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kyonoki - 京のキー

The new face of Sara Lee

30 06 07 - 21:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Pink Kichan goes to Guam: Pt.1

Looks like this little chap has had a lot more fun than me over the last couple of weeks, hitching a ride with Tomomi to Guam. You really should click the 'more' link just to see how much he 'got around'. Lovely lovely photos.

30 06 07 - 21:09 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Castles in the sky

Fushimi Castle is a sad reminder of the heady years of the late 60s, when Japan pulled itself out of post-war depression with grim determination. I am not sure if you can feel melancholy for a building, especially one that is barely fifty years old, but I do. I wish they had never rebuilt the castle, that they had just left the peach trees that once gave their name to the mountain on which they grow on. The castle's paint is peeling, the embellishments cracked, the windows cobwebbed and brooding. Back in the day it must have seemed like a brilliant idea, to recreate a building that was destroyed more than three centuries before. And surely the money would come rolling in, bringing jobs and affluence and 'the modern dream' to the neighbourhood. Only the people stopped coming, the economy went to hell, and the castle's museum closed. Weeds grew up and the doors were locked for good. The gallery has been added (click here) so you can jump straight there, or click more to keep reading and see the highlights.

30 06 07 - 19:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The smiliest zoom

What would be the point of a Brit living in Japan if not to report the amazing, creative, lively usage of English found in advertising and signposts here? NOT MUCH, I SAY. だから、I shall henceforth try to report quickly on the finest examples!

I should stress, I'm not criticising by any means the Japanese use of English. More often than not it's just a Japanese idiom getting translated oddly, or in the ever-present usage of 'Let's..' it's a very straightforward direct translation of an everyday way of saying things here. It's just so prominent in advertising, and inherently funny in the same way as dropping 'will' from 'I will go' makes it sound all cute and baby like. Or something.

Some of the more imaginitive slogans really catch on, and get used in everyday conversation; things like Hitachi's corporate image slogan 'Inspire the next', which sometimes crops up in my office. Korea is also pretty good at it: Samsung, current owner of 80% of South Korea, ends (or at least ended when I was there a while back) with 'Samsung: Digital Exciting'. I'm not sure if it's supposed to mean 'exciting you, digitally', or if it's a new two-word verb 'to digital excite'. Either way, it's memorable, it carries an image, it's clearly a brilliant evolution of English, and thus it's worthy of a report.

What inspired this post, though? The latest Olympus camera's campaign, featuring their new 'more smiley zoom'. I've never thought about the smiliness of my zoom, but sure enough, next time I'm buying a camera, a smiley zoom is top amongst the required specs.

29 06 07 - 22:14 - rhod - kyonoki| No comments - §

If it is good enough for sake, it is good enough for me

More history. More shrines. More traipsing around like a colonial, investigating each small shop and each new water spring bubbling up from the ground, with the exhausted countenance of one not used to such heat: all hats and floppy linen clothes. If you wish to read about the small temples we visited read on, if not then just look at the pretty pictures. All of the shrines and temples are tenuously linked by the pure water that wells up beneath the earth here, though I suppose you could say they each have their own story to tell.


29 06 07 - 18:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Monzeki Manshu-in

Manshu-in* ('Tobibo') began with a single structure built by Saicho (767-822: founder of the Tendai sect) on Mt. Hiei. Saicho seems to have created scores of temples by establishing small huts on the mountain-sides, beside the natural springs, the valleys and forests of Kyoto. It was transferred to its present site in 1656. Manshu-in is a monzeki temple, which means the post of head priest was always taken by a member of the imperial family. Paintings on the inner sliding doors are by Kano Tanyu (1602-1674) and the dry landscape garden is a Place of Scenic Beauty. And what did I think? Strangely it left me cold. After the ponds of Benten-jinja with their lively carp and ancient cedar trees, I wanted to return from the formal and conservative elegance of Manshu-in's villa.


28 06 07 - 18:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The river goddess

Before Manshu-in's mossy lawns and great walls is the small shrine of Benzaiten. A small bridge crosses the koi filled pond, murky save for the flashes of orange and brown-gold of the carp themselves. The shrine is dedicated to Benten, goddess of everything that flows: words (and knowledge, by extension), speech, eloquence, and music. In Japan she became a protector-deity, at first of the state and then of the people. Lastly, she became one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, which reflects her role in bestowing monetary fortune. Benten-jinja is merely a waystation for those climbing the steep hillside. Most people seem to come to feed the fish, or ignore the shrine altogether in their eagerness to reach Manshu-in. There is a small tea-house here offering traditional food at extortionate prices. I find myself liking shrines more with their desire to melt into the natural scenery that they were built to worship and celebrate, than the clipped and controlled gardens of the temples we had come to visit in the first place.


28 06 07 - 17:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Turtle vs. koi

Beside the stone bridge at Benten Shrine, there is a small stall of fish food you can purchase for the koi and turtles that live in the pond. Benten-jinja's fish are immense, as a direct result of children rushing to feed them every day. The small turtles in comparison are small and get caught up in the feeding frenzy. In the photo one turtle took to riding the fish, trying to reach the food pellets before the carp sucked them up. After a while the turtles tried another tack, they climbed onto the concrete bridge support and begged for food there. In all honesty, feeding the fish was a lot more interesting than the serene gardens of Manshu-in.

27 06 07 - 18:41 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Miyamoto Musashi and the fight beneath the pine tree

A short distance from Shisen-do sits a memorial to Miyamoto Musashi and a young pine wrapped in sacred rope. Once upon a time, Ichijo-ji Temple stood in this neighbourhood, built a thousand years ago. Then war came to the capital and Ichijo-ji burnt to the ground, never to be rebuilt. Only the area keeps the name alive today. In the grounds of the temple, beneath the shade of a huge pine tree called Sagarimatsu (the Descending Pine Tree), Musashi was said to have fought one of his most famous sword-fights in 1604. He alone took on several dozen opponents and defeated each and every one of them. And the pine watched it all.

