Bruised

Summer is coming! The last few weeks were really pleasant and warm, and last weekend I decided that it’s time to change my wardrobe. My closet is rather small, so I have to exchange my winter clothes for summer clothing and vice versa twice a year. There is enough space on top of my closet to put everything I don’t need in storage for half a year, but there are drawbacks of this method as well.

dumbbellPart of it is probably because I’m stingy. My storage containers for clothing consist of two large boxes that I used when moving in here. If you lay them on the side, they fit the available space perfectly – but they are bulky and really heavy. Problem number two is that I am too short to reach up, so I need a stool when I move the boxes.

Getting them down is usually not the problem, obviously, but getting them up into storage is not easy. The first box is not the problem, but the second one always causes me to curse during the numerous attempts I have to make. Once again, I managed this year to exchange my clothes, and now I feel all summery and light. I also have a number of lovely bruises on my upper arms to show for my efforts when the boxes slipped back down again…

Maybe I should start doing some weight training? It may not be amiss to try – and if it helps me lose a bit of that extra girth I put on during the last winter, that would be an extra bonus…

Pet Store

As I have probably mentioned before, there’s a large shopping mall around the corner from where I live. The supermarket in the basement is one of the best in town, and there are all sorts of nice other stores as well. I like to go to Uniqlo, even if I don’t buy anything because of wrong sizing, but it’s nice to just browse sometimes.

Their latest addition to the shopping frenzy is an enormous pet store. Except for the usual lines of food, bedding, accessories and so on, they also sell animals, of course. They have the standard range of pets: budgies, hamsters, ferrets, rabbits, turtles, lots of fish, etc. They also have a number of dogs – mostly small breeds except for the one Golden Retriever they have – and a handful of cats…

I love them! Every time I go and see the cats, I want to take one home. Of course, those are high breed cats, Russian Blue, American Curl, Burmese are just three they have right now, and I am not sure I would want an expensive cat like that anyway. Admittedly, they do look rather sad in those glass cubes they live in right now, practically begging me… but I refrain. It’s not that I am allowed to have a cat anyway, and besides, there must be animal shelters in Japan as well, no? I will even refrain from posting any of the cat photos I took the last time I was there, because I want to write about something else (this time).

So, besides the standard animals that are generally seen as pets in the West as well, they have a few extraordinary species. Hedgehogs for example, which I have only ever seen in pet stores in Japan and Korea. I have no idea what the attraction is there, except that they are cute, but admittedly, I don’t understand having any pets if you can’t really cuddle them.

But we take it from there; they also sell what I would call “special needs” animals and others call “exotic pets”. At this moment, they have a little groundhog as well as a tiny meerkat. I always thought that those are animals living in colonies – and they only have a single one of each, a keeping of animals which would certainly amount to animal cruelty. Also, and this takes the cake in my opinion, they have this:

A fennecDo you recognize it? That’s a Fennec, a type of fox living in the Sahara. According to wikipedia, they are indeed considered “exotic pets” and “can be kept in a domestic setting similar to dogs or cats”, but still… Why would you want to have one of these in your home, knowing that they cannot really be domesticated? Obviously it’s something you can show off with: this particular little fox costs 1.4 million YEN. I already have problems going to the zoo, but seeing animals like this in a pet store is really difficult…

Shakuhachi

A Shakuhachi is a Japanese flute made from bamboo.

Recently, I have been looking for Shakuhachi music online and I am very impressed by it. I am not a very musical person, but learning Shakuhachi is something I might want to do at some point, given enough time and money – a good Shakuhachi can cost 300 EUR and more (oops, missed a zero: it’s 3000 EUR) . I will do some more research and write a proper weekend article at some other time.

Listen to the music below, it is a modern piece written in 1995, after the disastrous Hanshin earthquake in Kobe. Enjoy!

