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kyonoki - 京のキー

Gilly-chan takes a ride.

28 01 08 - 06:55 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Pimp my ride

Not only has he got two whole teeth, but Gil is a lot more chatty (non words you understand) and has discovered the ability to roll wherever he wants to go. Though he can't sit up by himself, he is a lot more wriggly, hinting at new found muscles. Kitty's bright red car seemed the perfect fit, so I sat Gil inside. He seemed enthused by this new discovery, laughing and tooting on the horn. The steering wheel would not quite fit in his mouth, but it did not deter his thirst for the road. Unfortunately, none of us foresaw the problem with the gap at the bottom of the car. Like a slippery eel he slipped right through and had his first accident. Rhod caught it on video, so hopefully I will put it up soon. Notice on one of the photos how he appears to be girning.

27 01 08 - 06:22 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Rolling Gil

Rolling, rolling, rolling... he can't crawl or walk, but that hasn't stopped him so far. Much like a weasel-ball, Gil has found the power to roll a useful tool indeed.

27 01 08 - 06:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Karaoke kids

Kitty is becoming quite the little gamer geek with her DS and Wii. We took a break to go to a nearby karaoke salon and the young lady dazzled our ear-drums with renditions of You Can Fly, Under the Sea and Bibbity-bobbity-boo. As Erina took up the mic, Gil began a crazy gurgle to serenade his mama. It is an odd thing. Gil's reactions to Erina are quick and ecstatic. Silent through all the singing, only when she began to sing did he suddenly become vocal. After hearing her voice for 9 months in the womb, it is little surprise that he knows how to impress with his baby babble.

27 01 08 - 06:09 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Fire at Jonan-gu

The fire-engines roared through the torii gate, bright red and vermillion splashing colour in the otherwise drab snowy afternoon. Men poured out and clambered over the truck, unfurling hose and sprinting to clear the area. A thin wisp of smoke curled up into the air. Water exploded. Hiding in the cover of a small shrine, we watched as water pounded onto the roof of the shrine building, splashing down from the gutters and filling the air with spray. No sooner had they started, than the display was over, the fire-trucks backed out and the emergency deemed over.

Only it wasn't an emergency. The firemen were practising, teaching the shrine staff how to use fire extinguishers and fighting off imaginary fires. Fun to watch, and adding a bit of excitement to the frozen day.

25 01 08 - 06:54 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Genji's winter garden

Winter is never a fine time to visit a shrine famed for its gardens. The bamboo and moss may still be green, but other branches are bare and so the grounds look desolate and add to the cold of the day. However, as I am truly exhausting the places still left to visit, it seemed necessary to come. Snow gently started to fall, but despite my wishes, did not settle. How more interesting these photos would have been with a blanket of white.

At the time of relocation of the capital to Kyoto (Heian-kyo) in 794, Jonangu Shrine was established as protector of the country. In 1086 the retired Emperor Shirakawa constructed the Jonan Imperial Villa (Toba Detatched Villa) which placed even more importance on the shrine and resulted in numerous ceremonies being undertaken by the priests here. The connections between the imperial family and the shrine slowly deepened, and the shrine again became a prominent part of history when the shogunal forces used the shrine as a base in their conflict with forces trying to replace the shogun with the emperor once more.

25 01 08 - 06:39 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A villa to a love hotel

Takeda is the last stop (South) on Kyoto's older subway line, and getting out of the train is like emerging in a completely different place. I felt like I was walking around the East End of London, where my grandparents used to live. There is a broken feel about the place, a wrong-side of the tracks feeling, the shops and houses hungover in the light of day and only willing to come alive once night has fallen. As I searched for Jonangu Shrine, things felt odder and odder. Poor and run-down, the area is thriving with love hotels: palaces, mansions, art-deco monstrosities, greek temples and rustic lodges, all paying tribute to 15 minutes of sex. Love hotels are common place in Japan, you pay by the half-hour, get a cheap room (often decorated in a bizarre style), anonymity and often have to drive far enough away from your business or wife not to be recognised. They are not strange here, not seedy or dirty (well clean enough inside at least), really just an accepted way of life.