The tree burnt in the conflagration that swallowed up temple and all. It would be nice to imagine that the young tree that grows in memorial today is in some ways related to the original pine. Many claim that it is in fact the fourth generation of tree to grow on the site, though it is difficult to prove either way.

It is said that Musashi defeated the Yoshioka Family School (a martial arts school, expert in swordplay and fencing) at Sagarimatsu after praying at Hachidai Shrine. The shrine was established in 1294 in honour of the deity Susanohno-no-Mikoto, his wife, and their eight children. Known as 'Northern Gion', people come here to pray for success in business, happiness and marriage. A segment of the very pine tree under which Musashi fought is displayed in the shrine. The ancient Sagarimatsu pine was partly saved to remember the greatest deed of Japan's greatest swordsman.


27 06 07 - 18:28 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §


A butterfly version of a leopard (Gokogu Shrine).

27 06 07 - 03:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Samurai's solace

The name of this temple is Rokuroku-zan Shisend-do Jozan-ji, once situated in a small village on the Northern slopes of the Higashiyama mountain chain and now woven into the city. Despite this, the Ichijo-ji district still feels very much like a village and it is easy to forget that modern life is only a swift cycle away. The Shisen-do (Outotsu-ka) was established in 1641 by Jozan Ishikawa* (1583-1672), who was known not only as a scholar of Chinese classics but also a landscape architect. He spent his twilight years here in quiet retirement.

The garden is famed for its brushed-sand gardens and late-May blooming azalea bushes. The small room (Shogetsuro) added to the roof of Shisen-do is for moon viewing

27 06 07 - 02:59 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The death of poetry

Konpukuji ('Temple of Golden Bliss') stands in a quiet area which until not too long ago was countryside. It was founded in the second half of the 9th century by Enchin (Jikaku Daishi), who enshrined a Kannon statue here. Later the temple fell into ruins until it was rebuilt in the 17th century by a priest called Tesshu. At that time it also became a Rinzai Zen temple, attached to Nanzen-ji. It is just a small temple, consisting of only one modest hall, but it is famous among haiku lovers for the Basho Hut (Basho-an). On the hill behind are stone monuments engraved with haiku alongside the gravestones of Buson and other poets of that era.

The irony is, that it is not certain Basho ever really came here. In 1670 he wandered around Kyoto and visited Arashiyama, Kiyotaki and Mt. Hiei. Tradition has it, that he also spent some time in a small cottage in the grounds of Konpuku-ji, and Tesshu gave that humble dwelling the name 'Basho-an'. With Rakushisha, it is therefore one of the two Basho-related huts in Kyoto.*

24 06 07 - 07:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Printing press, Japanese style

There were no priests at Enko-ji today, only a gaggle of gardeners all trimming azalea bushes into perfect spheres. Zuigenzan Enko-ji Temple belongs to the Rinzai Sect -and thus Nanzen-ji- and originally stood in Fushimi. Tokugawa Ieyasu had Sanyo Genkitsu construct a school for him in 1601. Genkitsu became its first principal and the school flourished until it was considered necessary to relocate. In 1667 Enko-ji was built on the hills overlooking the Northern part of the city.

It was Tokugawa's goal for samurai and priests to learn Confucianism in this temple, and to aid the monks he presented them with one hundred thousand printing types, so that they might publish their own materials and further their aims. Many of these artifacts can still be seen in the reliquary today. Behind the main hall Jugyu-no-niwa garden stretches to the hillside, cut in half by Seiryu pond, and well-known for the Suikinkutsu (a ceramic pot under the ground that produces a natural sound). Enko-ji is famed for its autumn colours.

24 06 07 - 07:52 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


I think my exact words were 'Ohmygoditisasnakeisitdangerouscoulditbitearethereanymoreisitlookingatmewhatisitdoingbloodyhellitsasnakeahhhhhh!' when Etsuyo told me to be careful of the reptile bathing on the warm rocks. I immediately jumped back, hypnotised by the fascinating creature. With its red, lidless eyes it did look frightening. But of all the varieties of Japanese snake it was always unlikely to be poisonous. I don't particularly hold any affinity for snakes, but they are quite beautiful when in their own habitat. This one must have been just over a metre long, curled up on a rock to warm its blood.

Nature was certainly opening my eyes today. Beside the snake, dangling from a branch like a giant globule of spit was a nest of baby frogs. Unlike British frogs, that lay spawn in ponds and streams, some species of Japanese frogs lay their offspring in the trees, away from predators in the water. The white baseball sized nest holds more than a few hundred, sprouting not as tadpoles, but minature frogs. The finished product.

24 06 07 - 07:48 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Water-work scarecrow

The sozu in Shisen-do garden is the oldest working one in Kyoto. The sozu, also called 'Shishiodoshi', is made of bamboo, devised so as to make a piece of bamboo stalk strike a rock automatically with the gravitational power of running water that slowly fills the stalk. The intermittent, yet punctual, sound of clacking acts as a sort of water-work scarecrow. In the days of Jozan (who built Shisen-do), it was popular among the neighbouring farmers as an agricultural appliance to frighten wild deer and boars away from their fields. The sound paradoxically deepens the silence of the surrounding gardens and adds an air of isolation that calms the souls that have trekked to visit the small retreat. I would love to have one in my garden. Well, if I had a garden.

24 06 07 - 07:46 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A reprieve from rain

A man takes time to cool down in Manshu-in. Slowly the rainy season is stoking the city's humidity. When you leave a restaurant or store, the temperature is now hotter outside than in. The season of whirring air conditioners has begun.

