exactly what it sets out to do and carries on very smoothly from the first movie.
Because we were running out of time, I agreed to forgo my turn. In reality I am a little shy (although does me talking about being shy, still make me shy?) and am reluctant to put myself in a situation where strangers will be touching me and people watching on. So I snapped Misako and Akko taking their 15 minute turns in the chair (Rhod is definately going later in the week!). As you can see, there is a clear progression in each of the photos. First of all the masseur was very gentle and explained exactly what he was doing, and what each pressure point represented in terms of healing other parts of the body (the tip of the large toe is for sinuses). But slowly he really went to work and both the girls squealed in pain, clinging to a nearby shelf for support. I laughed along until the guy turned to me and asked me to take the seat. He said he would give me a free taster and seemed keen that I feel what the massage is like. Reluctantly I got into the chair and the pain begun. Very sharp and very hard. Although I didn't shout out, and although my calves were strong enough to withstand the pain (my feet not), my face apparently went violently red.

17 07 06 - 12:56 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Friends at Gion

Well hmph and grrhmph. Seems like everyone was conscripted into working over the holiday weekend except me and Misako (Akko abandoned us). Tomomi was enticing customers to buy beer from the stall outside the hotel she works at, looking quite fetching in her yukata. Rhod joined us for a late supper after sleeping the entire day before another burst of bugfixing at work. Good luck Rhod, the end (eh-hem) is in sight.

17 07 06 - 03:01 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gion Matsuri: Day Two

Gion has been a very sombre and lethargic affair this year, punctuated by immense electrical storms and a soaking, unrelenting rain. In many ways the weather has been the most impressive thing about it. As you may or may not know, the festival is one of the three biggest in Japan and after a month of celebrating culminates in a parade of ancient floats to protect the city from the ravages of disease and plague. But in the run up to the parade (wisely missed and watched on TV) there are two nights of frolicking in the closed off streets of the city. People dress up in yukata and shops set up thousands of stalls that sell everything from grilled squid to hermit crabs (honestly, you have to fish for them). You cannot move for people and everywhere is mess of jovial, sweating bodies, all crushing to see the floats on display. Misako and I found ourselves alone, wandering from stall to stall, refilling our beer cups on the way and stopping to speak to friends and see her little nephew at peace in his buggy. Before the crush of late evening, we had fun in the sea of umbrellas and went to view one of the hoko (floats). Because of tradition, women are not allowed to set foot on them. Even that small fact couldn't burst our beer bubble.

17 07 06 - 02:54 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mi Moods

Smug-drunk. Bitter gin. Where did my drink go? How daaaaaaaare you!

17 07 06 - 02:50 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gion Matsuri: Day One

17 07 06 - 02:47 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Brave story

First of all I would like to paint a picture of our cosy, if somewhat run-down, apartment. Each month a new calamity seems to face us. A few months back I was taking a shower when the glass light-fitting fell off and would have smashed if I hadn't caught it. The bulb had blown and because the wrong type of bulb had been installed previously, the plastic had super-heated and melted, thus exposing the electric cables. All of this I noted whilst taking a shower, standing in a pool of water and slowly realising how dangerous it all was. I yelped, leapt out, but simply shrugged it off as another broken thing yet to be fixed by our absentee landlord. This however, is not a story about the slow death of our apartment block, but something I shiver to recall. The only light (no response from the landlord after all this time...I could have been lying electrocuted and dead for months) is from the sink area just outside the bathroom. All very dark and a nightmare to shave. So I hopped in for a quick shower before bed, turned on the tap and felt something skim my nose. Looking down my nerves exploded in terror as I assumed it was a moth, and ever since ripping my house apart in Kobe trying to find one that had swooped at me in my sleep, I really can't stand the things. Sigh...it t'wasn't a moth. It was a cockroach. Two inches long, capable of flying and literally going mental on the tiling. Naked, I skittered backward, scratched the length of my back and managed to leap into the hallway, slamming the bathroom door closed. Alone, I realised that as the shower was still running, I couldn't simply abandon the room for the night. So, covered in sweat and wishing someone was here I grabbed the washing up liquid, kicked open the door, fired a jet of soap and hit the bastard in one fell shot. Now as you know, cockroaches breathe through their shell/skin and so by coating it you kill the creature faster than with conventional spray. Photos taken, I washed it (melting) down the drain, poured out my fear to Rhod and went about a renewed frenzy of trap construction. This year seems worse than usual. As they say in all those great horror movies I watched as a kid: 'We must find the nest!'