But here is the thing. In amongst the warehouses, elevated highways and yakitori restaurants, there is a pagoda here, a temple there, an ancient statue crumbling way, an old gate, and more than a few mausoleums. Here is the clue that what is the bad side of the city was not always so. Originally it was a sprawling villa with elaborate gardens and watery throughways, sculpted landscaping and undenied wealth. What was, is no more, and that is a terrible shame.

25 01 08 - 06:24 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Island life

We had an hour on the island and although we saw everything, I could have spent far longer relaxing. For some reasons it reminds me of holidays I had as a child in Croatia and those islands scattered with monasteries. The giant Benzeitendo stands on the peak of island, in a hollow beneath the pagoda, and is constructed about the Daienzaiten* (the Muse) statue. It is one of three most famous Muse statues in Japan, and is the oldest of the three. The temple was founded in 724, rebuilt in 1942. Every year during the Rengee Festival, a new statue of the Muse is dedicated to the temple. The statue of Acala (the god of fire) is the oldest statue on the island, crafted in the 12th century. He expresses his anger so as to enlighten corrupt people.

All too soon it was time to take the ferry back to the shore and bid farewell to the island.

20 01 08 - 19:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The divine island where heavenly maidens dwell

As the ferry draws close to the tiny island of Chikubushima, the rocky cliffs -below a forest of ravaged trees- become visible. Caves dot the unfriendly shore and it easy to conjure up images of smugglers, ginger beer and dashing adventures. As the boat skims the coast it is surprising how much damage the cormorant colony has done, stripping away the branches and leaves. Strings are netted here and there to try and prevent further damage, but you get the impression that humans have little power here.

20 01 08 - 19:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Link and the Monster of Nagahama

20 01 08 - 05:38 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Chikubushima, a sacred island north of the ancient capital of Kyoto, attracted the attention of Japan's rulers in the Momoyama period (1568-1615) and became a repository of their art, including a lavishly decorated building dedicated to the worship of Benzaiten. The Tale of Heike mentions the island, a holy rock where the Shinto gods and Buddhist deities are both worshipped in peace, and where the forests are ragged by the thirty thousand kawau cormorants that live on the slopes, haunting the lake with their shrill cries. Chikubushima is considered one of the most beautiful spots on the lake.

20 01 08 - 05:37 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gilded pine

20 01 08 - 05:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


I didn't know much about Nagahama, save for the fact that it was Etsuyo's hometown and that it would feel more like the countryside than the city. But, I have to admit that this little town is far more impressive than I thought.

Nagahama is best known as the town where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of the three great military rulers who united the country in the late 16th and early 17th century, built his first castle between 1575 and 1576. As a rising general who led successful campaigns in the early 1570's in the Omi region (now Shiga-ken) on behalf of Oda Nobunaga, he was awarded three provinces in the northern area and was initially based at Odani, near the north end of Lake Biwa. Finding it difficult for him to govern his lands from Odani, Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved to Kunitomo village which he renamed 'Nagahama' after Oda Nobunaga and proceeded to build Nagahama Castle.

20 01 08 - 05:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mini trees at the oldest station in Japan

The Nagahama Bonbai Exhibition (Keiunkan) began in 1952 and is a regular spring event. Bonbai are plum bonsai. Old plum trees are displayed in the exhibition, including a 2 metre high giant bonbai and a tree that is more than 400 years old. It is difficult to grow tired of the exhibition because about 300 bonsais -all belonging to Nagahama city- are displayed in yearly rotation. The 'Night Bonbai' in mid February is a must-see, along with the beautifully lit gardens (which are designated as a national scenic spot).

I have to admit that I don't care much for this kind of thing, but the trees were extraordinary. You can purchase your own for a mere 1,500 yen, or if you prefer a more well established plant can chose from a selection that go up in price to about a month's salary (260,000 yen). I would dearly have liked to take one home to my paps, but immigration rules to the UK are strict.

