Forging war

As unlikely as it may seem, within the Western-inspired drawing room of Murin-an's pretty European-style house four men set about changing Japan's foreign policy forever. Their actions were to lead to war with Imperial Russia, and it was this overwhelming and surprising victory that gave Japan a foothold in China. Wishing to mirror the West's colonial successes, Japan from this moment on took a road that would lead to world war and the briefest of Empires before almost utter destruction and the dawning of the nuclear age. The elderly statesman Aritomo Yamagata, the president of the Rikken Seiyukai Party Hirobumi Ito, Prime Minister Taro Katsura and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jutaro Komura spent only a few hours creating a brand new foreign policy for the country, something that would endure for half a century. Their actions were at first glorious and finally uncontrollably disastrous.

Aritomo built the small garden between 1894 and 1896, and the name literally means 'calm place without houses around it'. The famous landscape architect Jihee Ogawa constructed the strolling garden from Aritomo's instructions. Although small, the garden borrows scenery from the mountains of Higashiyama behind and remains an oasis of calm although now pincered by a main road.

30 05 09 - 22:28 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Slice of home

28 05 09 - 02:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Back breaking work

28 05 09 - 02:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Introducing Nana-chan

Mitsuko had Nanako (Nana-chan) in March, so this is the first time I have gotten to see the new addition to the Kishida family. She is a fat little thing, very smiley and already very vocal (in a good way) and I hope to be seeing a lot more of her over the coming months.

28 05 09 - 01:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Hiyoshi Dam

Wednesday is always a half day at Kitty's youchien (nursery school), so Erina drove us up towards Nantan where there is a nature trek below the Hiyoshi dam (completed in 1998). The drive itself was enough to keep me from dozing in the car as usual. The road cut through mountains and then flanked a wide, slow flowing river that is said to come alight with fireflies in the plum rains. Parking at the very edge of the concrete dam, we strolled across its top (a massive reservoir on one side, a sculpted park and refresh area on the other, including swimming pool, restaurants and an onsen) before taking the steps down to a stretch of grass neatly kept for golfing in fine weather.

Below the massive turbine halls there is a spout of water and a circular bridge that allows you to look in all directions. The kids found the empty lawns and empty stage (for Summer events) down by the river the most exciting thing about the whole journey and happily ran between the golf-flags until it was time to go home.

28 05 09 - 01:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Growing up

27 05 09 - 23:54 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Home of the mountain guardian

For a brief moment as the Sonobe-bound train emerges from the mountains it passes close to the Hozu River. On the opposite bank sits a small shrine dedicated to the mountain guardian, almost hidden by the forest and lone sentinel of the narrow entrance to the Hozu Gorge. Today seemed mostly stormy, but tired of being cooped up indoors with Swine flu (it really isn't) we set out across the paddy fields. If you could walk in a straight line the shrine would be no more than a mile or so away, but forced to navigate our way along farm tracks and reed banks it seems much farther. After some difficulty in finding a bridge (there are only two in the Kameoka area, and the one we crossed is little more than a crumbling concrete slap without barriers) the rest of the walk was relatively easy, though by the time we were beneath the cover of the forest lane a soaking drizzle had settled in.

The shrine is little more than a plain wooden stage and a small hut pressed against a cliff, but the scenery is absolutely stunning. By standing at the point where the paved road becomes a rocky track, it is possible to look down the length of the Hozu Gorge as the mountains soar above you. Monkeys glare down from the trees, unhappy at the interruption, and through the scraggly trees the tourist boats pass lazily down the rapids. More about all this later when I sort through the photos.

25 05 09 - 17:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The search for the Octagonal Hall

Koryu-ji is like an old friend to Rhod and I. It was one of the first temples we visited together, and happened to be very close to our old apartment. However, there was always something that puzzled me. Supposedly one of the oldest structures in Kyoto, where was the temple's octagonal hall? Through a mixture of misunderstanding and bad luck, every time we visited the hall was closed to the public. This time I was determined not to miss the opportunity. Open on Sundays in April, May, October and November only, there is a hefty 1,800 yen price tag for entrance to the museum and access to the hall. And was it worth it? Well, not exactly. The delicate-looking hall is surrounded by a tall wall and gate, which you are not permitted to open. In fact as you are not allowed to take photos, you must drink in the rather plain looking surrounds with your eyes. I did happen to take some photos, because I do not believe there is anything wrong with sharing history (especially as it causes no damage -the hall is outside after all- and because we did contribute about 30 pounds).

Considered the oldest temple in Kyoto, Koryu-ji (Uzumasa-dera) was founded by Hata Kawakatsu in 622, but the current buildings are of a later date. The Lecture Hall, the second oldest building (1165) in Kyoto, contains three old statues: in the center a seated figure of Buddha, flanked by figures of the Thousand-Handed Kannon and Fukukenjaku-Kannon. In the rear hall (Taishi-do, 1720) is a wooden statue of Shotoku-taishi, probably a self-portrait (606). The octagonal hall, the Keigu-in or Hakkaku-do (1251), in the northwest part of the temple precinct, contains a statue of the 16 year old Shotoku-taishi and figures of Nyoirin-Kannon (presented by a king of Korea) and Amida. There is also some fine sculpture in the temple museum (Reiho-kan), including wooden statues of the Yakushi-nyorai (864) and Miroku-bosatsu (the oldest work of sculpture in Kyoto, dating from the 6th-7th Century and said to be by Shotoku).

