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kyonoki - 京のキー

Masters of the pond

Rhod, Omar, Andy and Riccardo relax on Takaragaike Pond.

28 06 09 - 06:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

S.P.E.C.T.R.E's headquarters

If you did not know that this was Kyoto's International Conference Centre (Kokuritsu Kyoto Kokusai Kaikan), made famous by the Kyoto Protocol, then you might get the distinct impression that it belongs to some shady organisation hell-bent on world domination. Almost concealed by forested hills, the center was designed by architect Sachio Otani. Utilising an unusual hexagonal framework, the resulting building has few vertical walls or columns. The centre opened in 1966 with an addition in 1973.

28 06 09 - 06:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


With Rainy Season seemingly on hold for the time being we visited Andy's home with Omar and Riccardo to drag him boating on Takaragaike Pond, which happens to be set in some beautiful parkland.

According to the blurb on the International Conference Hall website Takaragaike is a pleasant man-made irrigation lake in north Kyoto, dating from the 18th century, when it was built to supply a steady supply of water for the area's rice fields. Now there is pleasure-boating, a jogging track, cherry-blossom viewing in season and fine views of Mount Hiei.

28 06 09 - 06:19 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The temple equivalent of a Pat Butcher earring

The history that surrounds The Golden Pavilion is far more interesting than the building today, not least because only 50 years ago a deranged young novice serving at the temple burnt the pavilion down for unknown reasons. It was rebuilt after the head monk traveled the country apologising for what had happened and begging for alms. Originally a villa (Kitayamadono) owned by an aristocrat called Saionji, the property was purchased and renovated in 1397 as the political and diplomatic centre of the shogunate by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. After his death the villa became a Zen temple, Rokuon-ji, so-called after the posthumous name of Yoshimitsu. Kinkaku is a shari-den, a building holding the relics of Buddha. Rebuilt in 1955, in 1987 gold five times thicker than originally used was employed to resurface the entire structure, giving Kinkaku its gaudy finish.

One characteristic of the pavilion is that each of its three floors has a different architectural style. The first floor, called Hosui-in, was built in the early palace style and contains an altar with the image of Amida, Bodhisattva Seishi, and Yoshimitsu. The second floor, named Cho-on-do, was created in the style of a samurai house and displays the images of Sho Kannon and Shitenno. The third floor, called Kukyocho, where there is a container of sacred relics of the Buddha, was built in the Zen temple style. Many coats of lacquer were painted on the second and third floor before gold leaf was applied to the still wet surface. By using three different styles Yoshimitsu was expressing his personality and highlighting his ambitions.

The pavilion sits on a mirror lake (Kyochi-ko). Originally it was much larger and Yoshimitsu enjoyed boating amongst the many small islands (one called Ashihara is said to be in the shape of Japan). Before Kinkaku became a temple, Yoshimitsu used the villa as a place where he could conduct his political and diplomatic affairs, as well as entertain guests. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu unified the imperial family, which was split into northern and southern dynasties, and suppressed the power of influential feudal lords. He was not satisfied being just a shogun and for that reason dared to show vassal homage to the emperor of Ming Dynasty China in order to receive the title 'King of Japan' and permission to trade with China. He became guardian of the emperor and by placing a phoenix atop Kinkaku must have intended to show that he had gained power exceeding that of the emperor. After his sudden death at 51, at the peak of his career, Yoshimitsu's son (with whom he had clashed) changed most of his policies and even destroyed Kitayama-dono, leaving only Kinkaku.*

25 06 09 - 22:18 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Gildy pleasures

Love it or hate it, Kinkaku-ji is the city's greatest fake and yet unfairly king of the sightseeing spots. Made unbearable not by the sheer number of visiting students but rather the obnoxiously loud tourist guides and photographers that accompany them, the pavilion is a theme-park ride. Tourists enter an invisible conveyor belt (and sadly most of the foreigners who visit seem to be awful stereotypes of themselves), the obligatory photos are taken, souvenirs are bought and rather sooner than you would imagine you are back where you the car park. Kinkaku-ji is amazingly small, and although the grounds are pretty you cannot help but come away with the impression that somewhere during the ten minutes you were in the grounds you were somehow swindled.

So why did I visit again? Maybe to lay to rest the idea that I have in the past been bias against the pavilion. Only I come away even more angry. There are a hundred more interesting, prettier, mystical and jaw-dropping places to see in Kyoto, and most with ninety percent less people. What's more is that the golden pavilion is a quiet lie. Never in its history (although this replica is only 50 years old) was it so gold or the pond so small. And only in the last few decades has it even become popular, just proving that a bit of bling is good for bringing in the punters. Couples believe it is romantic, out-of-towners consider it the ultimate fairytale depiction of Kyoto and every school kid is dragged there as a matter of course. Each and every one of them are mad. Kinkaku-ji is sterile, too perfect to be real, too gaudy to have any meaning and an unrivaled representation of the 80s boom economy. Bah humbug!

25 06 09 - 22:04 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The abbot's quarters

Konchi-in was originally established in Kitayama (between 1394 and 1428 under a different name) by Daigo Tokki, who enjoyed the patronage of Shogun Yoshimochi Ashikaga. Ishin Suden (1569-1633) restored the temple and moved it into the spacious grounds of Nanzen-ji, making the temple into his home in 1605. Ishin, also known as Konchiin Suden, was a Zen Rinzai monk and adviser to Tokugawa Ieyasu (and later to Tokugawa Hidetada and Iemitsu) on religious matters and foreign affairs. He was called the 'prime minister in the black robe' and is credited with restoring Nanzen-ji following its destruction in the Onin Wars nearly a century earlier.