20 01 08 - 05:16 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Chilly cruising

Lake Biwa is the third oldest lake in the world, over 4 million years old. Sailing along the northern shores, it is easy to imagine that very little has changed in that time.

20 01 08 - 05:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Ship ahoy!

Winter cruising on Lake Biwa is a gamble. The weather is so changeable that it can turn a calm trip into a rollercoaster nightmare, and if there is no snow on the mountains you might find yourself wondering why you thought about taking a cruise in January in the first place. Luckily -I kept spotting snow on the roofs and trees during the train ride from Kyoto to Otsu- we had struck gold. As we awaited our cruise boat, we discovered that the morning was melting into a sunny and cloudless day and that the higher slopes of the mountains were white.

Wrapped up we took a seat on the almost empty upper deck, in the nice warm of the cabin, and watched as Otsu vanished into the distance. We would be sailing across Japan's largest lake to Etsuyo's hometown of Nagahama, stopping off for an hour on the small shrine-island of Chikubushima. The journey would take four hours, and things got off to a fine start with a free bottle of sake to keep our bellies warm. Etsuyo remained red-cheeked for the entire day.

20 01 08 - 04:49 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Spiked defense

16 01 08 - 06:51 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The wonderful world of making money, Kyoto style

Take a place of worship, built for a noble family but in turn handed over to the faithful, wait while the nation crumbles and rebuilds itself on the outside, then bar entrance to the faithful and inquisitive, put up a toll-booth and charge the world for entrance. All very well as the faithful are dwindling and the government cannot pay for the upkeep of priceless treasures and the ancient buildings, so a small fee will help save your temple from death. However, greed afflicts religion all too easily. Why not shut up your treasures, block access to your art, bar path to your buildings and consider how to squeeze more money from patrons. Well, on occasion there are traditions of revealing statues on auspicious dates and days, so as to not diminish the power of the work, but forget tradition for a moment. Why not limit the access and boost up the prices, thus driving demand and drawing in custom. Coffers begin to overflow, but what was once meant for the faithful now becomes a fairground attraction. The powerful motivation behind the original carving, the painting, the building, well that is forgotten. Greed fills up hearts and the gods are forgotten.

16 01 08 - 06:48 - kieren - Photostory| four comments - §

Port Tower at Sunset

So soon it was time to end our trip to Kobe. We strolled through Motomachi Arcade, under the wonderful Port Tower, around Meriken Park -with its soaring Maritime Museum- and about the Mosaic Centre beside the harbour. All places I used to spend my time at, now happy memories and perhaps new ones.

14 01 08 - 18:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Nunobiki Waterfall

Bidding farewell to Makibayashi-san at the lower cable-car station of the Herb Gardens, we strolled down the winding mountain road, cable-cars swinging overhead and the city blanketing below. After a time we heard the gushing of water and rushing of a small mountain stream (the cascading Ikuta River), beckoning us on. Down a dirt path, around crumbling shrines and stones etched with haiku, to the thing we had come to see: the Nunobiki Waterfall.

Nunobiki waterfall comprises four separate falls: Ondaki, Mendaki, Tsusumigadaki, and Meotodaki. The more prominent of the four are the Ondaki (male falls) which is the largest, and the Mendaki (the female falls). The Ondaki roars and tumbles down a sheer wall of rock for 43 metres and splashes into a rocky basin. From the cable-car it looks like a small ribbon of water, but from up close is astonishingly beautiful.

In Japan, Nunobiki is considered one of the greatest 'divine falls' together with the Kegon Falls (Nikko) and the Nachi Falls (Wakayama). Nunobiki means 'cloth-pulling' and not surprisingly the white strip of water reminds poets of cloth being stretched to bleach, white cloth that is the dress of the mountain goddess.

