You know sudoku, of course. Ever since the puzzle was introduced to the readers of The Times in 2004, it has taken the world by storm, and by now, sudoku are a staple in the daily puzzle section of newspapers, whether on- or offline.

20 years before that, sudoku had already been introduced to Japan by Nikoli, a publisher that specialises in logic puzzles and games. Over time, Nikoli has developed many different logic puzzles, a large part of which are language- and culture independent and can be attempted by anyone (you may need basic math skills though). In Japan, you can buy little books containing about 100 puzzles each, and despite everything being online these days, the books still appear popular.

One of Nikoli’s logic puzzles is called Fillomino, and this is how it is done: You start out with a rectangular grid, some of the squares containing numbers, others being empty. The goal is to create boundaries between contiguous regions, where each separate region containing the number n consists exactly of n squares; and two regions with the same number/size may not be adjacent and share a boundary (they may touch at a corner only).That means that a square containing the number 1 is its own region, two adjacent 2s lie inside the same region, etc.

Sounds easy? Well, caveat emptor: It is possible that two non-adjacent same numbers belong to the same region, and in the final result there may appear regions that had no numbers at the start.

Want to give it a try? Here is one of the hard puzzles I copied out of my current puzzle book – notice the sweating pencil? But we’re all nerds here, it shouldn’t be too big a problem for anyone of you… A hard fillomino to try out

Business Update #2

I have been busy improving my business website Besides working in the back at stuff you cannot see (yet), I have added a page on getting around in Kyoto, which mainly means public transport, but also cycling and walking. I am not 100% happy with it since it is just a wall of text right now, which is never good. I am still looking for free photos to lighten the mood a little. Also, I want to replace the text links on top with the appropriate icons, which will probably happen some time in the weekend.

I am busy entering events into the calendar and I have started a whatsupinkyoto facebook page as well. It would be nice if you could like the page, hint*hint… There, I am posting a daily event chosen from those of the calendar. At the moment, it is quite heavy on exhibitions (I wish I had enough time and money to see them all!) but I hope that I get to know more different types of events in the future.

Speaking of which, I have also opened a whatsupinkyoto twitter page, but I haven’t started tweeting yet, meaning: you can follow if you like – please do – but there’s nothing going on right now. Interestingly, within Japan, twitter is more popular than facebook, so it is good to have a twitter page for a Japanese business like mine. Also here the idea is that I have one tweet per day with a selected event. Later on I may increase the volume of content sent to both twitter and facebook, but it is also a question of time, of course.

I am also thinking of starting to advertise the page. First of all to event providers in Kyoto, where I keep sending out an advertisement letter to museums, theatres, etc. So far, no bites, but I am patient. Second, I want to attract the Kyoto tourist crowd. Since I like buses and trains – and many tourists take them, not to speak of other Kyoto-ites – I was thinking of running simple ads in the Kyoto city bus. This is what I came up with, do you like it?

Advertisement for whatsupinkyoto.comAdvertisement for whatsupinkyoto.comadvertisement for whatsupinkyoto.comUnfortunately, advertising in a bus or subway is prohibitively expensive, at least for the time being: It costs about 6000 EUR for 2500 posters placed in buses and subways – for four (in numbers: 4) days only The number doesn’t sound that bad I admit, but I have to think in terms of overall budget, and this is about 1/4 of my whole business budget for a whole year… So, no bus ads for the moment. I still think that advertisement in public space is the best way to go, and on Monday I have an appointment with a Kyoto advertisement company. I hope they’ll have some ideas on what to do with somebody as tiny (and stingy) as me…

I’ll keep you posted.

Weekend Project

I have been studying soroban for more than three years now. Since I still want that first dan degree, and I am now training almost daily again, I consider myself a serious student.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that by looking at my equipment. My soroban is second-hand (and it shows if you look closely). And, during all this time of studying, I carried it with me simply wrapped in a sheet of newspaper.