The temple garden is said to have been laid out by master gardener Kobori Enshu (1579-1647) in 1632. Unlike typical Zen temple gardens which are simple in all respects, this garden is unusually ornate. Kobori is credited with many gardens, but this is the only one with a clear record showing that he did in fact design it. The area in front of the hojo (main hall) is covered with white sand, which signifies the ocean. In the foreground is a set of three monumental stones placed in small mounds, which represent Horai, the island of immortals. In front of the hills sits the turtle island in the east and the crane island in the west, representing longevity and prosperity. The plain large stone in the centre of the garden is known as Yohai Seki, meaning the stone used to bow to the shrine from afar. The placement of this stone symbolizes an altar to Ieyasu's shrine from the Main Hall, making the garden unique in Japan. The abbot's chamber was moved here from Fushimi Castle. The sliding doors in the abbot's chamber are adorned with famous paintings by Kano Tanyu and other great artists.

25 06 09 - 02:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Scenes from Nanzen-ji

25 06 09 - 02:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Izakaya life

25 06 09 - 01:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The pervert of Konchi-in

Many foreigners who have lived in Japan have a selection of stories about intrusive Japanese strangers who, because their victim is not Japanese, believe it is okay to ask personal questions and indulge in unacceptable behavior. If you take away stories involving alcohol, in eight years I have never felt that anyone has treated me badly or abused me. Until today. I had decided to visit Kochi-in early before the rush of tourists that pour everyday into Nanzen-ji's grounds, and sure enough I had the entire gardens to myself.

I asked for a single ticket and paid the entrance fee. Things seemed off kilter from the onset. Usually the attendants are polite, ask if you would like an English pamphlet and gesture you off in the right direction, but this time the old man in the hut took his time finding my change. He was in his early 60s, had mostly swept back grey hair (at one time dyed black to retain an air of youthfulness) and large glasses, nothing untoward. He asked me if I was alone, which I thought strange as I had asked for one ticket and it was clear there was nobody about. Quickly he began firing questions that were easy to follow. Where was I from? How long was I in Japan for? What was I doing here? Did I have a girlfriend? The last question is not unusual or really intrusive in the slightest so I shook my head.

All the time he was checking the coast was clear, I became more and more uncomfortable. His Japanese became too fast for me to catch everything, and as he kept repeating one sentence over and over I sensed it was perhaps less than polite. It was. He was asking if I had had sex with Japanese women, and how many times I had had sex recently. Snatching up the change and ticket I ignored him. He tried to grab my wrist, but I was too quick. Before I entered the inner garden's gate he was shouting out after me and gesturing furiously with one hand...

I was so stunned that I had to email Rhod. The whole experience ruined my enjoyment of the gardens and shrine, filling me with a mixture of anger and slight concern because there was literally no-one else about. By the time I circled the grounds back to the entrance gate, I was plotting to run him over with my bike. When I reached the small hut, I found him waiting at the gate. Where was everyone? He asked if I would like a photo taken. I declined and went to push past, but he moved in front prodding my forearm. He said that I had quite a bit of muscle, so in response I said that actually I had gotten too fat recently. Enough was enough. I hurried off. In that instance he came running up and attempted to cup my crotch, causing me to spin and literally stop him with one hand. He was still smiling, so I told him to f*** off and the expression on my face must have convinced him to retreat.

Now that I am safely sat in front of my computer I have a strange combination of feelings. While I never felt in any danger, I am disappointed by this man's actions. While I feel that it was not assault per se, it makes me concerned for others that follow in my stead. Of course there are perverts in any country, and I certainly feel no different about the city or people in general. If anything it is a story to tell, and I promise, if I see him again I *will* run him over with my bike.

25 06 09 - 00:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


25 06 09 - 00:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Oike Part 2

About half way along Oike's length runs Karasuma street, which leads from the Western wall of the Imperial Palace all the way down to Kyoto Station. It is one of the most expensive pieces of land in the city.

Karasuma-dori: This street was known as Karasumarukoji during the Heian era. Owing to the wars of Onin and Bunmei it was devastated, but was later reconstructed by Toyotomi. Many mansions of the nobles and houses of commoners were located along this street. Since the Meiji period, it has become one of Kyoto's main streets following the construction of Kyoto station and the opening of the streetcar line.

Kurumayacho-dori: Built during Toyotomi's major reconstruction. As many wagon drivers and Kurumakajiya (cart-makers) lived in the South part of this street, it was named Kurumayacho (town of wagon shop) dori.

Ainomachi-dori: Built during the major reconstruction in 1590. As this street was built between Takakurakoji and Higashinotoin-oji, it was named Ainomachi (town located between) dori.

Higashinotoin-dori: Known as Higashinotoin-oji during the Heian period. Destroyed in the Onin War, it was reconstructed during Toyotomi's revival of Kyoto. Toin means the house of the abdicated emperor. Toin such as Kaya-in, Takakura-in and Kazan-in were located near this street.

Takakura-dori: Known as Takakurakoji during the Heian era. As Yorimichi Fujiwara's second house, the Takakuraden, was located here, it was called Takakura dori. In the Middle Ages many traders with storehouses such as sake breweries, pawnshops, and oil dealers were situated along this street. Owing to the wars of Onin and Bunmei, the street was destroyed and later rebuilt by Toyotomi.