14 07 06 - 15:11 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Travels with Rhod

I imagine working this crunch period is a bit like peering into the adventures of raising a very young baby (only without the reward of a well turned out human). You can't sleep, and the waking world feels blurry and slightly unreal. Whilst you are doing things you would normally do, you aren't sure who is making the decisions, and though somehow everything gets done, you don't remember how you did it. Take last saturday for example. I'd agreed, foolishly optimistic that our game would be near done, to go to Osaka on saturday to be with Ki as he ventured into his most despised of cities to give a speech on the differences between British and Japanese schooling. I wasn't going to pull out just because our project slightly over-ran, so stumbled from an all-nighter, back home for breakfast and then out the door on my first 'day off' in months. Shame that I was a zombie, but it was fun nonetheless.

As we headed for the train (Osaka is very easy to get to from our house) my hazy peaceful state was interrupted by the not uncommon sight of the uyoku. Bizarre in their techniques, these right-wing nationalists (clamouring for the pre-WW2 era Japan of homogeny and military strength) drive around in supposedly intimidating black trucks, plastered with the nation's flag, all the time blaring out music and rightist propaganda at a volume that would not only be socially unacceptable in the UK, but illegal under decibel limit laws. I'm all for freedom of speech, but I'm sure this laughably impotent racism doesn't attract new support, nor intimidate, nor persecute. It simply raises a smile, and as I turned the camera on them, I sort of hoped they'd actually get out and do something about their views rather than just hide behind a loudspeaker and darkened windows hoping that one day soon, Their World will be restored. Because it all went so well, last time Japan was an emperor worshiping military nation, eh, guys?

That little reminder that I'm a legal alien behind us, and I was quickly deep in crowds of geeks in the game stores. "No, wait" I thought. "These aren't geeks". The sight of thirtysomething ladies in game stores, alongside the dragonball and gundam purchasing nerds (sorry, all!), is still a bit surprising to me, hence that photo of a crowd of non-stereotypical gamers, playing online and downloading new decorations for their virtual 'animal crossing' homes. Osaka was fun because I finally got my DS Lite. I got to explore more of the retro game stores, and just walk around. I've not been to London in nearly 2 years, and Osaka is the closest I get to feeling 'back home' in the city. Oh, yeah, and whilst Engrish is less and less funny/interesting to me every day, sometimes, something like the Nob Beauty Clinic (pictured) reinvigorates that childish laughter and sees me photographing adverts on subway stations in public. Sorry, Mr. Nob. As a final thought, Kobe, Kieren's beloved home in Japan, does actually really seem as cool as he suggests. A halfway point between London and Brighton, but with amazing mountain scenery to boot. Note to self: Spend more time in Kobe. Sorry for rambling! That concludes my weekend. Now, it's nearly ten pm, so naturally, I have to get to work.

10 07 06 - 13:11 - Rhod - Photostory| No comments - §

Jason Hawkes' Camera

10 07 06 - 10:51 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

President elect

Well it seems that my mum and dad have finally adopted a daughter in the form of Mayumi, a foreign student sponsored (Ambassadorial Scholar) by the Rotary Club my dad is apparently newly elected president of. News to me. There hardly seems a night nowadays when they are not throwing on a ballgown and tux for yet another grand evening. This time at the Ipswich Transport Museum, which might explain why all the buses. I flicked through the pages of the Japan Times today and read an article about the 'Killer Heat' England is suffering. And it was all I could do to stifle a chortle. The only pity I can muster comes from the fact that ACs are not an everyday part of the home in the UK, thus it must be quite hellish. That said, I am still determined to leave off our AC until the end of July. Today was 33 degrees, humidity in the early 90s. Scrumptious. The picture above is of the two students who receive scholarship from my dad's Rotary club (not his you understand, he is just a member). The other chap is Kini, from Egypt. Hopefully I will get to meet them when I go back to England in October as I have heard so much about them. Nice to see the sun shining and hugs all round.