23 06 07 - 21:04 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The empress and the plum tree

Kenreimon-in is perhaps the most tragic figure of the Heike Monogatari. She was daughter of Taira no Kiyomori, the wife of Emperor Takakura, and mother of Emperor Antoku. She spent most of her life praying to Buddha for the repose of her son, and the Heike family, which had collapsed in Dannoura after losing to the Genji family in the Genpei War. In a space of five years she was widowed, watched her father die of sickness (which changed the Taira family's fortunes at a pivotal time) and saw the death of her son, thrown into the ocean in his grandmother's arms. But Kenreimon-in survived these turbulent times. Some say she was pulled from her death, dragged from the water by her hair. Whether or not the stories are true, by the time the long journey back to the capital was over, she had nothing else to lose.

Jakko-in is a small convent of the Tendai Sect, founded in 594 by Prince Shotoku for the repose of his father, Emperor Yomei. The young prince carved the Jizo bodhisattva statue that sat in the temple for a thousand years until someone decided to burn the precinct to the ground for fun in 2000. What remains of the statue is kept hidden away and the tiny main hall has been completely reconstructed. The Himekomatsu pine reaches above Shinji-ike Pond in the small garden before the temple. The tree is famous for being mentioned in the account of the Imperial visit to Ohara in the Tale of the Heike. In that episode Kenreimon-in, after picking flowers on Mt. Suitai (opposite the main hall), met her foster father, ex-Emperor Goshirakawa, in 1186. She comments on how fragile this world is, life snuffed out in a second. The blossoms in Spring hint at the impermenance of all life. And how apt that the tree's life was so quickly erased by the single actions of a foolish man. A thousand years of history torched in a single night. It makes me so angry. After a few years the harsh Winters will age the wood and it will be as if nothing was changed, minus the plum tree and overly gaudy inside. The Namban iron lantern, sitting before the main hall's verandah, and once hanging in the garden at Momyama Castle, was contributed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It alone survived unscathed.


23 06 07 - 20:27 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §


The view from Uryu-yama, looking down upon Kyoto's mountainous North.

23 06 07 - 03:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


These ants find a dead insect to feast on in the garden of Konpuku-ji.

22 06 07 - 19:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Halls of hymns

Shorin-in and Raigo-in are two ancient halls where the Tendai Sect of Buddhism developed its shomyo (Buddhist hymns). The alien sounds of this special chanting have filled the mountainsides for centuries, bringing a mysticism to the misty woodland and mossy lanes. Shomyo hymns are intoned in one voice or by a chorus of monks, similar to Gregorian chant. The special hymns were brought to Japan via China (via India) in the Nara Period (710-784) and were developed by all the competing sects of the time. Nowadays Tendai shomyo and Shingon shomyo are the two mainstreams. The influence of shomyo spread to jyoruri, gidayu, nagauta and kiyomoto (folk songs), thus is viewed by many as being the fountainhead of Japanese music.

Jakugen (son of the minister Minamoto Masanobu) erected Shorin-in in 1013 as a centre of learning for Buddhist hymns. He was a disciple of Ennin, 794-864, who had visited China and introduced shomyo and bonbai. Ennin himself studied under Tendai's founder, Saicho. Raigo-in (now the oldest building of the Tendai Sect) was likewise founded in 1109 to teach shomyo. It was founded by the priest Ryonin (1072-1132). Ohara soon establised itself as the heart of Tendai's incantations: Shorin-in and Raigo-in being the main halls of Gyosan Taigenji. Gyozan -Ohara's second name- refers to Mt. Yu in China where shomyo originated. Both halls are subtemples of Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei. At the height of Tendai's influence in the late 12th century, Gyozan boasted 49 temples, many of which burnt in fires during November 1426.

During the Fujiwara Era (1000-1200) Ohara became the home and training centre for monks who had resigned from the Mt. Hiei Temple, having become secularized. Raigo-in, under Ryonin, unified the different styles of shomyo and came to be their main home. Ohara became known as the 'echoes of nice sounds'.


22 06 07 - 19:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Hungry heron

This heron hunts for any small snakes and frogs that might be lurking in the waters of this freshly planted rice paddy on Shirakawa-dori.

21 06 07 - 22:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The cloth-dyers shrine

Uho-in is a charming temple squeezed beneath a large arbor of twisted pines and Kanki cherry trees, dedicated now to the cloth dyers of Nishijin. The small temple has a host of names: Hokkosan Uho-in, Nishijin Shotengu and Nandikesvara of Nishijin. The main statue of Daisho Kankiten was placed here by the priest Kukai, in the hopes that it would ease the worries of Emperor Saga in 821. A second statue in one of the series of halls -the Aun Asekaki Kobo Daishi- is said to aid those who are in a 'sweat of torment and fear'. The link to cloth dyeing can be found in the well that stands in one corner, the Somedomo-no-I. Its water is said to be ideal for dying and never dries up, even in the doughtiest of years. Uho-in's pine tree (Shigure no Matsu) is famed for sheltering Prince Kuninomiya Tomohiko during a rainstorm.


21 06 07 - 17:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Gokiburi Wars

The cockroach in the picture is actual size. Rhod discovered the beast lurking in our middle-room whilst getting dressed this morning and then happily abandoned me to go to work. Left alone with the monstrous creature I could not simply leave the thing alone and go about my morning, whilst it made use of our kitchen and contentedly munched on toast and coffee. Thus I began an offensive to hunt down cockroach. Little did I realise it would be a battle to the death.

Sweating madly in my underwear (summer is making our apartment into an oven) I began my attack with stealth, bath cleaner, aftershave and washing up liquid. I thought I had him at the fridge, but he knew all about cockroach traps and merely ripped them up before vanishing. The most unbearable thing was to hear his scuffling in the dark, his cockroachy torments. I peeked behind the fridge with only a dimly lit torch for illumination, and he leapt at me. Somersaulting to the floor I fired the bath cleaner, driving him back behind the sink. The battle was drawing to a close and we both knew it. I pulled the cupboard back and after some searching discovered him glaring at me from the corner, perfectly camouflaged. With washing up liquid in one hand and my whole weight pulling back the sink unit, I sprayed him. Instantly he attacked, forcing me back and now running into the open.

