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kyonoki - 京のキー

Snapshots of Cuba

My mum and dad are back from a hurricane-season Cuba. They were lucky to mostly escape the wind and rain, but the days were frustratingly overcast. This is their second visit, and my dad especially loves the place. It's a shame most of his photos are wonky and out of focus. Someone needs a new camera!

30 11 09 - 18:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Not to be outshined

This photo is of the tiny maple sapling outside my mum and dad's front door. Its leaves had just turned when I arrived in the UK and thought it strange how there is a lot of colour about British autumns that we tend to overlook.

27 11 09 - 17:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kana and the red bridge

For the first time in many months I managed to catch up with Kana. Soon she will be starting a new job as pastry chef and our lazy lunches will become all too rare. We took our midday meal at the popular Iyemon Salon and spent a leisurely afternoon walking through the drizzle around Shinsen-en Gardens. We had intended to view the autumnal colours inside Nijo Castle but the gates close very early in Winter and so we made do with comfortable chairs and gingerbread lattes in Starbucks.

24 11 09 - 01:59 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Shades of cinnabar

Rhod was happily surprised to discover the word cinnabar today. As vermilion and cinnabar are both town names (and indeed both similar shades of red) in Pokemon, it suddenly clicked that the makers were clearly influenced by the bright red paint used on Japanese shrines. According to Japanese folk belief, red is the color for 'expelling demons and illness'. Many of Nintendo's works have been greatly influenced by the culture and history of Kyoto, and such motifs as Zelda's Triforce can be seen around the city in the unlikeliest of places, their meaning borrowed to add texture to the mythos of the game.

22 11 09 - 22:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Autumn at Yoshida

It is very difficult to find somewhere in the city good for photographing autumn foliage and free from crowds during November, but we took the chance that Yoshida Shrine would be relatively quiet and fortunately it was. The streets around Kyoto University were absolutely thronged with students attending culture day celebrations, but a little way East and the hillside was peaceful. With a booming accompaniment of drums and sound checks, we strolled around the forested paths, filled only with elderly patrons and middle-aged couples out for the fresh air. The shrine, as always seems to be the case when I visit, was doing a brisk business. A smartly dressed family were emerging with their newly blessed daughter clothed in a fine kimono for the shichi-go-san (3-5-7) celebrations.

Yoshida has an ancient history and strong ties to the university that now takes up an entire city block on its Western side. Founded in 859 (when the great guardian deities were moved to the newly established city) by the powerful Fujiwara clan*, it was worshiped as one of the city's many protector shrines. In the late 15th century the scholar-priest Kanetomo Yoshida** (1435-1511) established an individual branch of Shinto with Yoshida as its headquarters. Kanetomo was filled with lofty dreams that his newly created ideology would become the foundation for the entire nation's native religion, Yoshida its altar. Interestingly, Kanetomo's doctrine was a mishmash of numerous religions and revolved around the central premise that there was in fact one supreme god who gave birth to all other gods, not dissimilar to Christian belief. By the emergence of modern Japan and a new state Shinto, Yoshida-Shinto lost its appeal and all but vanished, attention reverting back from the interesting octagonal hall of Kanetomo's religion to that of the ancient shrine of the Fujiwaras. The shrine is nowadays perhaps most well known for its Setsubun Festival.
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22 11 09 - 22:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

More monkeys

More pictures of the Arashiyama monkeys.

21 11 09 - 22:27 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Colour boom

21 11 09 - 22:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Arashiyama Monkey Park

There is one place in Arashiyama that will allow you, even in Autumn madness, to escape the crowds. Iwata-yama Monkey Park covers an entire mountain across the River Oi, a small portion of which is given over to visitors. From the entrance it is a 20 minute climb to the observation ground where the monkeys gather. There is a hut with refreshments for sightseers and food for the little simians. In strange reverse you feed the monkeys through chicken wire, they clinging to the outside and you shut up inside. They are assuredly mesmerizing but not the prettiest of creatures, rather shaggy-furred and paunchy, overdependent on human care and more surly for it. At present there are about 150 monkeys living on the mountain, each with a name and all under careful scrutiny of specialists and researchers.

The view of Kyoto from the observation point is one of the finest in the city, reason alone for coming if you care nothing for the monkeys. With the climb putting many tourists off, it leaves the slopes relatively empty and the whole visit worth the peace and quiet following the chaotic hubbub of the town. As it is open all year round, I would consider it a must see for all visitors to the area, and the 550 yen is certainly cheap when you consider that most profits go towards caring for the animals.

21 11 09 - 22:19 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Oh mum, don't!

Rhod's photo from our trip to Arashiyama Monkey Park is without a doubt the best of the day.