10 07 06 - 09:28 - Kieren - Photostory| five comments - §

Nishida-san and the fish head

Having abandoned Rhod for three hours in the heart of 'Electric Town' in Osaka while I presented my speech ('A comparitive study of education in Japan and Britain'...yawn) to Osaka Government, I picked the rather exhausted wee blighter up and took him to meet my old boss, Nishida-san, in Kobe. Please don't feel sorry for Rhod as he somehow managed to find and buy a white DS Lite and is very happy. I felt rather cocky yesterday and had no nerves in delivering what could have been a nightmarish dialogue on why I feel Japan is increasingly alienating it's youth. So all was good. An hour late, we found the empty restaurant (a businessman haunt, deserted at weekends) and had a nice couple of hours talking to Nishida (as jovial and full of bad jokes as ever). Rhod proudly showed him his new DS, while we munched through some sashimi and battered eel (breadcrumbed rather than beaten up). I am always proud to show Rhod around Kobe, and am inwardly smug that he seems to be understanding why I love Kobe more than I care for Kyoto. Maybe something about no-one in Kyoto being able to drive properly! The chef at the restaurant was a little disconcerting as he talked non-stop about Westlife. Fair enough I supposed, until he reeled off facts that showed an expert knowledge of each of the members and their subsequent careers. Odd. What is more bizarre is Meg Ryan's desperate cling to the remnants of fame, now that her lips are oversized Jokeresque balloons, turning her face into something quite cat-like. Do women never learn? Big lips equal career death. Rhod, the poor guy, slept all the way back to Kyoto and is struggling through the last hours of Starfox.

09 07 06 - 09:23 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Post to Moo (for everyone else, sorry)

She will always be Moo to my Mo (try to work it out), and a bitching buddy through the good times and bad we had working at school together. It has taken a lot of arm twisting to get her to send some pictures to play catch up with what she has been up to. I'm really liking the dark hair in the next, oh so Socialite, photo. With all the lizards on the blog, I should describe the most bizarre of your many accidents since I have known you (I have a feeling there are many more bizarre incidents I have yet to find out about). You jumped out of the path of a small lizard and it ran up one leg of your jeans. Panicked that it would get inside your underwear you struggled with the zipper in the middle of the street, only to rip open your flies and have the little creature burst out like some strange parody of Alien. Not a few students watched the show. In fact I was always happy I had found someone more clumsy than me. Another time, you came in cut up and bruised. While jogging down the steep hill from school you had jumped to avoid another lizard (what was it with you and the little beasts?), fell badly and with the momentum of your run ended up rolling down the sidewalk for a considerable distance. Nearly as terrible as the time you cycled into a drainage ditch when visiting Swanky in the countryside.
Louisa will always be the one who accidentally flashed about 300 school boys when her dress slipped off (her dieting having been very effective), but you will forever be remembered for not quite getting used to which side of the road you were meant to drive on (terrifying). Although, do you remember that young teacher at our school who ended up reversing into a drainage ditch after we went to that barbeque, and who used to laugh manically as cars beeped her (doubly terrifying) for swirving across lanes without a second glance in the mirror. One of these days I will have to pack up and go visit you in the Windy City. Those politically incorrect years, escaping school for a quick Starbs, 9/11, the Iraq War, my disastrous relationships and you dating Hilary Swank were strange times, but I am glad you were only a phone-call away. And who would have thought cockroaches could fly? It was far too short a time, and no other co-worker has been such fun. I also remember your mum frustratingly having gaydar and that strange little girl student who one time just walked up to you, grabbed your boobs and shrugged 'small'. I think you were more horrified by the comment. I should mention your sisters of sin Kate and Rach, who I am sure are man-eating their way across the UK after the Japan man-drought. Miss you Aubs. Or should I say Auntie Aubs nowadays! And what of Abbie? I have never been so fixated on someone popping their cherry...there was that fake email we sent her, pretending to be from the personnel department of her company and enquiring whether she had 'done it' yet (not funny as she received it in the middle of an important meeting). Thanks to you I know there are some damn fine Americans out there. See you soon.

08 07 06 - 01:47 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

New Galleries

I have been a little lax in sorting through the photos we have taken over the last couple of months. What with one thing and another (mainly work) I completely forgot to show what we have been up to beyond the front page of the blog. So here for you are two galleries...one of people and one of places. Please take a glance.