Envy

Here in Japan, I am surrounded by beautiful women. In fact, most Asians have features that I admire, sometimes even envy: Thick, straight, and most of all, jet black hair. Slender figures that look good in almost any clothing, as well as a natural grace that comes with it. And something in their genes that considerably slows down the ageing process. Especially that last thing I am particularly envious about, ever more so since I have detected the first gray hairs on my own head…

All in all, I have never considered myself beautiful, but I have come to accept me the way I am and I have learnt to work with it, or around it in dire circumstances. That’s probably part of why I am always taken aback when somebody calls me pretty or even beautiful. In Asia, interestingly, it is more likely to hear that from another woman. Here are two examples:

Years ago I sat in a concert hall waiting for the concert to begin. Next to me sat a woman who kept staring at me. Since I couldn’t become invisible or change the seat, I smiled back, which she took as an invitation to reach over, touch my hand and say “so beautiful!” She meant my skin tone – I’m a sedentary nerd who’s not going out much, so even in summer, I remain pretty pale, and thus I fit the Asian idea of white skin very well.

A noseThe other day, when I went to my favourite bar with a friend, there was this regular – an elderly lady – who kept looking at me as well. Finally she couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out “Kirei – hana takai!” which literally means “Pretty – high nose!” And she kept saying it, making me feel more and more uncomfortable, even though I know that big eyes and noses are Asian beauty ideals, only outranked by pearly white skin.

It’s funny that people here may see me as more beautiful than I myself ever have. I guess, we all envy what we cannot have?

Business Update #1

Whew, have I been busy the last week – sorry for not posting without notice… Anyway, I’m back with a few updates of my new whatsupinkyoto event site.

What's up in Kyoto LogoI’m not sure how many of you went to my new page 😉 but if you did you may have noticed that I switched to a new provider for the calendar part of the homepage. It has always been a third-party service, but this one is – or at least appears to be – much more professional than the first one, with which I had huge problems. It went like this:

Adding a single event is, as I could confirm last week, very time-consuming. So, from the beginning, the idea was that anyone may submit events to the calendar, and I would simply look over them and publish them if they were appropriate. This was one of the main parts of the functionality, and the old provider had that functionality built-in. However, with I needed a little personalisation, so I contacted them to ask if that was possible (their website stated it would be).

I received a quote, and the promise that it would take one to two weeks to implement the add-on, so I agreed to go forward with it. Three weeks and a 275$ payment later, I finally got the “did it!”. I checked the functionality, and there was a small thing that didn’t work as I wanted it to work – until another 2 weeks later. And then I found out that about half of what I expected them to do hadn’t happened still (I had always tested when I was logged in, my mistake) – and on top of that they wanted to be paid extra for that “additional” feature…

The whole email back-and-forth with that company was extremely slow on their side: whenever I complained, it took them at least 10 days to get back to me in the first place. I got so frustrated that I already thought I was dealing with a 17-year-old working out of his mum’s garage… (I didn’t, but the guy had a full-time job elsewhere, which is only a partial excuse). Cutting things and my losses short, I finally left them after two months of arguing, not without bitching about the tardiness and the fact that I had sunk my money into something that didn’t work and I couldn’t use (before you ask: no way of getting it back, I contacted a lawyer about it).

Anyway, I have now found greener pastures and a much nicer calendar to use; it has everything I need right out of the box (and then some), the handling is much easier, it looks much more professional, and on top of that, it’s cheaper too. I’m happy to give tockify.com a shoutout, if anyone’s interested (and I don’t do that very often!).

So the last week I was busy migrating to the new calendar and adding new events to it. I also made a new “submit events” page – just in case you’re in Kyoto and know about an exciting event, feel free to submit it! – and I started talking to friends about my new endeavour. One of them was so enthusiastic that she helped me compose an advertising email in proper Japanese that I will send out to places like theatres, museums, and galleries this week. Let’s see how this is going. Wish me luck!