The beast jumped and leapt at the floor, spreading his wings. The bastard could fly. I shot again, but lost my grip. The bottle slipped out of my grasp and spun away. He jumped. Rolling over I scooped up Rhod's shoe and with all my might crushed the demon. The body twitched, dazed but alive. I smothered him in the remains of washing up liquid. And there he suffocated, melted, and was no more. Covered in foam, I stood with my eyebrows sweating and my elbows bruised. This battle was over. The war is not.

21 06 07 - 05:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Jizo army

Jizo statues lined up at Daitoku-ji.

20 06 07 - 21:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Circle of health

A large hoop of rice-straw has been set up before Imamiya-jinja's stage . People pass through the ring three times (through the loop, left, back through, right, back through, left again to finish) to wish for prosperity and health in the second half of the year. After you have done so, it is customary to wash your hands and your mouth out with the shrine water. Not only do you erase the bad-luck and misfortune you have suffered in the first part of the year, but you gather strength for the humid and uncomfortable Summer ahead.

Imamiya is perhaps more apt a place than many places in the city for this ring of health, as the goddesses here are said to protect men and women from sickness. In 1001 the goddesses were consulted on how to save Emperor Ichijo from plague. Barely seven years had passed since the three gods were enshrined in Funaoka. They were Onamuchi-no-mikoto, Kotoshironushi-no-mikoto, and Kushiinadahime-no-mikoto. Since then, on every second Sunday in April, the Yasurai Festival protects the city from sickness and disease. Nowadays it is more well-known for its seared rice cakes (aburi-mochi) and as the location of many samurai movies.


20 06 07 - 19:43 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Nobotoke-an's smiling buddha. Scooping water from the adjacent trough, it is tradition to dowse him before entering the temple to pray.

20 06 07 - 04:07 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Moss carpets every inch of Sanzen-in's gardens. Soft, green, furry, all enveloping moss. It smothers the great walls that fence the ancient halls, hugs the twisted branches and trunks of the pine trees, and crawls up the statues, stone lanterns and wooden posts that keep people from treading the on the more sacred places of the damp glades. It is a remarkable place, peaceful beneath the perpetual gloom of the forest canopy. Buildings appear as if they have been born out of the mossy ground, dark pools alive with colourful carp, stone eyes staring from the statues half-buried by the velvety undergrowth. Spreading out behind the temple is an expansive hydrangea garden, where some 3,000 hydrangea bloom during the rainy season. Sanzen-in is magical even when crammed with chattering tourists, even when the Spring blossoms have died and the trees Autumn coats are shed. And it should be forgiven the horrific commercialism that crams every free space of hallway and jostles with the statues for peoples attention. Shiso tea, fortune papers, key-chains, postcards, incense, good luck charms: everything you can imagine, packaged and ready to buy, around every inch of the temple.

Gyozan (Ohara's ancient name) has been home to Tendai Shomyo (a special kind of Buddhist hymnal chanting) for a thousand years. Sanzen-in (also called Kaiji Monzeki, Nashimoto Monzeki and Enyu-in Monzeki: all of which exist because the temple in fact changed locations many times throughout its life) is one of the five Tendai Monzeki temples. Monzeki temples are a special kind of temple, where in days gone by, the chief priest was a member of the imperial family. Throughout Sanzen-in's history it has had 32 priests from the royal family. Established by Saicho -who raised a hut on the slopes of Mt. Hiei*, in the same way he raised huts all across the city-, the temple was built around the Yakushi Ruriko Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing. It can no longer be viewed by the public.

Of note inside the grounds is the Ojo-Gakuraku-in (the Temple of Rebirth in Paradise) Hall, constructed in 985 by the priest Eshin (Genshin) and his sister Anyo-ni as a memorial to the souls of their dead parents. Sanzen-in actually swallowed up the hall when it moved to this location in 1871. The ceilings and walls were painted in vibrant colours to depict heavenly gardens. Now the paint has peeled and centuries of weathering turned the walls black. The seated Buddha is famed for his clenched hands, which many believe to be an open welcome, promising relief from the suffering of this world. Easy to believe in the silent solitude of the temple's beautiful grounds, Yusei-en garden.


19 06 07 - 19:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Tree surgery

Workmen in Kyoto Gyoen Park manoeuver giant crtuches in to place, to aid this ancient tree in standing for many more years.

19 06 07 - 06:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Sliding doors at Enko-ji Temple.

19 06 07 - 03:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Giggling Japanese Crabs (Jikko-in)

Walking through the small gate of Jikko-in, I sensed a slight movement from the corner of my eye and was pleasantly surprised to discover a fresh-water crab edging its way from the open to a small crack beneath a kitchen window. On closer inspection I discovered that its right claw had been torn clean off and that it was amazingly courageous, prepared to clip at my lens with gusto. Throughout the day we began to see more and more remains of crabs, all splattered on the small lanes that run up the mountainside. Away from the cover of the mossy streams they are easy pickings for crows or the merciless wheels of delivery trucks. A difficult life to be sure and not at all the paradise you would expect it to be.

Jikko-in, like all the garden temples surrounding Sanzen-in, charge high fees which are surprisingly steep considering how little there really is to experience in each garden. To justify the price most gardens insist on feeding you a small bean cake and frothy matcha tea, neither of which I particularly like. Etsuyo and I decided upon Jikko-in purely because it was cheaper than its neighbours. I am not a fan of Japanese gardens, but once I had spotted the crab, I fell in love with this modest little monastery. Jikko-in in fact belongs to Shorin-in (which I will be writing about in a few days time), built by the monk Jakugen in 1013. Recently -in 1919- the monastery was moved from the Ohara Mausoleum (the tombs of Emperor Gotoba and Emperor Juntoku are located here) to a plot of land opposite.

The temple houses many ancient musical instruments used in the development and study of shomyo (Buddhist hymns). Outside, a small natural waterfall from the Ritsu River tumbles into the late Edo-Period Keishin-en garden with its heart-shaped pond. A pine tree and island in the pond represent a crane (tsuru) and tortoise (kame), which stand for happiness and longevity in Japan. Jikko-in is famed for its rare cherry trees (fudan-zakura) that bloom from September beneath the dark outlines of Mt. Konpira and Koshio.