21 11 09 - 22:14 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Autumn is a madman's dream

Time is seemingly slipping through our fingers in Japan. Already Christmas decorations adorn stores and houses, carols play on endless loop at coffee shops, and streets seem to be crowded with people pouring into the city from the neighbouring provinces. Misako calls these weekend tourists 'Bumpkins'.

There can be no doubt about the seasonal pull of the city in awaking zombie hordes. Forget cherry blossoms, festivals and food. It is the humble maple leaf that is the city's cash cow and ultimate tourist weapon. You can often tell at this time of riotous colour exactly who the locals are, because they are the ones not visiting temples. Only 'Bumpkins' would be insane enough to venture out into the hills until the very last maple leaf has dropped...or so you would think. For some reason I thought it would be nice to at least see a few ruddy trees, and for that I must apologise to Rhod.

Arashiyama is just about the worse place you could hope to be on a three day weekend in autumn. Forty thousand people squeeze daily into the town at the peak of red-leaf-season, directed by unhelpful policemen and corralled by even more unhelpful barriers, until rather than leaves you are looking at a sea of bodies and endless lines of traffic. Every few moments you are obliged to stop for another camera, dodge another taxi, swamped in the cacophony of cackling old women and forgetting why you inflicted this punishment upon yourself in the first place.

Autumn in Kyoto is a madman's dream.

21 11 09 - 22:13 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Tomfoolery

These are the last pictures from our trip to Daimonji...a little bit of a sugar-rush tomfoolery before home.

15 11 09 - 18:10 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Picnic atop the world

While certainly not as cold as it appears in the pictures, the peak of Daimonji is certainly not a pool of warmth. With Japan recording unusual temperatures for November (comparable to early January and the descent into Winter proper) it does seem remarkable that around this time in previous years* we have made do with no more than thin sweaters and Summer jackets. We devoured our limited supply of chocolate (for warmth you understand), took photos overlooking the impressive Southern stretch of Higashiyama and turned back for home.
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15 11 09 - 18:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Red

The leaves are not the only things turning red. My beloved pepper plant has produced three red fruit, as well as five more of the green variety (which are refusing to change colour). Rhod and I ate the red peppers in a Japanese curry and the next day in yakisoba. I am slightly relieved that not all my attempts at gardening during the Summer ended in failure.

15 11 09 - 17:46 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Summit

Most people eat a lunch of rice-balls and chocolate energy snacks at the half-way point of Mt. Daimonji (the bonfire meadow) and then turn back for home, but it seemed a shame not to at least go the extra mile and reach the rather unremarkable summit (over two smaller peaks). In the shelter of slender trees we ate our lunch with a cacophonous group of elderly hikers, grateful to have such a fine view of the mountains rolling away if not so much the bench hogging ramblers. While there was nothing particularly special about the hike itself, it was rather wonderful to have Akko back in the fold. Rhod and I have missed her company greatly over the last couple of months.

15 11 09 - 17:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mountain of bonfires

We took a photo opportunity at about the mid point of the bonfire meadow. The view was absolutely breathtaking. Because the mountain slopes so steeply it gives you one of those rare feelings that you are flying above the city. There was still a way to go, but if we had been forced to turn back here I would not have been disappointed.

15 11 09 - 17:39 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Grin!

The happiness of Holly Griffiths, cat.

15 11 09 - 17:29 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mt. Daimonji

Another season, another mountain. This time Mt. Daimonji 大文字 in the Eastern Hills, famed for the giant Chinese character seared onto its city-facing slope during the Okuribi Festival in August. Up close the cleared meadow atop the mountain is dotted with concrete foundations used to hold the bonfires, which together create the character for 大 (large). It is the most important of the five Okuribi mountains and stands guard over Ginkaku-ji.

Misako struck upon the idea of a bracing hike while the weather is still lingering somewhere between Fall and Winter. Daimonji promised to be a much easier climb than the relentless two hour trudge up Hiei-zan and would be the perfect spot for seeing the city in its Autumn coat. A thirty minute cycle from our house took us to Ginkaku-ji's gates and from 20 metres north of the temple we started the climb on gently graveled slopes. Increasingly steep paths cut through the forest, winding quickly to the bonfire pasture where a concrete prospect gives and unobstructed view of Kyoto. It is one of the most spectacular views I have seen of the city and was well worth the exercise.

15 11 09 - 17:28 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Peace and quiet

The joy of gaming.

11 11 09 - 19:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Wii and the Thomas kids

One of my first port of calls now back in Japan was delivering emergency Marmite to the Thomas Household. Rhod brought Wii Sports Resort along with to see how the kids would take to the games. And boy did they take. I don't think Rhod was expecting to lose at sword fighting to a five year old. You can get a glimpse of the fun that was had, below.

11 11 09 - 18:59 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

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

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