11 + 4

chocolate cakesI’m back from my Golden Week holiday! It was nice to have a few days off to myself, and I enjoyed seeing friends as well. I did manage to improve the event calendar also – more about that on Thursday. Because today I want to tell you about that double anniversary I hinted at in my last post…

Well, the title says it all: 11+ 4 = 15. I have been living abroad for 15 years now! I left Austria on April 25th 2002 to get my PhD. Altogether, I spent some 7 years in Europe, and 8 years in Asia. And half of those, the last 4, starting on May 5th 2013, I lived here in Kyoto!

How time flies! I can hardly believe I have been here so long – except for the 4 years and a bit I spent on my PhD, this si the longest time in the last 15 years I lived in one and the same city. And since my plans with respect to Kyoto or at least Japan include “settle and die here”, I think I am on the way to a new record here. Of course, I cannot rule out a total change of direction. So far, my life did certainly not go according to plan (neither my own and surely not that of my family) so who knows what’s in store for me further down the road…

In case you’re wondering: No, I don’t have many regrets, only one and a half to be precise. The half is something I can still catch up on, and probably will be able to until the end of my life. The one full thing concerns a missed opportunity in a moment that will never return. And even there, sometimes I think I should have done it, and sometimes I think it was better that I didn’t…

At the end of the day, I don’t think it makes much of a different. There are many things in my life that in retrospect I would like to lessen the impact or at least the duration of. But at the same time I recognise that I am the sum of all my experiences, the good ones, and the bad one probably even more so. And after all these years, probably for the first time ever, I can say with deep inner conviction:

I am happy!

Golden Week

In the last two days I had four meetings and just as many (unrelated) deadlines. I’m exhausted. At least, I don’t have any more meetings for the rest of this week: Japan celebrates Golden Week, a string of three national holidays in a row, and this year, it is topped off with the weekend. Some companies give their employees the whole week off, yet others – especially service oriented places or large shopping malls – run their business as usual.

For me, it will be a bit of both. As mentioned, my next business meeting will be next Tuesday, but I will see a couple of friends in the weekend. Also, I have to get my new website going, there are unexpected problems with the calendar I need to fix, one way or the other… And there are a few more personal things I need to take care of, spring cleaning my apartment for example and properly fixing the curtains in the livingroom. Let’s see how many of those I can tackle in the coming week.

In any case, when in Japan, do as the Japanese do. So: I’ll take the rest of the week off from blogging. You may expect my next post on Tuesday, May 9th – celebrating a double anniversary!

I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for a While

I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for a While
Taichi Yamada

Cover of I haven't dreamed of flying for a whileTaura is shocked. The woman he had just spent the night with is 20 years his senior, and he already considers himself old at 48. Hidden behind the screen of the hospital room, both unable to move, they shared a night full of talk and erotic passion. When Mutsuko appears in Tokyo a few months later, Taura is surprised at her looks. Without timidity, Mutsuko tells him that she is getting younger, in painful attacks that can last for days. Taura, all but dumped by his entrepreneur wife and grown-up children, and transferred to the department for “special projects” in his company where he cannot do any harm, starts an affair with Mutsuko. She, aware of what her journey must inevitable lead to, attempts to live her newfound youth to the fullest, drawing Taura into a maelstrom of sex, adventure, and lies, that even gets him into prison for child abuse. And yet, he cannot let go of Mutsuko, and she keeps getting younger and younger…

The story is written from Taura’s perspective, and he tells it rather matter-of-factly, almost unemotionally. Except for Mutsuko’s reverse ageing, everything is realistic, but we also hear very early on about Taura’s mental instabilities. Is Mutsuko real, or does she just exist in Taura’s imagination?

What an interesting idea this story is! An old woman, at the end of her life, gets a chance to relive it and, literally, be young again. And this time she is prepared to live it to the fullest! Mutsuko’s affair with Taura seems to be the only thing that is stable in this new life of hers, and while at the beginning they meet irregularly, later on, when Mutsuko turns into a child, she must rely on him more and more. Since Mutsuko is physically changing drastically at each and every one of their meetings, I cannot help wondering how much a physical change I could bear in a partner of mine. Could I really be “in love” (and intimate) with my partner if he looked, say, like a 12-year-old?