I wanted to have a nice soroban cover for a while now, but finally last weekend, I took out some time to sew one. This is the result, and I am quite pleased with it:

My self made soroban coverExcept for two full afternoons of time from the planning stages to the finish, it didn’t cost me anything: The outside is cut from an old pair of jeans, and the lining (the cover is fully lined, not just on top) is made from the leftover of another project. The cover is a little tighter than I had planned, probably because of the lining, but for a first try it turned out very well indeed.

And now, you would even guess by looking at me that I am a serious student!


I am slowly trying to japanify myself, and a friend of mine helps me doing so by teaching me how to cook. Last Friday we spontaneously decided to make gyoza – Japanese meat dumplings.

Japanese GyozaYou need gyoza wrappers – thin, round wrappers made of noodle dough. I guess if you can’t find those, it would be possible to make them yourself. Those are filled with a mixture of cabbage and pork and a few other things and are relatively easy to make. See a full recipe at my washoku page. Still, I would recommend making a really large batch and freezing whatever you can’t eat. It is best to freeze the fresh gyoza before frying them.

Also, extra tip: the meat mixture described in the gyoza recipe is the same as for meat balls. Japanese tend not to fry those in a pan, but rather, they put them on a stick and grill them. Something I will also try out eventually.


I regularly receive pamphlets from my local koban. A koban is a local police station, usually located in a tiny building somewhere in the neighborhood and staffed with a handful of police officers.

Their main purpose is to provide assistance to the locals, like answering to emergency calls, going on the beat, or being the local lost-and-found. Personally, I have once been there when I moved into my apartment to ask directions to a number of places, and even though they don’t speak English (what do I expect), they were very friendly and helpful.

As I said, I receive regular newsletters from my local Koban, covering various topics that may or may not be interesting. They talk about fire safety for example, and one lengthy issue talked about how to safely ride a bicycle without running anyone down. That particular pamphlet did not tell old people to look at the traffic before stepping onto the street, but maybe there will be another issue to come…

mug shot from my local police kobanIn the latest pamphlet, which I received a few days ago, there was this mug shot of a suspect in a murder case. The Japanese murder rate is very low, the country ranks 212 among 215 countries (to compare: Austria is 208 and the US is 94), so there is no need to feel unsafe here. However, what I found funny about the mug shot is that it looks like any other Japanese guy and I would find it very, very difficult to recognise the man (okay, maybe not the one on the left picture without the nose…) And I am wondering: Is this simply because the picture is not good enough for me to make a connection? Or is it that I am too much European and not integrated in the country enough, where all Japanese still look the same to me?

Anyway, if you come across that guy, call the number in the picture. They say that even insignificant information will be valuable.

Cat Scribblings

There was an exhibition of ukiyo-e and maneki neko from the Edo period in the Museum of Kyoto. I took some time out last week to see it, and as an avid cat lover I was not disappointed.

The exhibition was a large one, on two floors there were different themes displayed mostly as woodblock prints of cats and women, ghostly cats, 19th century cat manga, anthropomorphised cat images, little paper cat dolls that could be dressed in little paper kimono and many, many more…

What I found most interesting were some prints by Kuniyoshi Utagawa, a very famous ukiyo-e artist of the Edo period. This one for example: It consists of cats playing with catfish (called namatsu in Japanese) and thus forming the hiragana for namatsu. While the hiragana na and ma are easy to read, I cannot make out the tsu at all. To me, this looks more like gawa, the kanji for river. I wonder what’s the idea behind this.

Cats forming "namatsu"Anyway, at the end of the exhibition, there was the obligatory museum shop. I’m not usually buying more than a few postcards, but this time, I have to admit, I got myself quite a number of cat paraphernalia…


The Toseikyo is a very old Japanese game. Although it seems very simple, it takes great skill to win it.

Toseikyo targetOn a small block of wood, some 20 cm high, there is placed a little cloth target with bells that looks a bit like a jester’s cap. The player sits about 2 metres away from it and gets a small paper fan. The opened fan is then thrown towards the target – and if you can knock the target off the block, you win. Usually one player tries a few times and counts the hits before the next person may throw.

