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kyonoki - 京のキー

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The Wii Weather Channel didn't let us down. We awoke to flurries of snow and our breath misting out into speech bubbles. We took a walk to the small shrine next to our apartment and captured the falling flakes before the sun zapped them all up.

29 12 06 - 07:08 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Ma and Pa and Christmas

Merry Christmas Ma and Pa. Thank you for my presents. Rhodri likes his scarf, and so do I. So much so that I plan to steal it when he is at work. I notice in the picture that the Christmas tree doesn't quite fit in the lounge, and that the tarty fairy appears to be doing a swan dive. I'm missing the warm of the open fire, as we freeze here without central heating. The forecast for tomorrow is snow, so fingers crossed we will be seeing a white new year. Speak with you soon. P.S. Liking the pyjamas.

28 12 06 - 14:02 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Scrumdidlyumptious

The Japanese Fanny Cradock at work in the kitchen. Tomomi plus chicken and a couple of 'tatoes equals one hell of a lucky stomach. Thanks for the belated Christmas dinner. I am going to make a sandwich from the left-over chicken stolen from your house. Bon apetite!

28 12 06 - 02:01 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

From Rhod and Ki, have a wonderful Christmas. Sorry we couldn't be back in Blighty/over there wherever you are. From all the devastation, you can tell it was a fun Christmas.

25 12 06 - 12:48 - Kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Ki and Mii

Two weeks with Wii, now, and time to blog. The above images, clearly, are the perfect likenesses of Ki and myself, as we appear in various new videogames (including as beautiful soaring angels in 'Wario Ware'). Our Wii was secured on day one, as soon as the doors opened, due to some very lucky incidents just days before the sell-out launch. Aside from the games, I've had surprising amounts of fun with the photo channel, swapping the heads of all whom I happen to have photos of. Ki has been found playing Wario when I get home from work, and he's even bought a game... Shocking. The 'virtual console' has also allowed me the chance to have the original Super Mario Bros. on the big screen for the first time in years, and to discover some gems I'd only ever heard about from friends.

But of course, the vast majority of my time is taken up with the new Zelda. Twilight Princess is an achievement the likes of which I can't even grasp. It starts with fun-but-standard-fare Zelda stuff, but before long you start to realise that this game has one thing very different - and very much improved - from its classic predecessors; power. This time round, you play a powerful young lad, able to grasp weapons and wield powers from a very early stage in the game. One of my main frustrations about past Zelda games has been that by the time you get some of the cooler skills, it's already near the end. This time around, vastly upgraded versions of classic Zelda weaponry is available from the first few hours of play, and the difference is immeasurable for me. Of course, it's also one of the prettiest games I've ever had the joy to explore, and although I'm only 30 or so hours in (!), I'm already sure it's my favourite 'proper' game in years. It's a rarity that I can sit down with a game for long nowadays at all, so the fact that I've put in over a day's play in two weeks suggests this is exactly what I needed to remind me that I was still a proper gamer.

So, in summary, all is good. How's your Wii?

14 12 06 - 10:30 - Kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Murder threat

After falling truly and deeply in love with the West Wing, I have been having prolonged fantasies about going to work in my very own motorcade, walking with shadowy secret agents at my beck and call and being pretty much untouchable. Men in uniform, with guns, ready to blast away the first sign of danger. Or maybe just there to kick the butt of another asshole in another 4 wheel drive who thinks it is cool to push me out of the road (no sidewalks in the countryside). Nice fantasy huh? Only, it hasn't really been a fantasy since Monday. I have police escort me from the station to the school and likewise when I leave the building. They are a constant presence beyond the grassy knolls that surround the driveway, and they are most definately armed. (more)

11 12 06 - 10:01 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Alight

'Tis the time of year when leaf fever grips the Japanese, and with all hive mind activities they feel compelled to throng to the mountainside temples and hilly climes to see the maple leaves ignite in brilliant ochre and vermillion. As much as I despise the inclination of the Japanese to do things all at once, unavoidably creating a tangle of limbs and an abandonment of all common sense, the autumn clothing of Kyoto *is* quite stunning. And amidst the effeminate ohhhing and ahhhing over this most basic of nature's functions, I raise my eyebrow as we all seem to ignore the bigger picture.

If perhaps not so much of the spectacular Japanese landscape was concreted over, dug up or smothered in highways and electric pylons then maybe people could enjoy the autumn colours without being charged over-the-odds at otherwise regular restaurants, merely due to their proximity to a popular site. As these few photos show, Japan has much to be proud of. It is a naturally beautiful country, with a hugely diverse landscape. It seems somewhat ironic that the Japanese are forever at war with Mother Nature, attempting to control every aspect of it (although if Britain were susceptible to earthquakes and volcanoes, maybe we too would view things very differently). The images they use to promote their cities, their country, their tradition and food? Images of a world that is slowly but surely fading away, captured only in the small enclaves of protected temples, shrines and parks. And it truly is a shame, for I have been awed time and time again by this most contrary of countries.

11 12 06 - 09:32 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

I yam what I yam

My Ma and Pa have been spending time in Malta, where the crumbling movie set used for Popeye is still standing.