Sakaimachi-dori: Built during the major reconstruction of Kyoto in the 1590s. Since there were few houses at the time and the street formed the boundary between the city and the countryside, it was named Sakaimachi (the town of the boundary) dori. The south side of Nijo was called Zaimokucho-dori and the area near Shijo-dori was called Kameyatsukinuke street.

Yanaginobanba-dori: Known as Madenokoji during the Heian period. Devastated during the Onin War, Toyotomi reconstructed it in 1590. The street was named Yanaginobanba (a riding ground with willows) dori, since there was a beautiful row of willows around the brothels, with were located around Nijo street at the time. According to another theory, the reason for this name is that the willows were planted when Umazoroe (inspection of horses) were held during the extraordinary festival of Hokoku.

Tominokoji-dori: Built during Toyotomi's major reconstruction. The mansions of the nobles and a court noble were situated along this street. Therefore, this street was named Tominokoji (mansion of a court noble) dori.

Fuyacho-dori: Known as Tominokoji during the Heian era. Many mansions were situated along this street. Owing to the Onin War, the street was destroyed and later reconstructed in 1590. As many merchants dealing in tofu, fu and noodles lived there, this street was renamed Fuyacho (town of fu shop) dori.

Gokomachi-dori: Built during Toyotomi's reinvention of Kyoto. Hideyoshi passed along this street to go to the imperial palace. For this reason, it has been named Gokomachi (town emperor passing) drive. Another theory was that the Emperor himself passed along this street.

Teramachi-dori: Known as Higashikyogokuoji during the Heian period. Because of the major reconstruction of Kyoto, which was carried out from about 1590 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the scattered temples in the city were forced to move to the east side of the street (a convenient way to limit their powers). Therefore, this street was named Teramachi (temple town) dori.

Kawaramachi-dori: This street was built at the beginning of the Edo era, at the same time as the excavation of the Takase Canal and the construction of the new bank along the Kamogawa River. As the parade of the Aoi Matsuri passes along the northern part of this street, the northern part was called Mikurumamichi (wagon road) and the southern part of Nijo street was called Suminokura-dori during the Edo era (Suminokura no Ryoi was the architect behind the Takase Canal). This street has become a major street of Kyoto because of the close vicinity of City Hall and major hotels. Furthermore, after the Meiji era, it also had the advantage of a streetcar line and wide streets.

Kiyamachi-dori: Built in the Edo period at the same time as the excavation of the Takase Canal. Many commodities such as firewood, charcoal and lumber were brought to this street from various regions, and there were many shops dealing in these commodities. Therefore, this street was named Kiyamachi (town of lumber dealers) dori.

Thanks for listening ladies and gents.

24 06 09 - 23:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Toshogu Shrine

Having escaped a rather awkward situation in which the garden attendant of Kochi-in tried to molest me (more on this in a future post, and I am not kidding) I found myself alone in the Toshogu Shrine. A few years ago I remember fleeing a giant hornet buzzing around the shrine grounds with Etsuyo. She had been accompanying me, not buzzing around the grounds.

There are dozens of Toshogu shrines across the country, the most famous in Nikko, each deifying the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). After his death he instructed his subjects to construct the temples in important towns in remembrance of his reign. Kyoto's Toshogu Shrine was built in 1628 by Ishin Suden, the mausoleum made in the gongenzukuri style and the only example of gongen-style architecture in Kyoto.

24 06 09 - 23:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Oike Part 1

Every day I cycle down Kyoto's main West to East avenue, Oike-dori, but rarely think about the narrow streets I pass by or the history behind their names. Today I decided to take the effort to find out more about the area. Oike was reportedly named after Shinsen-en garden, originally part of the imperial pleasure gardens south of the first palace built in Heian-kyo, and in recent years has become a broad thoroughfare with leafy sidewalks, designer stores and expensive office space. Book-ended by the Kamo River in the East and Senbon-dori to the West, Oike-dori is one of the busiest streets in Kyoto and runs past the mock-gothic city hall. Most of you will probably want to move on, but for those of you interested in the history of Kyoto's checker board streets then read on. The roads described run from North to South* (read more for The Song of the Streets of Kyoto), dissected neatly by Oike in the modern centre of the city. I have taken Horikawa (to the West) as a starting reference.

Horikawa-dori: This street is equivalent to the Horikawakoji, which was built during the Heian era. During this period, the Horikawa river was the waterway for the transport of commodities and the streets on either side of the river were named the Higashi (East) Horikawa-dori and the Nishi (West) Horikawa-dori. There was a market for the lumber brought in from Tanba through Katsuragawa and many merchants dealing in lumber, lived there.

Aburanokoji-dori: This street is equivalent to the Aburanokoji, which was built during the Heian era. At the time, it was the longest street crossing the city in a North-South direction. People went to Fushimi via Fushimikaido and this street.

Ogawa-dori: This street was built after the big reconstruction of Kyoto, carried out from about 1590 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. As a stream flowed into the Horikawa river at the North-West side of the Ichijo-dori, it was named the Ogawa (the stream) dori.

Nishinotoin-dori: This street is the equivalent to the Nishinotoinoji, built during the Heian era. The Nishinotoin river flows alongside this street and many dyers who used this river for dyeing lived there. The paper called 'Nishinotoinshi' was famous as a speciality of the district.

Kamanza-dori: This street was built during the big reconstruction of Kyoto, carried out from about 1590 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. As many craftsmen who cast cauldrons lived near the Sanjo-dori, the street was named the Kamanza (cauldron shop) dori.