18 06 07 - 18:22 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Snail in the rain

This snail fits snugly into one of the rotting bridge-posts at Sanzen-in.

18 06 07 - 04:53 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The silent waterfall

Over a thousand years old, the holy temples of Ohara and the woodland hills still echo with the Buddhist chants that made this small village of priests well-known throughout the land. The fertile plots go on bustling with leather-faced old farmers, busily planting the rice and shiso that have been their bread and butter for centuries. Tiny lanes climb between immense walls constructed from boulders that have since been swallowed in carpets of moss and wild-flowers. Ohara is a shadowy world of cypress and maple, a watery land of streams and pools and waterfalls, peace broken only by the wild boar and deer who inhabit this place. It is easy to imagine the spirits of those buried on the hillsides still walking the forest paths. To many it feels that the gods are a little closer on Gyozan. Empress-dowager Kenreimon-in escaped to Ohara after the death of her father, husband and son (in quick succession of one another), all because the world seemed too cruel. There are also tales of a woman transformed into a serpent by her hatred and need for revenge. After her defeat, she was hacked to pieces and three tombs erected where her head, body and tail are buried.

Ohara is about an hour bus ride north from Kyoto Station, cutting through Kyoto city and later traveling hilly roads. The two main attractions either take you West from the bus terminal to Jakko-in, or East to Sanzen-in. Either way is a fifteen minute walk up quiet lanes that pass by gurgling brooks and tunnel beneath the dark woodland canopy. Traditional Japanese houses dot the fields, lending the countryside an air of peace below the lofty heights of Hiei-zan. Monkeys occasionally wander back and forth, though they are becoming fewer and far between. Gradually the ancient paths are making way for paved roads, which are growing cluttered with souvenir and pickle shops, but it does not yet seem too busy. In a few years Ohara's natural beauty might well begin to vanish. For now, it is easy to forget yourself in the chorus of frogs and cicadas, and the musty incense of prayer.

Beyond Raigo-in, up a path that boastfully claims it will take you to the summit of Hiei-zan, is the beautiful waterfall of Otonashi-no-Taki, on the slopes of Mt. Onoyama. Few people, however, make the fifteen minute journey from Sanzen-in. Its name -'the Silent Waterfall'- originates from the legend that Seio Taishi (born in 1109), an ancient Buddhist priest, cast a spell to silence the noise of the waterfall so that the shomyo (Buddhist music) would not be interrupted. The guidebooks warn travellers not to venture unchaperoned. Ohara is famed for sexual-predators, men who wait in the woods to pounce on unsuspecting women. Whether or not this is carried down from tales of robber dens and brigandage of old, or if it is a more modern menace, one cannot be sure. What is certain is that the warnings are not to be taken lightly, with large signs proclaiming the dangers of wandering the woods alone. Thus Etsuyo and I thankfully had the falls to ourselves.


17 06 07 - 06:21 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bike trouble

Just when Andy's bike seem mortally wounded, miles from home, we found an oasis of bikes and a very kind and helpful young assistant who fixed the bike without any charges whatsoever. Thanks.

17 06 07 - 01:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Seems I saved at least one of my plants

My window-box of flowers have been so blasted by the sun over the last couple of weeks, that I feared they were gone for good. It was a nice surprise to see that these flowers at least seem to have revived. It adds a splash of colour to a desperately drab apartment block.

17 06 07 - 01:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Battle of the stalk

Two aphid-like creatures box, oblivious to a small band of ants rushing to defend their territory.

17 06 07 - 00:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

H is for Hirano

If you were a bird flying over the North of the city, the roads and rooftops would look a jumbled mess, punctuated by open areas of grass and fruit trees that hint at shrines and temples. But when flying over Hirano Shrine, you would also notice (if you had the vocabulary and brain power to think such things) that the buildings here form the letter H. Four buildings have been arranged to make this letter. It is a unique oddity, especially when one considers that the Japanese language does not use the roman alphabet and thus the H is clearly not meant to tell the birds (there were no airplanes in the first half of the 17th century, when the current buildings date from) that this is where the famed Hirano-jinja happens to be.

Hirano was one of the 22 shrines in Heian times to be awarded special patronage by the imperial family. The four ancient gods Imakino, Kudono, Furuakino and Himeno were transported to this place with Emperor Kanmu in 794, when the capital switched from Yamato (Nara) to Heian-kyo (Kyoto). The shrine had a high standing among the Court and was frequently visited by members of the imperial family (even today princes, prime ministers and officials continue to visit on ceremonial days). Later it became a household shrine for the Genji and Heike families. Along with Ise Jingu and Matsuo Taisha, Hirano is known as one of the great shrines. It is particularly famous for its cherry blossoms. A cherry blossom festival takes place here on April 10. (more)

16 06 07 - 19:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Rainy Season has officially come to Kyoto. It is called tsuyu (or baiyu), literally meaning "plum rain", because it coincides with the season of plums ripening.

15 06 07 - 22:22 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Summertime and the living is easy

15 06 07 - 22:19 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Galleries updated

Just a note to say that lots of new photos have gone up on our gallery page in the last few weeks (the link's always there on the left ). Plus, it has the nifty 'random images' box now, making it easier to find the more unusual and silly pictures amongst all that beautiful scenery/posing.

15 06 07 - 09:41 - rhod - kyonoki| one comment - §

Oharame Etsuyo

Etsuyo poses as an Oharame, a female peddlar of firewood and flowers. Awano-Naishi was the second head priestess of Jakko-in Temple (where this photo was taken). She had been an attendant at court for Kenreimon-in and was favoured by Emperor Sutoku. By 1165, Awano had become a nun and entered the small temple: she was renamed Priestess Shodo. Awano is said to be the model for the mompei trouser-clad Oharame, who used to sell firewood and vegetables from carts throughout the Northern reaches of the city. Etsuyo seems quite suited to the job.

