Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My New Room

Life has been really busy lately. I have been busy packing. First, I have to move to a new laboratory in the main campus, which is good news. Now, I no longer have to commute an hour by train in order to get to school (previously my lab is located in the branch campus) and in addition, I can make myself stay in bed and laze till 8.30 am. Second, I decided that I have enough of dorm life and started packing and moving on for a new apartment. And I found one.
In Japan, the size of a room is typically measured by the number of tatami mats (a traditional Japanese flooring). The size of a tatami mat is 90 cm by 180 cm. The size of my new room is approximately 6 tatami mats. I moved in last night. Although the bed isn't as comfortable as the previous one, I had a good sleep (perhaps I was really tired). I always wanted a right poster art for my room. I bought this one during my vacation in Italy last March : Il Ghetto di Venezia.
Several of my dorm friends helped me with the moving yesterday. Although there weren't many things, but it was quite tiring to move from one 4th floor to another 4th floor. Many thanks to Rouen, Eddie, Qoo, Kim and Niels and dorm office staffs (including house parents).
The romantic shower room. The bathtub is really small - only very little movement is possible. One can sit upright and soak in the tub and relax. It is not a two person soaking tub ! A fat man would probably get himself stuck if he attempts to sit inside the tub.
I probably won't use the kitchen often. Because I rather eat out or have someone to cook for me. I am too lazy to prepare my own meal.
The laundry room. Another good news. At least I don't need to get a washing machine.

I quite like the room - good price and good location. It is just five minutes by bicycle to my lab. And I only have to pay 33000 yen monthly. Just a short post. I will try to find time to write again this week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Kamo River

The Kamo River (or more popularly known as Kamogawa) is a 31 km long river in Kyoto (near to the university). It rises from Mount Sajiki in the northern part of Kyoto, and goes through the center of the city and then meets the Katsura River of Fushimi.
Floods often threatened the ancient capital. Emperor Shirakawa (1053 - 1129) recited his three unmanageable things : armed monks of Enryaku-ji, the roll of the dice and water of the Kamo River.
The merchant Suminokura Ryoi constructed the Takase Canal as a parallel with the Kamo River in early 17th century. Transportation was done in the canal instead of in the unstable mainstream of the river.
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Most of the time now, the water level is quite low, and therefore, it is possible to cross to the other side, hopping on the river stone steps put there for such purpose. These stone steps bring people closer contact with the river.
In a great flood, the river ran amok in 1935 and destroyed 32 of the 41 bridges. Under some of the reconstructed bridges are now occupied by some homeless men. They keep everything clean, catch fishes from the river and never bother anyone.
The route of the river is highly linear. The river banks are popular walks for residents and tourists especially during the cherry blossom festival (topmost picture).
During the Children's Day (kodomo no hi), a string of koinobori-like was tied across the Kamo River.
Wildlife has found a way along the Kamo River. Seen here is a heron.
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A group of wild kamo ducks were spotted swimming about in the river.
The riverbank is a popular place for young couples to sit together. It is also very common for one to bring a bento (lunch box) and eat by the river side. Kamo River is recognized as the city's treasure.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Ohara - Sanzen-in Temple

Ohara is a quiet town located in the mountains about 10 km north of Kyoto. It offers a taste of rural life with an unexpectedly noble atmosphere.
Sanzen-in is the major site of eastern Ohara and it has been one of Kyoto's most isolated temple. Founded in 784 by the priest Saicho, the temple belongs to the Tendai sect of Buddhism.
Inside the temple, one first comes to a hall called the Reception Chamber (kyaku-den), fronting onto an ornamental japanese-style garden. It allows you to savor its serene beauty while drinking green tea.
Apart from the main hall which houses a well-preserved Amida Buddha (a twelveth century hondo), the monastery's prime attraction is its quiet gardens, landscaped in the late Edo period.
And the most famous is a plateau of moss, punctuated with Japanese cypress. I was utterly fascinated by the little rock statues spotted in the gardens. These are the stone images of Jizou. In modern Japan, Jizou is popularly known as the guardian of unborn, aborted, miscarried and stillborn babies. It is often translated as 'Womb of the Earth'.
The exit of the Sanzen-in Temple.
Shorin-in, just 100 m to the left of the entrance to Sanzen-in, is a fundamental training hall for chanting the Tendai incantations.
I must admit that it is no easy task to take good dragonfly pictures. But I am quite happy to have this one.
Another picture of an interesting red bug.
Unfortunately, I have misplaced the brochure and I don't remember the name of this temple. The temple is located in the more remote area up the hill.
Along the track uphill to the Sanzen-in temple, there are rows of souvenir shops and local restaurants.
Lollipops of popular animated cartoon characters such as ampan man and doraemon.
One of my favorites when I was a kid - Doraemon, a Japanese robotic cat from the future who has travelled back in time to aid the thoroughly hapless Nobita Nobi. Doraemon possesses a fourth-dimensional pocket from which he produces all manners of futuristic tools, gadgets and playthings (note : picture obtained from wikipedia).
The Ohara area is also famous for its mompei trouser-clad Oharame women, who use to sell firewood and vegetables from carts throughout the northern area of the city; and a few still do.
Event : Oharame Matsuri (Ohara Women's Festival)
Date : May 16th - 31st
During this annual two-week festival, women can try on their distinctive mompei clothing, and you can see women marching in this lovely costumes in Ohara (even foreigners).
A tired but great day spent walking from temple to temple and exploring the small town of Ohara, allowing time for some quiet comtemplation.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hike the Hill - Daimonji-yama