Shinmachi-dori: This street was known as Machijirikoji during the Heian era. The public market declined from the middle of the Heian period. Fairs were held at the intersections of this street and this area developed as a new business centre. After Toyotomi reconstructed Kyoto, this street was called Shinmachi (new town) dori.

Koromonotana-dori: This street was built after Toyotomi's major reconstruction of the city in 1590. As there were many shops dealing in Buddhist priests' stoles, it was named Koromonotana (shop of Buddhist priests' stoles) dori.

Muromachi-dori: This street was known as Muromachikoji at the time of Heian-kyo's establishment. It was because Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga chose to build the Flower Palace (the Muromachi Shogunate's headquarters) on this street, that the name of a single street came to be known as the name of an era. During the Muromachi era, Muromachikoji was lined with wealthy merchant shops. This area was devastated twice by the Onin and Bunmei Wars, but was first to be revived.

Ryogaemachi-dori: Built after the major reconstruction. Since it was the financial business centre line with Ginza (the mint) and Ryogaeya (an exchange office), it was named Ryogaemachi (town of exchange) dori. The people who engaged themselves in the financial business prospered during the Genroku era and their life style was called the Ryogaemachi style.

24 06 09 - 21:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


20 06 09 - 08:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


After yesterday's Summer squall, today promises to be the hottest day so far of the year. Not wanting to be out in the sun too long, I took the short ride down Horikawa and across Kujo to To-ji, the tallest pagoda in Japan and a site yet again linked to Emperor Kanmu and the founding of the city. The spacious grounds attract two market days (Kobo-san -named after Kukai- is the larger of the two), but for the rest of the time the huge precinct is the perfect place for fresh air or a short rest beneath one of the large ginko trees. As the temple is so close to Kyoto Station and so many major railway lines and a highway, it is surprising how the raucous city slips away no sooner than you have passed through the gates.

After transferring the capital from Nara to Nagaoka, and after several years of bad-luck and misfortune from Nagaoka to present-day Kyoto, Emperor Kanmu decided to model his new capital on that of Changan, the Imperial seat of China. Either side of the Rajomon (the great Southern gateway into the city) he constructed two guardian temples: To-ji (East Temple) and Sai-ji (West Temple - now lost to time). Thirty years later and Emperor Saga honoured Kukai (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) with To-ji and renamed the complex Kyo-o-gokoku-ji (The Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines). Kukai greatly increased the size of the temple, adding many buildings and training halls, and in 826 he constructed the 187 metre pagoda, for which (at least to tourists) To-ji is now most famed for, and which Kyoto is often represented by. The pagoda burnt down 4 times after lightning struck its roof, but the current structure is from 1644.

There is much more to see, many other buildings and priceless statues, but for today I called it a wrap and took a slow cycle back home.

18 06 09 - 22:10 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The free To-ji

Not all parts of To-ji come with a hefty entrance fee, proving that there is still much to see without emptying your pockets completely.

18 06 09 - 21:51 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Patience will be rewarded

18 06 09 - 21:46 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

To-ji turtles

The amazing sunbathing turtles of To-ji. Every now and then the peace is broken when a turtle emerges from the water and attempts to toss rival sunbathers into the water to win prime place on the tiny rock.

18 06 09 - 21:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


A couple of years back the Japanese Summer was punctuated by ferocious electrical storms, nothing new but strangely frequent and intense. In the Guardian a few days ago came reports that towns up and down the Japanese islands (Ishikawa, Hiroshima and Shizuoka prefectures all reported incidents) were reporting tadpoles and even fish in the rain, though meteorologists could not scientifically explain what was happening. While scientists suggested the creatures could have fallen from the beaks of startled birds or been swept up in water funnels during freak weather, the arguments appear weak at best. One man found a 3cm long crucian carp in his garden while another found 20-20 flopping tadpoles on his windscreen and, on further inspection, another 100 tadpoles spread over 200 metres of parking lot. The mystery is so far unsolved.

Today Kyoto suffered a fast and violent storm that took the city by complete surprise. The day started out like any other, sunny but with a chance of clouds sweeping in towards the afternoon. As it is rainy season, dull skies and mugginess are nothing new. A butterfly had somehow found its way into our 10th floor apartment, so I caught it in a cup and released it onto the balcony. Looking West I could see a spiky cloud flying low into the city, thunder drumming away in the distance, but thought nothing of it. A little lightning does wonders for relieving the humidity of the city.

The next twenty minutes were to be an eye-opener and more than a little frightening at times. Although the neighbouring buildings are of a similar height, our balcony towers over most of the houses and shops of West Kyoto, and so I was to get a brilliant view of the storm as it sailed in from the South. As the thunder approached, the day darkened enough to turn on the automatic street lighting across the city. Lightning flashed, striking something towards the Saiin area of town and I decided to switch off the computer. Brown-grey clouds slowly overshadowed the city, and to the South, ward by ward, the buildings and houses became invisible behind what I thought to be a bank of fog. It was not fog, it was torrential rain brought on a driving wind, fat drops that blinded and hurt when they struck the skin.

The storm was short, but it was exceptionally violent and it is easy to imagine tadpoles and small carp caught up in the maelstrom. It is little wonder that hundreds of years ago men and women saw such events as a portent of doom.

18 06 09 - 01:21 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The newly established shrine

Imamiya is one of my favourite shrines, dwarfed by the temple town of Daitoku-ji and almost hidden by immense trees, visible only as a splash of red in the green. Early in the morning very few people were about, and most of those present were work-men resting in the shade and having a late breakfast.