05 07 06 - 11:53 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

Making his escape...albeit without a tail

David Attenborough I am not. After Rhod came home and announced there was a gekko suckered to the stairwell window, I thought of the striking poses I could capture of the lizard close-up against the raggedy facade of our building. I imagined the wild animal juxtaposed against the unsightly abode of man. Taking my turn with the camera I shot downstairs before the creature scampered off. My first mistake was to boldly open the window the gekko was attached to. I thought I would slip my hand around and snap some very close shots of him as he stood still for me. It didn't really go so well as he fell off the moment I wrenched it aside. My initial thought was that I had killed him and my photos would require some doctoring later, though they would look spectacular as I lay the carcass in various places and passed it off as alive. Lucky for me the gekko survived and a game of cat and mouse ensued. Even with the zoom it was hard to catch him as he kept deliberately running into nooks I couldn't possibly get near. Little bugger. In my defence, he was tailess when I arrived. I believe that for their own protection their tails are quite easily broken off and I imagine he had had a close run in with a cat. Still, some of the photos aren't bad.

05 07 06 - 08:04 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Incendiary device

Japan has begun to enter a new period of heavy restrictions and frantic law-passing over the past couple of months. A marvel anything gets done when considering that that blue lion-maned Koizumi is making a ponce of himself crooning along to Elvis in front of the international media. I'm not liking Blair at the moment, but at least I can expect more gravitas (forget the soccer ball incident) from him. Koizumi seems to smile and nod and assume that everyone is laughing with him. No no, how wrong you are oh cat-man. They are laughing at you.
As I passed my cycling proficiency in primary school, I can smugly laud my bike skills over most of the Japanese, stunning them with such things as brakes and looking left and right at a junction. The new laws mean no talking on cellphones, no carrying another person on the back of your bike, no cycling one handed (unless you only have one hand), no umbrellas and definately no being drunk. Which allowed me to attack one of my pet hates today...parasols. I was forced to skitter aside this morning on the way to work, as one woman wove all over the place on her bike, blind as she rode with the parasol pulled right down in front of her face (on a cloudy day!), and so glared at her that she stopped and folded it down. Growl.
The fact that none of these laws (which come with farely hefty fines) will make the general public better at using bicycles is a cert, as how could you possibly enforce such laws without thousands of new police recruits. Nice idea, but we'll not hold our breath. So now it is I come to a cautionary tale. As all things strange in my life, it occured at elementary school. Or to be a little more precise...outside. As I strolled through the back alleys, weaving in and out of piles of garbage and through the stench of stale beer and vomit from the night before (the seedy little cafes and shops really have the grimy feel that really big cities often do, even though this is more like the countryside), I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance pulled up.
My initial thought was that another first year had bounced off the bonnet of another speeding car, but I was relieved to see a girl in her twenties being stretchered into the back. Her whole head was covered in a bandage. By the looks of things she had lost control of her scooter, which had crashed into one of the many drainage ditches. A normal accident. Except for the smell. A horrid burning smell. The principal greeted me as excited students were ushered inside, all desperate for a chance to spot a bit of brain on the road or a loose eyeball. In broken English and a lot of gesturing he explained what had happened. And shameful to say I could only stop myself laughing by grinning manically.
Imagine the scene. Stupid girl in a bright pink, loose track suit (enough said really) smoking away whilst speeding down the side streets on her moped. Yes, that is right...she was smoking. Whilst riding a speeding bike. Now somehow she lost her grip on the cigarette that had been pinioned between her lips, which was then blown up over her face and under the rim of her helmet. What happened next is speculation, but because of the amount of hairspray she was wearing and because the helmet acted as a kind of vacuum, there was a mini explosion. Her big brown-dyed hair ignited in a spilt second fireball, causing her to lose control.
It has to be said that this same helmet also saved her life, because there was not enough oxygen for a protracted fire. Most of her hair was spared, though she will be having a very close cut in the future. What is the moral of this story? I rather like to think that it is, 'Dumb bitches never learn until their hair explodes'. I believe she will be fine. If you must smoke, do it in the safety of your own home. Goodnight.