24 05 09 - 19:01 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gilead portraits

21 05 09 - 18:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Five years old

Kitty was five today, and her excitement levels were through the roof in spite of having the chicken pox. I am not sure how she coped all week cooped up indoors, every now and then popping her head round the door to stop me working with her insistence that running back and forth from one bedroom to another is actually a lot of fun. For the last couple of days I have been teasing her that there might be no presents, but she just looks at me and whispers every time, 'family is more important than presents'. Very cute. Her gift haul was quite impressive: Gardening Mama, Taiko no Tatsujin and Pixar's Animated Shorts. Erina laid on a feast, and the rest of the evening was spent trying to get a least a couple of photos where she wasn't pulling bizarre faces. Happy Birthday Nikita.

21 05 09 - 18:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Buddha field

'If we lived forever, if the dews of Adashino never vanished, if the crematory smoke on Toribeyama never faded, men would hardly feel the pity of things.' Yoshida Kenko (author and Buddhist monk, 1283-1350).

The fields beneath Atago-san have long been known as a burial site where bodies were left to the elements. It was Kobo Daishi (774-835) that first erected a temple here to claim the lost souls left out in the wilderness. The crudely carved jizo statues, stone buddhas and gorinto (stone pagodas) were assembled in a courtyard outside the temple, arranged as if they were listening to a sermon beneath a large stupa. The stone markers of the dead with no family left to tend their graves were also brought here, and a small stretch of land was given over as a graveyard for small children (Sai no Kawara). Honen Shonin much later (in the 12th Century) named the temple Amida Nenbutsu-ji, establishing a training centre and ploughing on with his determination that religion should be for the masses and not purely for the ruling classes.

In August, during the Obon Festival, thousands gather to light votive candles and lead the spirits of the anonymous dead back home. It is called Sento Kuyo, or Service of a Thousand Lights. Visiting the temple for the second time, with Kana, the place has an undeniable power about it, quiet in spite of the tour groups and the army of statues forever praying.

20 05 09 - 19:14 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Precarious

18 05 09 - 05:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The dancer's revenge

'Gio and her sister Gin'yo were Heian-period dancers who performed shirabyoshi (traditional Japanese dance). Gio became the mistress of Taira-no-Kiyomori (1118-81), the famous warlord. When he became smitten with another dancer with the stage name of Hotoke Gozen (Lady Buddha), he banished Gio from his palace. Gio, her mother, and her sister became nuns and moved to a humble cottage. A year later, Hotoke Gozen, now also out of favor with Kiyomori and filled with remorse for the rejected mistress, joined her at this secluded retreat.'*

All that remains of the nunnery is a tiny hermitage** with a beautiful garden carpeted in moss, the temple cats lazily sunning themselves where they please. Inside the thatched building, on either side of an image of Amida, are small figures of these women. There is also one of Kiyomori, but it is obstructed by a pillar. Perhaps this is the dancer's revenge.
(more)

17 05 09 - 22:29 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Sonobe bound train

12 05 09 - 00:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Geek squad

A fairly typical afternoon in the Thomas household. While I sit at the desk studying kanji, Kitty (4) appears with her DS Lite playing Taiko no Tatsujin and it is not long before Gilly (2) waddles in with his own DS and a selection of games. Kitty is quite skilled with the stylus, but Gilead has little idea of how to play games so instead enjoys mimicking his sister and tapping the screen. And if you know their dad, you will see that the apple hasn't fallen far from that tree.

12 05 09 - 00:54 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kotodaki

Kotodaki was so named because the flowing water echoing through the forest sounds just like a Japanese harp (koto). We arrived late in the afternoon, having spent most of the day playing in the Tanba Nature Park, so the sun had lifted out of the valley leaving only broad strokes of golden light above the canopy. Fortunately we had the place to ourselves, and although the basin has been 'manipulated' over previous years, the 40 metre waterfall remains the same. Bush warblers fill the forest with their musical song and a small shrine is illuminated further up the cliff. It was the perfect end to a lethargic day in the sun.

11 05 09 - 18:35 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Dango and squid

Rhod and I spent the first day of the holidays hunting for a daruma doll in Arashiyama (the character now -or soon to be- gracing the top of our blog). It was pretty busy with people, and annoyingly we didn't have enough cash on us so strolled about a mile down the busy Sanjo-dori hunting for an ATM in the sweltering heat. Fortunately - as Sanjo is *very* long - there was one not too far away, but on returning to the shop the lady explained the only daruma doll was the one on display. Rhod bravely argued for a discount as it was less than pristene to no avail. Lucky for the doll, I couldn't just leave it there all unloved (it is in essence Sad Sack ). With package in hand we crossed the bridge and took a stroll along the river to the small outside eatery (replete with a travelling boat shop much like that found in Zelda) and munched down on dango and grilled squid before making our way home.

11 05 09 - 04:15 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The first taste of Summer

I spent the early evening today watching re-runs of ALF. The last time I watched it must have been when I was a primary school student. You cannot argue that Japanese television is less that brilliant.

11 05 09 - 04:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Koinoburi

Being back in Japan is just a little bit strange, but this must be how things were in the colonial era, forever steaming about on boats and taking an age to arrive anywhere. I think it is fair to say that while we have changed a great deal, faces and places on the surface have not. Of course a year is a very short space of time, but our journey home seems more dream-like by the day. Slotting back into Japanese life, and essentially rebuilding the life that we had abandoned, will not be easy, but as summer fast approaches it is easy to enjoy the cool waters of the rivers and refreshing mountain air. We will not leave trips home so long this time as the absence of family and friends smarts a great deal.

Arriving in time for Golden Week and the press-panicking regarding Swine Flu, the countryside was dotted with colourful koinoburi, carp-shaped wind-socks celebrating Kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day). Erina drove us North across the mountains to the Tanba Nature Park, a landscaped playground, so that Kitty and Gil could play, and we relaxed with a picnic. I don't think we had forgotten for a second how much better the food is in Japan, though the supermarkets are tiny. And so it seems we once more set about a big, and rather insane adventure. ガんばります。

11 05 09 - 01:05 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

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

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