Throwing a fanSounds easy, right? But it isn’t! You are not allowed to throw the fan sideways with a flick of the wrist; the proper way is to throw the fan in a straight line from you towards the target – and that makes it really difficult! You need to gauge the force with which you throw the fan just right – too much force and the fan will turn downwards and bury itself in the tatami, too little force and you won’t get far enough.

Just missed the target!It takes a lot of practice to do it right. Apparently, the game is ancient and was already played 1000 years ago at the Heian court. I suppose all those court ladies of leisure had enough time to perfect their skills… Interestingly, I have seen new Toseikyo sets for sale at high-end shops in Kyoto. Nice to see that there is still a market for these kind of things.


cogwheelsIs it because I’m getting older? I notice that I am becoming less flexible and that I am greatly relying on routines for so many things these days… For example: I have to go to the hospital for a regular checkup every three months. There are always two visits: The first one to have my blood taken and the second one where the doctor confirms that everything is just fine and I should just keep doing what I’m doing.

Usually I get my blood taken in the week before the doctor sees me, and I usually go to hospital on Tuesdays. This is a good day because in the mornings I have another appointment nearby the hospital, so I go there during lunch time. This sounds awful, but it is really nice: By this time the blood center is empty, all the patients are gone, and the whole procedure including paying for it at the end takes maybe 20 minutes, at most.

So, this week is doctor’s week again. But my Tuesdays appointment fell flat – and promptly, my routine fell to pieces as well: I didn’t go on Tuesday, and yesterday it was raining so I didn’t want to go. Because I had an appointment this afternoon, I had to go this morning and it took me about an hour because there were so many people, of course. And now it’s 9 pm and I’m still lagging behind of today’s schedule, because of course my Thursdays routine is all over the place…

Sigh. I have never been a very spontaneous and flexible person, but things seem to get worse year by year. Do you think I should start worrying?


What is it about hairdressers that there are so incredibly many everywhere? In less than five minutes walking distance from my home, there are six already. Half of them are located on the ground floor of one and the same small apartment building. Their prices vary obviously, and the cheapest being a chain, but I always wonder how all of them can survive in the long run.

hairdresser's "menu"Anyway, one of the things all those hairdresser have in common is the “menu”, like the one shown here. These are usually displayed outside of the shop, both as an indicator that it is open, and as a way to give you an idea of how much it will cost. But, why are they called menu and not price list? They are everywhere, it must be one of those funny translations that got started somewhere and nobody bothered to correct (just like the “close” sign on many shops, restaurants, and bars in town).

Also, while I’m at it: I cannot help wondering if the above hairdresser is better at English or at his job. I mean, would you have much trust in a salon called “Oops hair”?

Soroban Testing

After quite a while, I finally went to another soroban test last Sunday. I reached first kyu last year, and I want to go one more step further, to first dan, which in a martial arts context would be equivalent to a black belt.

old style soroban at a fleamarketI have to admit that I did not train hard enough to pass the exam – and I knew that beforehand. A big part of the reason is surely that I don’t go to class any longer, and it is hard to keep up regular training when there are so many other things keeping you busy. This is why I wanted to take the exam anyway, just to get me back into the training rut. Passing any of the dan grades are essentially a question of speed.

The exam was as expected, interestingly this time it was my own soroban sensei who was in charge of overseeing the test. He is not one to scream and shout like other people I have met, so this was not a problem. For all of the dan tests, there is the same exam – your level depends on the number of exercises you can solve correctly. You need to have more than 10 correct on all three basic ones – multiplication, division, addition – as well as more than 10 on the four additional ones – dempyo, mental arithmetic, word problems and roots – for the first dan level.

I passed the additions only, all the others I had 7 to 9 exercises correct, so I think it is just a question of getting a bit faster and a bit more accurate. The next test will be end of July, and I will try again. It took me five attempts to receive the first kyu grade, I am certainly willing to go that far for the first dan as well.