Originally founded in 994 on the Northern slopes of Funaoka, the shrine was moved only a few years later (1001) in response to an epidemic that had struck Kyoto the year before. Three gods (Daikokuten, god and symbol of the earth; Ebisu, god of the sea and prosperous business; and Kushiinadahime-no-mikoto, a goddess of the paddy fields) were enshrined in an attempt to protect Emperor Ichijo from sickness. A festival (Yasurai Matsuri - held in April as this was the time of year when the sakura petals fall) was created as a means to scare off petrels through music and dance. It was believed the birds flying around with cherry blossoms in their beaks were spreading the disease. During the festivities, people costumed as goblins or red and black devils jump and dance to the music of beating drums and flutes. It is said that festival participants won't become ill if they pass beneath a special long-handled, decorated umbrella. Yasurai Matsuri is the first festival of the year in Kyoto (where everything begins in spring) and it is also said that the weather will be fine for all of the year's festival days in Kyoto if the skies are clear when Yasurai Matsuri is held.

Inside the grounds is a housed rock called ahokashisan thought to have magical curative properties. If a person rubs the stone and then rubs an injured area of their body, it is said that they will heal quicker than normal. Furthermore, if a person taps the stone three times, then lifts it, the stone will feel heavy. Afterwards, if the same person strokes the stone three times while making a wish and then lifts it for a second time and the stone feels light, it is said that their wish will be granted.

17 06 09 - 22:46 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


17 06 09 - 22:39 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

True North

Funaoka Hill was used a reference guide for architects when they came to construct the new capital of Heian-kyo. The court diviners believed that great natural powers gathered on the hillside, and therefore they instructed the Emperor to build the main government buildings on the south side of the hill, and a main street (Suzaku-oji) in a straight line from this point as the spine of the new city.The original imperial palace was placed directly south of the hill, though successive fires gradually pushed the city further to the East, leaving the West mostly derelict marsh.

A myth later grew up from Funaoka regarding how the kitsune became the messengers and guardians of the Inari Shrines*. During the Onin Wars Funaoka served as a Western base. Following the rebellion at Honno-ji (1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi set up the hill as a memorial to his dead master Oda Nobunaga (the shrine still holds many of Oda's valuable possessions). In 1869 the Emperor Meiji set up the Takeisao Shrine (Kenkun-jinja) to Nobunaga (one of the three great unifiers of Japan) and in 1910 it was moved from the East of the hill to its top.

17 06 09 - 21:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Waiting for Daimonji

17 06 09 - 21:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Journey to Shoren-in Dainichi-do

Road signs are fairly international, but as I am not a driver some of them are completely nonsensical to me. Pushing my bike up the steep road that snakes to Shogun-zuka, I passed one sign that seemed to suggest that two-wheeled vehicles are banned between the hours of nine and seven. There was no further explanation of whether that was morning or afternoon, and although there was no sidewalk does that necessarily prohibit walking? Two minutes into my climb I was passed by both motorbike and jogger, but rather than set my mind at ease I worried the whole way that I was breaking the law and helicopters would swoop in and pick me up.

Having abandoned the trek on Saturday with Rhod, I was determined to finish the hike alone today, though there were a few times in the shadeless 31 degrees heat that I considered turning back. The road from Keage Station winds steeply through forest, quickly leaving the city far below. Strangely the first thing of any note was an abandoned Aqua-Park, mostly intact though the pools had muddied and weeds poked through the concrete. The saddest thing is that with its slides and diving boards looking over untouched mountains it would be the perfect escape from the summer heat and Kyoto desperately needs more swimming pools. I have no idea why it had been left to rot. Possibly the company went bust.

Twenty minutes later and the road forked, taking me past dozens of vans lined up with sleeping inhabitants. I parked and locked my bike, finally discovering the hiking tracks that would have been easier to use but were frustratingly absent from my map. I had the entire Shogun-zuka to myself, though the car-park was again filled with running vehicles, men sprawled in the air-conditioned front seats. A group of men had gathered round a tethered cat lapping up water, giving the stretch of lawns an unreal feel. With heli-pad and picnic tables, I imagine the mountain top is flooded with people come the weekend. For now and I had the view-point to myself.

16 06 09 - 23:53 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Shogun-zuka (the General's Mound)

Still searching for a suitable place to build his new capital, the Emperor Kanmu climbed to the top of a hill to get a better view of the flat plains sandwiched between the ancient shrines of Kamigamo and Matsuo. Looking down at the fields and villages, he decided that he would relocate the Imperial Palace from Nagaoka to this spot and construct a new capital based upon the great Chinese city of Xian. Of course there were more realistic reasons for choosing the spot, not least the money of the Hata family, the influence of the Kamo clan and the suggestions of Wake no Kiyomaru, but it is a romantic story and the beginning of what was to become one of the world's greatest cities.

With the construction of Heian-kyo well under way in 793, Kanmu had a mound piled up on top of the mountain he had first viewed his new home from. A 2.5 metre tall clay statue was clothed in armor, armed with a bow and arrow, and buried facing the city. The entombed general was to provide the city with protection. Legend says that since the late Heian period, the mound has rumbled in warning of impending disasters. The Genpei Seisuiki tells of how the mound rumbled three times in July 1179, the year before Minamoto-no-Yoritomo took up arms, in a series of warnings that was soon followed by a great earthquake. Shogun-zuka was also used in battle, first as a camp for the rebel force of Nitta Yoshisada in 1338 (who was later defeated by the shogunate force of Ashikaga Takauji) and much later to house the anti-aircraft guns of WWII.