09 12 06 - 14:42 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Deck the halls

I'm making a list, I'm checking it twice. I'm going to find out who's been naughty and nice. And isn't there something about a season and being jolly? Giving a nod to the fact that we will be spending Christmas in Japan, I have covered our mini tree in small Doraemon.

09 12 06 - 14:36 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The month of Priests Running

For anyone who has watched the movie My Neighbour Totoro, you may well remember that the two young heroines names are Mei and Satsuki. Both names mean May: Mei pronounced like the English, and Satsuki the traditional Japanese name for May. December (shiwasu) basically translates as priests running, as they are exceptionally busy at this time of year, preparing for the New Year celebrations, cleaning the temples, making end of year blessings, and preparing to cast out the evil spirits of the old year and ring in good luck for the new. Translating this image to modern life, many people call it teachers running, as it is one of the most chaotic periods in the school calender (even for me, the exotic foreign pet).

I have been doing a little rooting around my Japanese books and uncovered the list of old names for the months. With the coming of the modern Meiji era to Japan the more traditional names were swept aside for the practical numerical order (January became the 1st month, February the 2nd month and so on) to show the rest of the world that Japan was not an antiquated fossil like its neighbours, and that it was more than willing to join the old men's club of wealthy Western nations. All well and good, but leaving disappointingly drab names for the months. Some fields, such as poetry, still use the names. The opening paragraph of a letter or speech may borrow one of these names to convey a sense of the season. Yayoi and Satsuki are kept as womens names even today.

So as we bid farewell to the frost month (shimotsuki) of November, we should do our best to get through this busy month and look forward to the month of affection (mutsuki). Read more for a list of the months, their traditional names and a comparison with our very own mixed up calendar. (more)

05 12 06 - 09:49 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The bell that changed the world

It is a funny thing to have visited a shrine that is intrinsically linked to changing the history of a country. Funnier when you realise that you have already visited the shrine without understanding what it stands for, and in blinking your eyes, missed the most important thing about it. How exactly could we have overlooked the absolutely huge bell? Hokouji is etched into Japanese legend as the home to a bell that shaped Japan's fortunes forever. Hideyori Toyotomi (son of the previous shogun) had the bell forged and engraved with poetry that enflamed the new shogun of Japan (Ieyasu Tokugawa), sending him into a rage that he turned upon Toyotomi. Tokugawa feared Toyotomi's influence and power, so he was already destined to crush Toyotomi and set in stone his own legacy, but it was a single bell that finally gave him a reason to act. Whether or not Hideyori meant to insult Ieyasu or whether the priest inscribing the bell was foolishly stupid we will never know. What we do know is the bell changed the world forever. And it survived. We visited the resting place of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Toyokuni Shrine) next door and stood admiring the bell, set slightly apart and hidden from view. After all this time it is breathtaking both in size and importance.
Beside the bell is a car-park and a modest shrine with a small tablet that demarks the place Kyoto's great buddha once stood, before its destruction by fire caused by lightning. Inside the shrine is a small wooden buddha, the replacement Hideyori put here after the conflagration. He instead concentrated his efforts upon the forging of a bell for the shrine, something he would have been wiser to forget. Looking down from Hokouji, the city sweeps into its mountain-sided bowl and the buddha would have been visible from every point. 'Tis a bitter shame it is no longer here. Toyokuni Shrine is sober and regally untouched. A handful of people were walking around, most pulling up in taxis before vanishing. Everyone knows about the bell, but not so many about the buddha. Few tourists reach Hokouji, and that is trully a shame as it is one of the most understated but beautiful places I have visited in Kyoto. Our trip to Ichibeiko (a traditional street of tea houses and restaurants) and Kodaiji somehow paled in comparison, despite the beautiful autumn foliage, murky ponds, bamboo groves and thatched teahouses. Incidentally Ieyasu saved his old master's (Hideyoshi Toyotomi) wife (Nene) from death by bringing her to Kyoto (Kodai-ji) and putting her into the safe hands of a priest in Higsahiyama. She gave up the rest of her life to buddhism.

05 12 06 - 07:41 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The hunt for Kyoto's giant buddha

The only detailed pictorial record of the Kyoto Daibutsu is from the drawings of the German physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1712), who stayed in Japan from 1690 to 1692. In his writings, he noted the particulars, from the "long bovine ears" and the "frizzy hair" to the fact that there would be space enough for three Japanese mats on its outstretched palm. He measured out the distances for a more detailed record, and noted that the width between the shoulders was equivalent to fifteen paces. If Kaempfer was telling the truth, it would make Toyotomi Hideyoshi's great buddha the biggest the world has ever seen wrought from metal.

Ever since setting eyes on Nara's Daibutsu I have been interested in the giant buddhas scattered around Japan. Only a handful survived the battles and accidents of history, but what few remain are strangely moving, bastions of a more faithful time. Kamakura's is the oldest if you measure in the mix that Nara's suffered decapitation and serious burns during stages of its life, but is slightly smaller than its brother. Yesterday, flicking through an old document, I found mention of Kyoto's own giant buddha, said to have dwarved those of Kamakura and Nara. Now I have a great memory for useless historical details, but this small fact had escaped me. Kaempfer commented on the giant statue set in the hills of Higashiyama. It was reportedly 48 metres tall and took a mere three years to build. A marvel even for these cynical times. (more)

04 12 06 - 13:38 - Kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

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

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