14 01 08 - 18:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

China Town

Kobe's Chinatown (Nankinmachi) is not about the cheap decorations, the neon lights, the bright yellow lanterns, zodiac statues, cheap supermarkets or gaudy trinkets. It is about smell. The smell of steamed meat dumplings, roasting duck, thick noodle broth, teas, broiling meats, shrimp balls, fried rice and coconut milk. It is about eating as you walk, picking from the stalls that line the crowded street, of jostling through the thick steam of food cooking, of slurping your soup in any free space you can find, of being surrounded by food and realising for a moment you are not quite in Japan. The bad smells come with the good, and in the daylight the small town is a mess of thrown-away chopsticks and packaging, but to get shoved and offended is part of the whole experience. A million miles away from Kyoto.

14 01 08 - 18:21 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Old friends

Makibayashi-san worked in the office of Tomogaoka High School, my very first job in Japan, and for three years she put up with my questions and helped me with my paperwork. I owe her a great deal and it was nice to have lunch and catch up. Last year she lost her hearing, and the doctor only managed to rescue hearing in one ear. It was shocking and sad, but she is as resilient as ever. Never have I met a more positive person, and it was nice to say thank you in person. She is now office boss of a new school and things are looking up.

14 01 08 - 18:14 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Herb Gardens

We lunched at the Nunobiki Herb Gardens, a short cable-car trip (from Shin-Kobe Oriental City) up the mountain to a mock-Swiss village at the summit. I have been many times before, but never has the view of the city been so clear. We looked out at the harbour, to Port Island, the new Kobe airport, across the bay to Kansai International airport and the mountains of Wakayama.

After lunch we strolled down the steep park filled with small herb-gardens. In Winter Nunobiki is devoid of crowds and the colour of spring, summer and autumn is lost to browns and greys. But the scenery is stunning, and if the walk gets too cold you can take a break in the steamy greenhouses. I can't help feel that the club house should be used as a Bond villain lair.

14 01 08 - 18:13 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Capital for a month

It was time to return to my Japanese home, Kobe. What's not to love here: good food, good shopping, the sea, mountains, smilier people and the feeling that the world is not too far away. As we arrived too early to meet my good friend Makibayashi-san, I took Rhod, Andy and Etsuyo to Kitano Ijinkan and the shrine that rests on the hills above.

For all those Kyoto citizens who look down their nose at Tokyo and bustle about muttering under their breath that 'Kyoto was capital for a thousand years', well I have news for you. It appears you have clearly forgotten that Kobe replaced Kyoto as capital for six months and thus the unbroken rule of Kyoto is not so unbroken after all. In June 1180, Taira-no-Kiyomori (then the most powerful warlord in the country) moved the capital close to the small fishing town of Suma and renamed it Fukuhara. Ever since 1160 Kiyomori had kept a villa on the hillside overlooking the sea, shortly after his victory over the Minamoto Clan during the Heiji Rebellion. From 1167 Kiyomori was the de facto ruler of Japan (Daijo Daijin - Grand Chancellor). Gradually he improved the harbour below his villa and oversaw dramatic construction in the small town. It was his goal to improve trade across the inland sea and one day rule from this port town.

14 01 08 - 18:02 - kieren - Photostory| four comments - §

Sumiya shut

Sumiya was a typical traditional restaurant (an Ageya) of Shimabara, the former (and first licensed one in Japan) entertainment district* of the Edo Period (1603-1867), and was finally closed in 1985. It was closed today, preparing for an exhibition, something they failed to post on their website. So Etsuyo and I stood outside, looked at the latticed windows, shuffled back and forth, and that was that.

11 01 08 - 02:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The death of Shimabara

Undertaking the revival of Kyoto following decades of civil war, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave permission for the establishment of an entertainment district around the intersection of Nijo Street and Yanaginobanba Street. Such was its success, that it was moved close to where Higashi Honganji (Rokujomisujimachi) now stands, but following the ascension of the Tokugawa Shogunate a conservative fervor swept the country and once again the entertainment quarter was moved as part of city redevelopment. In 1641 Shimabara developed in West Kyoto (because the city has grown the area is now fairly central) about Sujakuno.