The mound remains, protected behind a rotting wooden fence, keeping watch over a city that while modern and sprawling is still recognizably the imperial capital of old. Tobo Sojo, the Japanese astronomer, artist-monk, and the son of Minamoto-no-Takakuni, drew inspiration from Shogun-zuka in his scroll paintings and although it is not certain, many credit him with the Choju Jimbutsu Giga (a scroll of frolicking frogs and rabbits dressed in Heian costume).

16 06 09 - 23:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Imperial City

Handing over my 500 yen to a particularly friendly monk, I passed through the rather over-stuffed gardens of Shoren-nin and onto an ugly metal and concrete viewing platform. The gardens were designed by Kinsaku Nakane and are relatively new (10 years or so), doing their best to hide the modern developments that now scar and overshadow the ancient mound I had come to see. I find it amusing that the gardens try so hard to express mountains, hills, rivers, bridges, forests and pastorals scenes when all of this is on offer below for real. Several of the pine trees were planted by Admiral Togo Heihachiro and General Kuroki Tamemoto.

I was the only person at Shogun-zuka which was quite nice as I got to explore without worrying about whether I should be climbing here or there. The view from the platform is quite extraordinary, the entire city laid neatly out beneath you. From up here you can see the wooded rectangle of the Imperial Park, the sandy slash of the Kamo-gawa and the turtle-like humps of Yoshida and Funaoka Hills. Temple roofs rise above the carpet of houses and gridded roads, and on the mountains the shapes that will make up the send-off fires of Daimonji silently look down. It was peaceful and refreshing, and my mind boggled to think that not half an hour before I was swerving through traffic and listening the bustling chatter of the city.

Shoren-in Dainichi-do was constructed fairly recently in the Meiji era, when a stone image of the Dainichi Buddha (perhaps originally from Kachoin Temple) was discovered at the top of the hill, now landscaped into gardens. A Buddhist chapel was created to house the statue. People in the Heian period considered that their capital was a Mandala made reality (a symbolic representation of the cosmos), the hill at the centre of their universe and the statue of Buddha the centre of the Mystical and Spiritual World. Angkor Wat is formed on similar plans and beliefs.

16 06 09 - 23:16 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


The rakan ('enlightened beings'), were the original disciples of the historical Buddha and possessors of supernatural power and the wisdom of Buddha. They are traditionally represented in groups of sixteen, and sometimes five hundred. They were popular in China in the Song and Yuan dynasties, and Japanese depictions of them are often in the Chinese style.

Otagi-Nenbutsu-ji has a lot of them!

16 06 09 - 23:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Just as I was about to sigh with relief having survived the trek down from Shogun-zuka with crazy drivers hurtling round corners, than I stumbled upon this snake sunning himself in the dry drainage channel. Because I was so terrified I was not able to get a close up view, so this will have to do. He was an extraordinary colour, probably longer than I am tall. No, I didn't scream...because I was alone.

16 06 09 - 22:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The goddess cave

Despite having all its records burnt during the Onin Wars, tradition has it that Himukai Daijingu was founded sometime in the reign of Emperor Kenzou (the 23rd emperor) in the 5th century. During the Edo period the Tokaido entered Kyoto close to the shrine precinct and so it was popular with visitors praying for safety in travel, but once a new highway was constructed to the south the shrine was mostly forgotten. Himukai is a hidden gem, its buildings reconstructed in the traditional style beneath a crumbling cliff of rose-orange rock. Above the precinct is small cave called Ama-no-Iwato bringing luck to those who make the short, dark journey through.

Dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the small cave recalls the legend of the goddess hiding in a cave. I have visited the shrine twice, and on both occasions have been the only visitor. Maybe that is a good thing.

16 06 09 - 22:43 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


16 06 09 - 22:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


More photos of Otagi-Nenbutsu-ji's rakan statues. めっちゃかわいい。

16 06 09 - 21:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kamo Wakeikazuchi Shrine

To clear my head I packed my bag full of bottled water and cycled North from the front entrance of our temporary apartment. Twenty minutes later and the Kamo river cut across my path marking the end of Horikawa Avenue. In the shade of the Kamigamo Shrine's stables I sat and caught my breath, idling away lunchtime on one of the few grassy areas in Kyoto, set aside for the horse riding and archery competitions held on festival days.

The Kamo Shrine is older than the city itself*, well established by the Kamo family before Emperor Kanmu was lured to the plains by the financial incentives of the great silk-weaving Hata clan. From the moment construction began on the new capital, the aristocratic families gravitated to the shrine, dedicated as it was to the pacification and preservation of the nation. The buildings we see today took their original form in the 11th century, though the entire complex was reconstructed faithfully in 1628 after years of decay. The main hall (honden) has been rebuilt seven times since, the last time in 1863.

After Kyoto became the capital in 794, the shrine was headed by an imperial priestess (the Kamo Virgin) in the same manner as the Grand Shrine of Ise. The shrine is dedicated to a deity who appeared miraculously when Tama-yori-hime-no-mikoto, the daughter of Kamo-taketsu-numi-no-mikoto of the ruling clan of Kamo, went to the Kamo river to perform purification ceremonies. At first the deity was enshrined on a stone altar atop the peak of Ko-yama. The mountain was regarded as sacred, and therefore later religious rites were performed on pure grounds at the South-Eastern foot of the mountain.