Taichi Yamada was born in Tokyo province in 1934 and studied literature before entering the Shochiku film studio. He left in 1965 to become a free screen writer, and some 30 of his scripts have won prizes in Japan. He has written mostly screen plays, but also a number of essay collections and novels.

Check this book out on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.

Prevention

Recently, I needed to transfer money abroad. Even though I have online banking, I cannot use it in this case because I have to fill out a number of extra forms. That’s nothing completely new to me, other countries I lived in have had these sort of restrictions as well. Because I knew that it was unlikely to find an English-speaking clerk at my bank’s branch office, I phoned their help line first to find out which documents I needed to bring with me.

stack of papersThe list included my cash card and seal, but no further form of ID, interestingly. Of course, I needed information as where to send the money as well: name and address of account holder and bank, IBAN and BIC,… no big deal. But then, on top of that, the bank also wanted to know a) what the money was for (or at least proof that the account overseas was mine as well) and, besides making sure that I actually have enough money for the transfer, they also wanted to know b) where I got it from. Surely, that’s none of the bank’s business, is it?

Of course it isn’t, and to their credit, they only took a brief look at the documents for my foreign account and at my salary agreement (the one I made with myself, no less) without filing or copying them. That’s a start. So, why wasting my time – and theirs – with that to begin with? Because of the Act on Prevention of Transfer of Criminal Proceeds, a new Japanese law that has come into effect last October, if I understood correctly.

Whenever I read of a law like this – or passages like the one in my work contract forbidding me to associate with yakuza – I am seriously asking myself how naive the persons who came up with that idea can possibly be. Do they really think that a hardcore criminal will be deterred by two extra hoops he has to jump through or an extra piece of paper he has to forge? Have those lawmakers never heard of international crime organisations?

Because I am pretty sure these rules are for individuals only. I can’t imagine that companies have to fill out extra forms every time they send money to a new supplier abroad. And nothing is opened faster than a company in Japan and a couple of letterbox companies elsewhere with attached bank accounts. And never mind that paypal for example doesn’t need any kind of paperwork when sending money to or receiving it from abroad.

So, what’s the point of these laws and regulations? Security is a standard excuse these days, and probably, if you can regularly present a handful of recently caught small fish to the excitable public, they will feel more secure indeed. I call it surveillance, especially of the standard, law-abiding citizen. Because the biggest criminals don’t give a shit about the law – they are well-connected to, or part of, politics anyway. In any country.

Kyotographie

Sorry for not posting last weekend – but I was busy. The weather is slowly getting warmer and is more conducive to going out again. And right now, Kyoto hosts the international photography exhibition Kyotographie. This year is the 5th time, and the motto is LOVE. In 18 venues all over town photos are shown that have some sort of connection to the theme (sometimes it’s a vague one, but still).

Together with a friend, I went last Sunday to see some of the exhibitions that seemed most interesting to both of us. Her favourite was an exhibition of a group called “Toiletpaper”. Their photos are loud, colorful, and a bit weird. I think pop art is the best word to describe it.

exhibition of "Toiletpaper"

Original photo by “Toiletpaper”, photographed again by Miss Uda.

My favourite were some 70 photos of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave, projected onto a huge screen in a dark room, to amplify the cave feeling. At first I thought it was all about the limestone stalactites and such – until I noticed the paintings of lions, buffalos, horses… The cave, situated in Southern France, has paintings and other traces of human habitation dating back 35.000 years. It was discovered only in 1994, and promptly closed to the public for conservation. The paintings are magnificent, and the way these photos are displayed just heightens the feeling.

So, if you are in town these days, have a look – some of the venues are free of charge. Kyotographie will last until May 14th, I am sure there’s something for every taste.