The entertainment disctrict was like a castle town, surrounded by walls and moats and flanked by grand gates and bridges. The official name was Nishishinyashiki, however due to the turmoil of relocation it was later nicknamed Shimabara after a peasant rebellion of the same name in Kyushu then being waged*. Following the prohibition of prostitution after the Second World War, Shimabara was dismantled. The courtesans and geiko moved elsewhere, their homes were closed, and the restaurants and shops lost their custom. All that remains is the gate, the Sumiya (more in the next post) and a sad group of buildings, shrines and memorial stones. Nowadays the area is next to Kyoto Fish Market and has a run-down feel, a maze of tiny streets filled with houses that make it seem cold and grey on the warmest and sunniest of days.

11 01 08 - 01:43 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Ebisu parades

Kyoto's Ebisu Shrine may be a pale imitation of the grander affairs in Nishinomiya and Osaka, but the celebrating at the turn of the New Year is no less frantic and busy. Stalls line the tiny streets and thousands pour in the pray to the god and collect amulets that will bring them good fortune in the coming year.

From January 8th to the 12th, the colourful Hatsu Ebisu Festival, which peaks on the 10th, celebrates and worships the smiling Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods and the patron deity of merchants. During these five days, citizens come to toss money into a large coffer, ceremonially burn last year's talismans, and purchase new charms attached to branches of newly cut bamboo.*

Ebisu's Festival is a maelstrom of bodies and the 9th culminates in a small parade that marches through the city centre from Yasaka Shrine and back to Ebisu's home. The Hichifukujin-no-Ebisusen-no-Junko parade consists of shrine maidens, taiko drummers, a small statue of Ebisu and a boat-float filled with people dressed as the 7 gods of fortune. Short and sweet.

09 01 08 - 04:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The plump guy with the fish

Ebisu (Yebisu, Hirukoor or Kotoshiro-nushi-no-kami), is the Japanese god of fishermen, good luck, and workingmen, as well as the guardian of the health of small children. He is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichifukujin), and the only one of the seven to originate from Japan. Originally he was named Hiruko, meaning 'leech child'. He was the first child of Izanagi and Izanami, born without bones (or, in some stories, without arms and legs) due to his mother's transgression during the marriage ritual. Hiruko struggled to survive but, as he could not stand, he was cast to the sea in a boat of reeds before his third birthday (eh-hem Moses similarities?). He eventually washed ashore, possibly in Ezo (ancient Hokkaido), and was cared for by the Ainu Ebisu Saburo.

The weak child overcame many hardships, grew legs at the age of three, and became the god Ebisu. He remains slightly crippled and deaf, but mirthful and auspicious nonetheless (hence the title, 'The Laughing God'). He is often depicted wearing a tall hat (the Kazaori Eboshi), holding a rod and a large red bream or sea bass. Jellyfish are also associated with the god and the fugu restaurants of Japan will often incorporate Ebisu in their motif.

Ebisu's festival is celebrated on the twentieth day of the tenth month, Kannazuki (the month without gods). While the other eight million members of the Japanese pantheon gather at The Grand Shrine of Izumo, Ebisu does not hear the summons and is thus still available for worship.*

09 01 08 - 04:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Cat-nap at Fujinomori

09 01 08 - 04:16 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A water found nowhere else

When the irises bloom the shrine is a carpet of purple flowers, but when the hydrangea have passed Fujinomori is a dusty and cold stretch of ground until the horsemen perform their stunts to ohhs and ahhs, and the iris' come once more. With an eye-rubbing early start to the day, Etsuyo and I spent the morning in Fushimi where they still brew sake, and where spring water bubbles up into temples and shrines. We ambled around in the sun, comparing our map with a very different real world. Many breweries have since closed and apartment blocks box in temples that have lost all their ground to high-class living. The old has been replaced with the new, but amongst the rough you can still find a few diamonds.