The shrine is perhaps today best know for Kamo-sai on May 15th. The Kamo-sai is one of the three biggest imperial festivals in Japan and the most important festival of the shrine. Since aoi (hollyhocks) are offered at the festival, and all the shrine buildings and attendants are decorated with hollyhocks, the event is also known as the Aoi Matsuri "Hollyhock Festival". According to the chronicle Kamo Engi (History of Kamigamo-jinja), the festivals originated at the time of the Emperor Kinmei (539-571), when the country was suffering a spell of disastrous weather. Even today, the Emperor sends a messenger who worships on his behalf. The procession of this festival includes 500 people and is 800 metres long.

15 06 09 - 05:04 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Irises gone

Disappointed, I discovered that I had arrived too late to see the ancient iris field -Ohta-no-sawa- in bloom. Although a lush carpet of leaves was left, only a few sad purple and white flowers poked their heads through, already shriveling in the sun. The rabbit-ear irises (kakitsubata) are a protected species (since 1938) and can only be found in any volume at three spots in Japan. Ohta Shrine is one of them. Besides inspiring many paintings and poems, this flower has a medical use. After the flower has bloomed, the leaves are cut and bundled and added to the family bath to purge the body of impurities. The flower blooms twice, so you are sure to see several hundred in bloom anytime during the month of May. Something my guidebook failed to tell me.*

Ohta is a beautiful shrine, clinging to the hillside behind the Kamo Shrine and swamped by the soaring cypress trees that almost hide it from the road. Ohta Shrine's iris pond is very old and more than a thousand years have passed since this kind of garden was the most popular design style of the day. Known from a Heian-era poem (though the origins of the shrine are lost to time), the Ohta Shrine irises bloom every May/early June. The island at the centre of the pond is known as the 'Floating Isle' after the isle of the Chinese immortals. The pond was originally part of a marsh known as Ohta-no-sawa. The Heian poet Fujiwara no Toshinari referred to the Ohta irises in the following verse:

Mountain of gods, irises of Ohta marsh, people's deepest wishes can be seen in their color.

Amenouzume,known as a god of good harvest, is enshrined at Ohta. She also happens to be god of dance and the performing arts, which might help to explain why their are so many prayers for success in the acting field at the shrine.

15 06 09 - 04:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Revival Bridge and the revival of Horikawa

Ichijo Modori Bridge once linked the estates of Abe Seimei (the leading diviner at court during the Heian Period) to the Imperial Palace. It had been well known as a mysterious place where the skin dividing our world and the realm of the mystical is particularly thin, and perhaps because it was closely linked to Seimei the stories associated with it grew in prominence.

In 918 the renowned professor of literature, Kiyotsura Miyoshi, died. Upon hearing of his father's death, Kiyotsura's son Jozo hurried back to the capital from his posting in Kishu-Kumano, but arrived too late to see his father's body one last time. The funeral procession was already underway, and he found the group as they passed over the bridge at Ichijo. Throwing himself onto the coffin, Jozo prayed to the gods that he might speak was his father one last time. Remarkably his father awoke to exchange a few words of farewell, and afterwards locals called the bridge Modori, the 'Revival Bridge'.

Today while the sun was shining, I decided to cycle the length of Horikawa. Only a few weeks ago a new park was opened on a site that was previously an ugly concrete canal, little more than a choked stream topped with tonnes of concrete. The new landscaping, benches and water features come after 24 years of campaigning by a local group and at a cost of 18 million dollars. It is hoped, through the redevelopment of Horikawa, that tourism will be brought back to the area about Nijo-jo. Originally the canal was constructed when the capital was established (about 1200 years ago), transporting lumber and farming produce before giving way to the dyeing industries that settled about Nishijin. Horikawa was known to run with colour from the local industries. Come WWII and the street was widened, many residents ejected so that a firebreak could be created in case of attack by the American Air Force. By 1950 and the fate of the river seemed complete. Known as Dobugawa 'Ditch River', the sewers that ran aside the waterway would regularly back up and flood the channel with effluent.

After war-time the government continued its mad rush of flood defenses, coming in the wake of such disasters as the devastating flooding of Kobe during the war. Horikawa was literally buried under concrete, the channel constricted to a bare few inches and the avenue scarred for half a century. The regeneration of the area is something very positive, and instantly makes the main street feel friendlier and more welcoming.

15 06 09 - 02:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sacred ground

Having moved back into the city, I wasted no time test-driving my new bicycle by pounding up and down Kyoto's checker-board of streets. As happens when the day is filled with cotton-puff clouds and faded blue skies, I found myself drawn to Kamigamo's picturesque neighbourhood. Extremely old and prosperous, the area is well known for the intimacy of the community it forms: the priests, their descendants, the local shop keepers and the local children.

The large torii gate for Kamigamo shrine stands at the southern end of a huge lawn-covered approach that leads to the main buildings. On either side of the gate is a sign. The left-hand sign warns visitors not to ride horses, catch birds or fish, uproot bamboo or disturb the sand-raked patterns that they will encounter the shrine grounds (so far so good). The right-hand sign has huge red numbers on it that indicated the so-called 'dangerous' or unlucky years for men and women: women on the left column, men on the right (thirty-three for women, forty-two for men ).

Although the small horse hut close to the second torii was empty today, on special occasions you might well see a white horse tethered there. In the old days, the Japanese emperor rode a white horse, and the one at this shrine acts as a kind of mascot for the god of the shrine. Inside the inner courtyard of the shrine are two tall white, cone-shaped sand piles. These piles echo the shape of the so-called mountain (more of a low hill really) behind the shrine's Main Hall, where the god is said to have descended to from heaven. The Kamigamo Shrine is one of the most popular in the country for holding weddings but for the morning I had the entire grounds to myself.*

15 06 09 - 02:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Keitai view (part 3)

Womb Wanted? Apparently a hairdressers rather than a surrogacy agency.