15 06 07 - 08:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Paul maul

A few days before the first big deadline on our current game, Paul (our lead artist) got put out of action. He called into work to tell us that he'd been put out of action. Attacked, along with his girlfriend, in the middle of the night. Attacked, it turned out, in his own living room. Totally unexpected, within seconds Paul was cut at the wrists, and began losing a lot of blood. He put up a good defense, shielding his girlfriend from harm and blockading her, with him, in the kitchen as their assailant leapt and scratched at the window. (more)

15 06 07 - 06:51 - kieren - kyonoki| No comments - §

True North

Nobunaga Oda died by taking his own life. He slit his belly open and a loyal attendant stepped forward to perform the final part of the act: decapitation. The rebellion at Honno-ji had ended Nobunaga's plans for unifying the country after the devastating civil wars. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, requested that he be able to use Funaoka Hill as a graveyard for his dead master. Emperor Ogimachi obliged (in part because Nobunaga had helped halt the decline the imperial family had suffered since the Onin Wars, restoring much respect if not power) by giving him the small hill in the North West part of the city, close to Kitayama. Funaoka had originally been the city's true North when Kanmu moved the capital to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), and the hill had acted as a guide for the architects who designed the imperial town. Toyotomi was loyal to Nobunaga and had grown up under the military man's rise to power. It was he who avenged his master's death.

Takeisao Shrine (Kenkun-jinja) was built at the Eastern foot of the hill in 1869 by Emperor Meiji. By 1875 it had been moved to the top of the hill. Inside the shrine, Nobunaga's armor and the sword used by his enemy -Imagawa Yoshimoto- at the Battle of Okehazama are kept in a place of honour. On October 19th a festival is still held to celebrate the date in 1568 when Oda Nobunaga first entered Kyoto. The hill, like that of Yoshida-yama and Narabigaoka, rises like a giant turtle shell, sitting benignly on the city's flat plain. (more)

14 06 07 - 18:22 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Lunchtime at the Gosho

14 06 07 - 17:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Emotions of Ki


14 06 07 - 01:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Our house

A little bit like an apartment out of a J-horror movie. A little bit slum-like. A little bit like home.

12 06 07 - 02:12 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Torii gates at Takenaka-Inari-jinja

12 06 07 - 02:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mount Yoshida's eleven shrines

It is nice to have an entire mountain to yourself. I am sure I was not alone, but I may as well have been. Occasionally there were flashes of colour through the foliage, as students from Kyoto University jogged up and down the paths that criss-cross the mountain. I also caught glimpses of people dining in the rather swish and expensive restaurant/cafe Mo-an, plonked right at the very top of the highest hill. I found that I could not quite escape the sounds of the city. That constant buzz of traffic hung in the air and the chatter of children at play drifted through the forest from the kindergarten next to Yoshida Shrine. But after all is said and done, who could escape to a mountain and think themselves alone for two hours, in the middle of a bustling city.

Mt. Yoshida is in reality a large hill, a green island rising out of Kyoto's flat plain. To the South is Heian-Jingu, to the East Ginkaku-ji, and directly to the West are the rather ugly buildings of Kyoto University. Yet despite its prime location, there are very few people wandering through the eleven shrines that lay hidden in the forest. If you take away the main shrine, the rest of the crumbling paths are a rather sad sight. The whole place has the feel of abandonment: the tombs have seen better days and the small shrines seem slowly to be rotting away, melting back into the undergrowth . But it is nice. There is something fairy-tale about it, something expectant, whether it be a ginger-bread house or a wicked witch. (more)

12 06 07 - 02:08 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The ants go marching off to war

I fed the ants at Gosho with my rice at lunch today and watched as their vast line of workers streamed back and forth along the curb. Slowly they tore off tiny pieces of the rice and carried them home. I pray the pigeons that Rhod was determined to feed left the ant-rice alone. I fear a massacre.

12 06 07 - 01:47 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

First meeting

This ferris wheel, balanced on top of a very large department store in Osaka, is where two people happened to meet for the first time.

11 06 07 - 06:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Where the emperors lie

Sennyu-ji. The temple where the heroic archer of the Heike Monogatari is buried (at Sokujyo-in), where a statue bled to save the life of an emperor (at Kaiko-ji), where there was once a floating bridge of dreams (at Yume-no-ukihashi), and where a statue in the likeness of one of the three most beautiful women ever to live could only be glanced upon every hundred years (at Yokihi Kannon-do). A temple that claims to have one of Buddha's teeth, which are scattered across Asia like relics in the Catholic Church. Now the tooth is forgotten, hidden in the reliquary, no longer spoken of.

Foreign tourists are scarce, the name of Sennyu-ji absent from many of the guides suggesting the more spectacular of Kyoto's delights. But why does Sennyu-ji fare any worse than its more showy neighbours? Part of it may be the sober buildings, almost enveloped in the hillsides that fortify its edges, but a greater part must be that there is far less to touch and feel. Sennyu-ji has woven its history from some of the most amazing tales and greatest stories ever told in Japan, and herein lies the problem. Sennyu-ji is beautiful, but it is a beauty removed. The tombs are secret, the buildings meagre in comparison to the great halls of its Higashiyama neighbours. Stories have no physicality. You can not look upon nor touch the mysterious fables that abound here. But that is exactly why Sennyu-ji is so special. And why I am secretly delighted there were only a trickle of souls wandering the rotting paths and shadowy woodland. (more)

11 06 07 - 00:49 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Silkworm Shrine and the triangular torii

Kaiko-no-yashiro is more commonly known as the 'Silkworm Shrine', home to a triumvirate of Chinese gods before the native gods of Japan pushed their rivals out and swallowed them up in history. The Hata family had migrated to the Northern shores of Kyushu (Usa Province) from Korea in the early centuries after Christ's death. Organised under the great clan leader Yumizuki, they spread across the country, taking with them expertese in copper manafacturing, silwork raising, weaving and brewing.