Before Kyoto was Kyoto, the small hamlets of Fukakusa worshipped their gods (12 in all) at a small shrine. The Shobu-no-Sekku Iris Festival was said to have begun here in the spacious grounds, and because the word in Japanese for 'iris' and 'battle' sound the same (shobu) people pray here for winning in competitions and for horse-racing. Although I am not sure people should be praying for 'their' horse to win, I like the idea of religion being so flexible. The Kakeuma Shinji Festival (originating from the Joban Festival, ordered by Emperor Seiwa in the Heian Period) on May 5th wows spectators with horsemen performing stunts. One of the enshrined 'gods' is Prince Toneri, a scholar and compiler of the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), and so people praying for knowledge and success in their exams also flock here. Really it is a shrine for everyone. The main hall was given by Emperor Nakamikado in 1712, a building that was originally an office of the imperial court (Naishi-dokoro). Fujinomori is also known as the Hydrangea Palace (Ajisai-no-miya), because of the abundance of the flowers in the grounds.

09 01 08 - 04:14 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Oh the eyes!

06 01 08 - 03:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sundown and Amaterasu's tale

Amaterasu is described in the Kojiki as the sun goddess who was born from Izanagi, who was also accompanied by her siblings Susano-o, the storm deity, and Tsukuyomi, the moon deity. In the Kojiki, Amaterasu is described as the goddess from which all light emanates and is often referred to as the sun goddess because of her warmth and compassion for the people who worshipped her.

Most of her mythos revolves around an incident where the goddess traps herself in a cave because of her brother's actions. For a while, everything amongst the three revered gods was peaceful and all of the world ran smoothly. One day, Susano-o, in a drunken rampage, trampled Amaterasu's rice fields, filled all of her irrigation ditches, and threw excrement into her palace and her shrines. The Omikami asked her brother to stop but he ignored her and even went so far as to throw the corpse of a skinned horse at her hand-maidens who were weaving at the time. The women were killed by the wood breaking apart and piercing their bodies (most sources say it was their reproductive organs that were pierced).

Amaterasu was greatly angered and in protest she shut herself in the Heavenly Cave and sealed it shut with a giant rock.

06 01 08 - 03:41 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The goddess in the cave

Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, sealed herself in a cave so humiliated was she by her brother's murderous, drunken rampage. It took all the gods, a mirror and the lewd dance of another goddess to get Amaterasu out of her self-imposed prison. A world that had been thrown into darkness was once more swept with life-giving light and the dying crops were saved. Or so the myth goes.

In a foul mood, made madder by the rude old keeper of Himukai Shrine telling me to get out of the cemetery after a wrong turn, we climbed the steep slopes to find a cave carved to mirror the story of Amaterasu. Tradition has it that the shrine was founded during the era of the 23rd emperor Kenzou who is said to have been on the throne for a few years during the latter half of the 5th century. During the Onin civil war (1467-1477), all of its historical records as well as buildings were burned down. And so it remains, a small and oft forgotten shrine.

There used to be the Tokaido, the famous highway that ran from Kyoto to Edo (present day Tokyo), close to Himukai Daijingu and the shrine was crowded with people (such as those who prayed for safety of travel). But nowadays the new highway is far to the south and the shrine does not have many visitors. Beyond the main hall, up a rocky path is a tiny cave in the mountain. Within the cave is a shrine and the orange rock glows come the setting of the sun. A magical, if somewhat creepy place.

06 01 08 - 03:37 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Getting to grips with socks

06 01 08 - 03:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Little old man

Fatter, gigglier and droolier than ever before.

06 01 08 - 03:15 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Cooking Mama Kitty

Kitty has returned from her great adventure to the UK and so we headed on over to give her a belated Christmas present and look at all the goodies she got whilst overseas. Rhod enjoyed playing computer games, though playing together mostly involves her sitting on your lap and expecting you to do all the hard work. Erina cooked a wonderful dinner and I sat bemused at Kitty's exceptionally lazy eating habits. It is funny to watch a three year old open her mouth and expect to be fed, whilst just about mustering the energy to chew. Hmmmm, seems like Dale and Erina had better start saving for servants.