04 07 06 - 11:57 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Hello from Rhod

British weather is so changeable - and for great lengths of time so samey - that seasons are ill defined at best. Not so, Japan. Whereas people in the UK might debate when winter starts and ends (if my mum were to define it, she'd put it at around six months I reckon ), the Japanese will switch in unison on the same day. One day all wrapped up in jumpers, the next day, everyone's in shorts. It made me laugh at first, but it's neither stupid nor crazy. The seasons here really are very predictable, and clearly very determined to live up to their reputations. So now it's 'Rainy Season'. A period of incredible downpours spread across two or three weeks (just ask Alex and Becci, who had the pleasure of landing here right as it got into full swing a year ago).
Rainy season marks an end to the horrible muggy greyness of late May and early June (headache inducing for the more barometric among us ;) ) and it's the last respite before the claustrophobic closeness of the Kyoto summer.It brings out geckos ('house lizards' according to my Japanese dictionaries) to climb up on your windows and walk around all cute with no tails and stuff. Sadly it also puts the Mosquitos into their stride. Kieren is a walking mountain range right now, but at least all his bites are on his back. My most prominent? Slap bang on the bridge of my nose. Swollen and enflamed and generally bigger than it already was, I imagine it would be a massive irritant if I hadn't suppressed my immune system so cunningly with four hours sleep a night all week.
This last week, I've been in work for about 80% of the time. Starfox is nearly done, and we're about to head into the really heavy final product testing I think. Exciting stuff, and the prospect of maybe having free time to sit at home (the novelty!) watching the rain fall outside with a cup of tea in the near future sounds very, very appealing indeed. It was sad to have to put back our UK trip - we've been planning it for over six months - but it appears to be just one more of the areas all over which doing a 'dream job' can trample (not meant to sound as negative as that does). Apologies for my tired and peculiar grammar. I'm assuming it will come back with my night time and weekends soon! I trust all is well, readers, please let us know what's going on in the comments bit.

04 07 06 - 10:14 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Forever delayed

Not yet.

Delayed until October.

02 07 06 - 09:04 - Kieren - Photostory| three comments - §

The three moods of Erik and Tanabata

Coy. Gleeful. Happy-murderous.
July 7th is Tanabata, and at dinner at Casa Grande the waitress handed us coloured strips of paper to write down our wishes. Rhod unwound with Maeta after another long day at the office. Erik is bullying them into smiling behind the camera. Maeta looks very happy. After paying the bill we tied the paper-wishes to a bamboo plant (well, what should have been a bamboo plant) that was decorated with shiny decorations (similar to the ones my grandparents used to put up at Christmas when I was a kid). Happy Tanabata!

02 07 06 - 09:02 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Brawling in the streets

These images were caught on CCTV. Four hooligans caught brawling in the street. Thus proving that Japan is not immune from street violence. Have a safe trip home Mart and Rach.

02 07 06 - 08:36 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Big bowls and giant plates

With rain spattering down, Misako and I took refuge by cycling through Sanjo arcade with it's always-empty shops. To say it is like cycling back in time, as things feel slightly decayed and worn, kitsch and out of place, is understating things. It seems like a haven from the ultra-consumerism of the city centre. A new cafe called Sarasa 3 is making something of a stir. Partly because it is bringing a slice of cool to Sanjo, partly because it has real focaccia bread and partly because it is so damn cheap. Also, because the Japanese flock to anything new. Renovated from an old Kyoto house, with an inner garden, it has a lot to recommend it and I thoroughly enjoyed chilling out under the immense air conditioner. I hope you can get the perspective of Misako's meal. Her plate was three times the size of my own, more like a platter and piled with food. She could manage about half. Good service and comfortable seating to wind down over a leisurely lunch. Unlike a lot of achingly cool restaurants, Sarasa is well worth the hype. The 3 comes from the fact that it is the 3rd Sarasa opened in Kyoto.

02 07 06 - 08:02 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Living it up, living it down

Here, in photo-story form, is how we spent a night out with those antipodeans we would have come to miss if they weren't flying back every couple of months to milk yet another 'going away party' out of us. A whole flagon of beer, country western music and a half hearted air conditioner made it another memorable night at the strangest dive in Kyoto. Martin becomes aggressive in one of these photos, snarling at Rachel behind Rhod's back and forcing a later showdown in the street. Martin's arse was well and truly kicked. Rachel stands victorious.

01 07 06 - 03:30 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

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

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