As time passed they proved themselves also to be expert accountants and a font of wealth. Hata Sakenokimi rose to head of his clan and organised massive tributes of silk to the emperor. In recognition of his generous gifts, he was made minister of the treasury and from this point forward the Hata took control of the imperial finances. From the late 7th century the family had settled in the West of what would one day be Kyoto. Hata Kawakata constructed Koryu-ji Temple at the time of Prince Shotoku and Empress Suiko, dedicating it to Japan's infant Buddhism, in recognition of Shotoku's struggle to make Buddhism the national religion of Japan. (more)

11 06 07 - 00:16 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Nintendo sends Rhod some very special Hanafuda Cards

Only available to Club Nintendo members. Hahaaa.

10 06 07 - 01:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Western Gate

Ichigoro-Daimyojin-jinja finally sees the light of day after forty years of being kept in the dark by an amusement centre and gas station. Last week the final piles of rubble were carted away, leaving open ground next to our apartment. After a long time searching, I discovered that the shrine is called Ichigoro-Daimyojin. A thousand years ago it would have been where the Western Gate to Heian-kyo stood. In a few weeks the shrine will disappear behind the construction of a high-rise apartment. For now it almost makes our home less ugly.

10 06 07 - 00:55 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

What happened to all those caterpillars

09 06 07 - 21:37 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

9) A Short Guide to the History of Kyoto: The Man who would Unify

The gilded roof of the Ninomaru Palace, Nijo Castle. (more)

09 06 07 - 06:49 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gotta catch 'em all!

Guess who was at the Osaka Pokemon Centre today.

09 06 07 - 06:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Attack of the dolls

Emperor Kanmu had Ichihime-jinja constructed in 795 as a guardian shrine for the permanent Eastern and Western markets of his new city, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had it moved in 1591 -from Shichijo-Bomon- during the restructuring of Kyoto, and later it was expanded to include a small subordinate shrine in the Kyoto Central Wholesale Market. From Emperor Seiwa to Emperor Gotoba, strong bonds grew between the shrine and the royal household. Slowly it began to play an important role upon the birth of each new son and daughter born to the imperial family. Spring water from the Amanomanai well at Ichihime-jinja was added to the first bath of a young prince or princess. Likewise the first bite the royal infant would take of ikanomochi (sticky rice cake) would be celebrated at the shrine, developing into the ritual of Otabezome ('Infants First Taste Ceremony').

Because not one of the five gods enshrined at Ichihime was a man, the shrine has taken on a decidedly feminine feel. Ichihime can boast that it is the only shrine in the city -and possibly the country- that protects women, alone, from evil. Women flock in their thousands each year to the rather small shrine to pray for the health of their children, for protection from misfortune, and even for success in business. Perhaps Kanmu himself would be a little surprised that his market shrine has become a sanctuary for women.

Nowadays hundreds of Daruma Mikuji (female) dolls crowd around the rim of Ichihime-jinja's well. Inside the doll -when purchased from the shrine shop- is a small slip of paper revealing your fortune. Many women have then written their own wishes on the shiny red skin of the dolls and placed them on top of the spring that gushes out of a well, and then through the shrine, for luck. A temple for Etsuyo. I think there is little point in me asking for protection or putting my hands together in prayer. Men are allowed, but the goddesses are looking the other way. (more)

08 06 07 - 02:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Etsuyo rests at Sennyu-ji.

07 06 07 - 06:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The master archer

Nasu-no-Yoichi (1169-1232) fought alongside the Minamoto (the Genji) in the Genpei War. At the Battle of Yashima in 1184 (according to that semi-factual work the Heike Monogatari), the Taira placed a fan atop the mast of one of their ships, claiming that it would protect them from the arrows of their enemies. They taunted the Minamoto soldiers, daring them to shoot it off. Nasu, sitting astride his horse in the shallows, pummeled by the waves, took aim at the rocking ship and shot down the fan with a single shot. He was instantly a hero. (more)

07 06 07 - 06:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Collecting caterpillars

06 06 07 - 23:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Taste of summer

Summer is in full swing, sun blazing through parasols and slowly turning the city into a swampy bowl of discomfort. For a few weeks the weather will be a perfect mix of cool breezes and sun, before rainy season infuses everything with sticky humidity. (more)

06 06 07 - 17:01 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

8) A Short Guide to the History of Kyoto: The Onin Wars

The mallard-motif of Daiun-in, Higashiyama. (more)

05 06 07 - 22:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

300 boars come to the rescue

Goo-jinja enshrines Wake-no-Kiyomaro, a heroic figure who, under the divine command of the deity of Usa Hachiman Shrine, blocked the scheme of Yuge-no-Dokyo (a power-grabbing Buddhist priest) to usurp the imperial throne in 769. Below, I have told Kiyomaro's story as best I can (thanks to Etsuyo for translating the pictures pasted to the front of the shrine, that tell Kiyomaro's tale). The most fantastic part of the tale is the role 300 boars played in protecting the young man from certain death and dealing out justice to his would-be assassins. Instead of protective dogs (Komainu), the shrine venerates guardian boars. People pray to the boars for recovery from illness (and injuries to the legs), safe journies, and a life free from accidents and mishap.


05 06 07 - 03:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Guardian mice

Otoyo-jinja is the only shrine in Japan to feature two guardian mice as protectors, rather than Komainu, those Chinese-style guardian dogs that usually sit before torii gates. One carved mouse carries a water ball, the other a rolled up scroll. The ball stands for abundance, the power to heal, longevity and luck. The scroll represents learning, knowledge and -again- luck. Many couples who wish to have a baby also pray to the mice.