Located on the middle-western portion of the island of Honshu, Kyoto is surrounded by mountains. Because Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on all sides, it is infamous for its stifling summer nights with no air movement.
Kyoto has following districts : Fushimi-ku, Higashiyama-ku, Kamigyo-ku, Kita-ku, Minami-ku, Nakagyo-ku, Nishikyo-ku, Sakyo-ku, Shimogyo-ku, Ukyo-ku and Yamashina-ku. I live in Sakyo-ku and as seen in the above picture is the Sakyo-ku view from Daimonji-yama.
Last weekend, I thought it was going to rain but fortunately it held off and when I woke up in the morning, the sky surprised me. The clouds cleared up and it was such fine day.
My dormmates and I decided to do some outdoor activities - so we went hiking up the Daimonji-yama. (Picture from left; Renato, Mena, Rashid, Honda-san, Andy and Cho).
We enjoyed the thirty-minute hike through the cool woods. Well dedicating the cluster of white mountain flowers to my blog readers. I like this picture alot because the solitary peaceful flower grabbed my attention but Cho argued that the picture gave a depressing mood.
Cho is one of my best friends in the dormitory. This Chinese friend of mine is very kind and a considerate friend.
Renato was seen here flying. Mena wanted to mimic the same but she slipped and fell and then hit her head (Ouch !).
At about 5 pm, we started hiking down the hill. We were all quite tired.
After hiking, we decided to eat sushi. It was a good treat. A good sunday outing !
Daimonji-yama is not just a hiking trail to the peak where one can enjoy the view of the city. Daimonji-yama has more to offer and for that, you have to read my future posting : The Daimonji-yama (August release).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Inari's Fox - The Divine Messenger

The Inari-shrine, one of the most popular and prosperous shrines in Japan, is closely related to the kitsune (fox) tradition. According to the japanese folklore, these white foxes, the divine messenger and in service of the Inari god, are different from the bewitchery or mischief of other foxes which are commonly called nogitsune or wild foxes.
According to the legend, Huli Jing, the Chinese foxes are earnest scholars, dedicated rakes, devoted lovers, seductresses par excellence, tricksters, poltergeists, drinking companions and karmic avengers. Fox spirits arrived in Japan in the late 7th century. In the voyage across the ocean, some lost a few of the mentioned functions and the Japanese foxes did what their Chinese sisters failed to do. They were accepted as part of the official religion.
The Inari-shrine became first associated with kitsune, when a fox couple sought shelter in the shrine. They and their five children, were given sanctuary and protection by Inari god, in exchange for their servitude.
Each swore ten oaths to Inari, and were given positions in the shrine. Since then, descendants have served the god faithfully. The kitsune protects those who work and live near the shrine, and aid those who come to them for help - protect them against the malevolent foxes and their bad omens. For example, trickster nogitsune(s) employ their magical powers to play tricks on people; targeting overly-proud samurai, greedy merchants, and boastful commoners, while the more cruel foxes tend to abuse poor tradesmen and farmers or even Buddhist monks. Sometimes the nogitsune is assigned the role of seductress - these love stories usually involve a young human male and a kitsune who takes the form of a woman.
Generally, according to the book 'Kitsune', there are listed thirteen different types of Japanese foxes. The named clans, Celestial and Wild, are mostly associated with the kitsune that follow Inari, and those that don't (the bad ones).
According to mythological beliefs, each year of spring, the god descends from the mountain to the rice fields and resides there during the subsequent agricultural season. Following the fall harvest, the deity would return once again to its winter home in the mountains. And all this took place at the same time that foxes appeared each season. As such, the fox naturally became known as the messenger of Inari.
Rice and rice cultivation are an important part of Japanese culture. In early June, when rice farmers start planting, in order to pray for a good harvest, a 'rice-planting' ceremony (ta-ue matsuri) is usually conducted in the shrine. Various offerings were made to the Inari god. Chantings were performed by the head priest.
Selected women dressed in ancient costumes to perform a Shinto ritual dance accompanied by an orchestra of flute. To keep the god happy, only virgin girls can dance (as I have heard).
Prior to sowing, the field workers and female planters are first purified by the priest.
As seen in the pictures, men and women plant rice seedlings the old fashioned way in the sacred field (inside the shrine compound).
Farmers are afraid of epidemics and famine caused by insects that do harm to the rice plant. The ta-ue matsuri has become the most important ceremony among the many rituals for agriculture.
According to several polls, it was reported that there are more than 30000 shrines in Japan dedicated to the Inari god.
And the legend says, 'It is difficult to have Inari without the fox and the fox without the Inari'.