06 01 08 - 02:52 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Leaving Yoshitsune's home

Down, down the mountains. Through the Temple of Ice, through the grand two-storied gate, out into the town itself, past the great tengu-face in the station car-park to the train, and on to home.

03 01 08 - 17:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Across the mountains

In the twelth century Ushiwaka-maru was sent to Kurama temple to become a monk after his Minamoto clan was defeated by the Taira clan. The leader of the Taira clan, Taira no Kiyomori, ordered that the young Ushiwaka-maru be sent to Kurama temple and educated as a monk so that he would not pose a threat to the Taira later. Ushiwaka-maru, although spending time learning the Buddhist scriptures, also learned various martial skills. The legends say that he used to meet with the King Tengu of Kurama, and learned swordsmanship and acquired unusual skills. According to these legends, the young warrior who received the adult name of Yoshitsune also mastered military strategy, which later helped him defeat the Taira clan and its supporters in the Genpei War (1180-85). The details of Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune's life on Mt. Kurama will always remain a legend because the sources for that period are highly unreliable, but his mastery of military strategy and his tactics, as well as his ability to lead large forces, are evident in records of the Genpei War.

Amongst the unruly roots of the trees, emerging from the worn away soil, and amidst the twilight darkness of the forest, it is easy to imagine the young Yoshitsune meeting the King of the Tengu in this place. Again (like many of my recent journies) it ties in to parts 7 and 8 (in English) of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix saga. In the pages of the book, Yoshitsune's mythical status is stripped away and Tezuka paints a far from flattering picture of him. Yoshitsune, we must not forget, although betrayed in the end, was a warrior, and war was his life. Romanticism there was likely no room for.

03 01 08 - 17:55 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kibune shrine

Kibune Shrine is located in Kibune Village in the mountainous northern area of Kyoto. The cool summer climate of the mountains has long made the area a popular summer sightseeing destination. The ancient shrine is over 1600 years old, predating the city of Kyoto itself.

03 01 08 - 17:53 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kibune town

Kibune town is quaint, small and designed to loosen the change from your pockets. While it is not exactly a preserved pocket of history, it is beautiful in its own right. Every inch of the roadside is filled with shops and restaurants, ryokans and onsens, and for hundreds of years men and women have escaped Kyoto by travelling the short 10km to the town. Nowhere could seem so far from Kyoto city and it is a relief to find the roads not too busy in the early days of the year. It was the last day for making the first visit of the year to shrines (hatsumode) and so we made our prayers and watched our fortunes appear by dipping our fortune papers into the small trough of water at Kibune Shrine.

With bellies full we looked to the steep path winding through the forest, and up and over to Kurama. Legend tells us that in history the red-faced, long-nosed goblins once stalked these woods and so Rhod took a walking stick for protection. Despite the chilly air, we lost a few layers and struggled upwards.

03 01 08 - 17:52 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mountain road

I was bursting to get off the crowded Eizan train, squashed, moody and surrounded by chattering old women whose breath almost anaesthetized Rhod. Kibune's small station drops you on a curve of road in the heart of the mountains, the river babbling to one side and a thin strip of tarmac winding through the valley. We were happy to get a burst of fresh air, nicely warmed in the cloudless day, the air smelling of cyprus and pine. Lazily we followed the road past stranger and stranger signs (danger, rockfall; wild monkeys; dangerous traffic; flooding; perverts and sexual predators) until Kibune appeared before us across a vermillion bridge.

Four years ago I came to eat a dinner here, sat out on a temporary floor bridging the mountain stream. The restaurants stretch alongside the river and make use of the cool breezes in the uncomfortable summer months by inviting guests to eat out in the open and taste the local delicacies. All of which is magical beneath the lanterns and surrounded by the gentle gushing of the waters, but which ends with a tremendously large bill at the end of the night.

We searched for somewhere to sup before adventuring over the mountains to Kurama, something I had never done before.

03 01 08 - 17:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


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


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