It may seem odd to choose mice from all the creatures -real or imagined- from the animal kingdom, but the pair of heroic beasts saved the deity Sukunahikona-no-Mikoto (an important Shinto deity with healing powers and a protector against evil) from a fire raging in the mountain he frequented. Otoyo-jinja was built to enshrine Sukunahikona-no-Mikoto (who resides in the Yashiro -one of the tiny houses you see in shrines- that sits behind the mice), Emperor Ojin and Sugawara no Michizane in hopes that Emperor Uda would recover from his illness.

The shrine also protects a sacred tree that sits swamped in the undergrowth, 400 years old. I couldn't see it through all the Summer foliage.

A small piece of paper tacked to the votive tablets beside the mice explained that the mouse holding the scroll (or possibly both of them) featured in a famous Japanese computer game series. So far I have been unable to find out the name of the game.

04 06 07 - 05:37 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Philosopher's Path

The Philosopher's Path -that winding trail that follows the canal flowing from Ginkakuji to the Shrine of Nyakuoji- is so-called because it was where the Japanese philosopher, Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), once took his daily walks. The path is dotted with hillside temples, a variety of expensive-looking homes, shops and restaurants flank the canal, and cherry blossoms can be seen lining the waterway during the Spring months. For 1.3 miles the walk is a firm favourite of tourists. Many of the temples along this course are only open for the duration of Spring time, to my incredible annoyance. (more)

03 06 07 - 17:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Refilling the Kamo River

02 06 07 - 02:59 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


It was Alex Kerr who once commented that Kyoto's tower was like a stake through the city's heart. In the sixties did it look like some futuristically space-age creation, a hint of what all cities might look like in a Jetsonesque future? Is it the world of tomorrow that never was? Or did no-one think about how ruined Kyoto would look when viewed from the mountains. At one time it was easy to imagine a world of palaces, gardens, temples and flowing streams. Now you have to try very hard indeed to block the white needle-point out of your mind. The tower soars above the ancient roofs and gables like a monstrous invader from another planet, come to obliterate the human race. Built in 1964 to commemorate the Tokyo Olympics, it's 131 metres are designed to mirror the shape of a Japanese candle. From every mountain retreat, three buildings scar the hazy landscape: Kyoto Station, the Okura Hotel and Kyoto Tower. Another mistake in the long list of mistakes the city has made in redesigning Kyoto as a modern conurbation. Perhaps the city elders should be reminded that no-one comes to Kyoto for modern delights. Osaka and Kobe are only a short train ride away for those sort of pleasures.

01 06 07 - 20:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Anchin Kiyojime no Kane (the Snake and the Bell)

A traveling monk in Wakayama by the name of Anchin (brother to the Emperor Suzyaku) fell in lust with a girl by the name of Kiyohime, daughter of the landlord Kiyotsugu, with whom he was staying. Anchin longed to return to the temple he belonged to, but the landlord had convinced him to stay the night as Dojo-ji was still many miles away. Whether or not it was the devious machinations of the father, the manipulation of Kiyohime or simply the desire of Anchin, he lay with her and she assumed they would be joined in marriage.

Despite his promises, Anchin had had his fill and so he returned to Dojo-ji and the normality of his life. Kiyohime was forgotten. And she waited, waited as the seasons changed, the years passed. And all love turned to desperation and desperation to a murderous hatred. She prayed to the gods for the power to pay Anchin back and her spirit was transformed into a snake. She stole across the land to the temple where Anchin lived. She would have her revenge.

01 06 07 - 20:01 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Genji comes to Ishiyama

Pouring, pouring rain: rain that chills to the bone, that soaks umbrellas until they start letting in water, rain that makes it impossible to take photos, that floods roads and turns day to dusk. I was more than a little surprised that Etsuyo would be up for taking a trip out of the city and to the port of Otsu, that straddles the Southern shore of Lake Biwa. A very short train ride through the mountains that fence in Kyoto and we were deposited on the platform of Hamaotsu, swallowed up in haze. The rain continued to get gradually heavier throughout the day, until sheets of water were spilling from the sky and battering us on our insane trip to the very beautiful Ishiyama-dera. The temple keeps watch over the Seto River below and is perhaps most famous as being the place where Murasaki Shikibu penned part of her 'Tale of Genji' (that extraordinary work of fiction that is perhaps the world's oldest novel).

Ishiyama-dera is a labyrinthine puzzle of buildings, half swallowed up in the ancient forests on Mt. Garan. The tips of roofs, gables and grand verandahs -barely visible amongst the lush greenery- has inspired poetry and story-telling for centuries. As rain water poured down the stone steps and pathways, swelling streams and ponds until they looked ready to burst their banks, we gradually made our way up the very small mountain and quickly learnt why Shikibu decided to spend many weeks of her life in this secluded place. (more)

01 06 07 - 19:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Under the shadow of Hiei-zan

In the North East, Kyoto stretches out towards the impressive bulk of Hiei-zan which for a millenia has been the protector of the city. When men believed evil spirits attacked from the North East, the moutain stood as natural guardian, revered and looked up to, to stay evil's hand. Monks built Enryaku-ji and religion flourished to ward off the dangers beyond the mountain. In the deep slopes below its forests, temples flourished, shrines grew within the leafy glades and valleys, and ghosts walked the countryside. Barely twenty minutes by bicycle, the area of Takaragaike might as well be another world altogether. The Kyoto Protocol was signed in the International Centre here, and manmade ponds vie with the more ancient waterways. The new does battle with the old week by week, construction flattens the countryside, but the temples remain, windows to the past. (more)

01 06 07 - 18:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Miidera's bell tells its tale

On one of the hills overlooking Lake Biwa, stands the ancient monastery of Miidera which was founded over twelve hundred years ago, by the pious Mikado Tenchi. Near the entrance once stood a bronze bell, five and a half feet high. It has on it none of the writing so commonly found on Japanese bells, and though its surface is covered with scratches it was once as brilliant as a mirror. The bell now sits in its own hut behind the sacred spring that gives Miidera its name, waiting to tell its story to those who will listen.

01 06 07 - 03:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bad hair day

The caterpillars are invading.

01 06 07 - 02:25 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §


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


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