14 06 09 - 00:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Peeping Tom

As I was taking a shower this morning, I noticed this little chap relaxing on the glass slats of the window. Cheeky bugger.

14 06 09 - 00:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Keitai view (part 2)

11 06 09 - 02:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


Today it is pouring with rain, but the weather forecaster has pronounced that tsuyu does not begin until tomorrow. Apparently today's rain is not Rainy Season rain.

11 06 09 - 02:01 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

The wilds of Kameoka

There is a lot to like about Kameoka and a lot to dislike. As new toy-town houses carpet the old farmland, the city is modernising and swelling at an alarming rate, desirable for young families, cheap and within easy reach of Kyoto. Yet for all of this urbanisation (and for the time being at least), a few minutes walk from your front door still takes you deep into the countryside, a green palette rice paddies, mountain hikes and lazy rivers. Which all in all makes Kameoka a contradiction...a town that has not quite lost its quaintness but is slowly succumbing to the blank face of twenty-first century Japan.

11 06 09 - 02:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Keitai View (part 1)

Odds and ends from my cell-phone. The hamster is called Celery, looking very happy in her new cage.

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

Flood plain

Why do we have a fascination with disasters? The whole time I played with Kitty and Gilead beneath the Hiyoshi Dam I was thinking about the final act of Superman the Movie, when an explosion triggers a massive earthquake that results in Jimmy Olsen hanging from a crumbling dam. The only difference being that should there be a disaster, Superman would not be on hand to reverse the motion of the planetary spin and thus turn back time.

We had a nice time running between golf flags until Erina remembered it was Ballet Class and we rushed back to the car.

08 06 09 - 21:29 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The girl who couldn't remember when she was born

When I met Tomomi for a coffee a few days before her birthday she insisted she was about to become 38. Well it seems that in her old age, she has gotten the years completely mixed up and is in fact a year younger. I suppose you could call this something to celebrate, but I rather think it might be reason to cut back on the red wine. Happy Birthday Tomi!

08 06 09 - 20:25 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Gorge

Close to Umahori Station, the Hozu River leaves the flat plains of Tamba and enters the mountain range that fences Kyoto. As early as 1606 merchants were navigating the rapids to carry wood and rice into the city. Sumi no Kura Ryoi (1554-1614), a noted and prosperous hydraulic engineer, scholar and merchant is credited with completing the massive river control works that opened up the Hozu Gorge for trade, though the only boats you are likely to see nowadays are those belonging to the Hozugawa Kudari and helmeted white-water rafters.

08 06 09 - 02:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A day in life of the Gilead

03 06 09 - 22:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


01 06 09 - 03:27 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

When statues ruled the world

Otagi Temple is a long way from the Otagi district in Higashiyama, and it is really down to misfortune that the small complex came to be relocated and re-branded. Founded by Emperor Shotoku in the mid-eighth century for the Shingon sect, the temple was washed away by the flood-prone Kamo River. Later, Senkan Naigu, a priest of the Tendai sect, rebuilt the main hall. Because he was known as Nenbutsu-shonin, the temple was called Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. The Onin War once more destroyed the buildings, but again they were rebuilt and the Hiyoke Jizo Bosatsu (carved in the Heian period) was enshrined in the hall to protect the city against fire.

Fast forward to 1922 and modernization was threatening the existence of the temple. To preserve the buildings, everything was meticulously transferred to a site just behind the main entrance to Atago-san. All of this pales into insignificance when you visit the temple, because between 1981 and 1991 worshipers carved and donated 1,200 rakan (followers of Buddha) statues, all of which now sit in the grounds. Unlike the austere and often serious Buddhist statues you find in most temples, the rakan are an unusual bunch, often smiling and many looking more alien than human. The statue invasion adds an otherworldly air to the pretty little temple, and despite its slight inaccessibility, Otagi is one of the must-see attractions in Sagano.

01 06 09 - 03:24 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Your house is on fire!

01 06 09 - 03:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Home of Nintendo

Hiroshi Yamauchi made Nintendo as we know it today. It has long been a goal of mine to visit his house as some form of nerdy, stalker-like pilgrimage. On locating his home today, it turns out Ki and I have been past the area in which he lives many times. I had always assumed Yamauchi would live somewhere more remote and deeper into Kyoto's mountains, but actually he has settled for command over a huge block of prime Higashiyama real estate. By western standards, it's not such a big plot. By Japanese standards, it's enormous. It's surrounded by high trees, solid walls, spiked fences and grills.

When we pulled up to the front of the Yamauchi house, his driver was waiting at the beautiful main gate. He looked at Ki and I somewhat knowingly, with a grin; this is a regular sight-seeing spot for geeks and tourists on guide-walks. Being one of the three richest men in Japan, I guess it's common for people to stop and stare at Yamauchi's house. Luckily for my stalking project, the driver was awaiting a delivery. For the brief moments the main gate was opened I could see in to the front of the house and garden. In appearance, a beautifully maintained traditional Japanese house. Greens and browns and greys. I was feeling pretty awkward by this point though, having circled the block on my bike three times already, so I didn't stick around and stare for long.

So, it was a brief trip to the home of one of Japan's most powerful and influential businessmen, and perhaps the closest thing to royalty the games industry has. A brief trip, but a very exciting and satisfying one, not least because I have now crossed off the last of my gaming pilgrimage destinations.

01 06 09 - 00:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §


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


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