Getting Ready…

I’m busy this week, so this is just a very short update. I’m getting ready for this year’s Gion Matsuri Ato parade where once again, I’m volunteering at the Ofunehoko. This huge float is always the final one of the second parade and it was always my favourite.

I’ll be working on Monday morning for four hours, and I’m preparing to wear yukata again. Since I have lost so much weight, I can wear a lovely shibori yukata I got from a friend some years back, and I even bought a nice yellow obi to complement the traditional blue.

In fact, I already wore it on Saturday for the Kimono Rock Party, but this time, my friend isn’t here to help me get dressed… I hope things will turn out just right.

For the second time this year, I have received an English version of the flyer that explains the history and trimmings of the float, so I’ll have to do some studying. Not that many people want these sort of details (not in English anyway), but I love this kind of information, so it’s not lost here.

I’m also planning to visit some of the other floats – a friend of mine volunteers at the Hashi Benkei Yama – and I hope it will be a good day with not too much heat and no rain either. We’ll see.

Perfect Weekend

A very short recap of a very perfect weekend:

Pumpkin and I had our very first overnight visitor! Because it’s Gion Matsuri and Kyoto is practically booked solid, my friend from Tokyo stayed in our guest room – aka upstairs living room. Pumpkin was not very happy about this; he oscillated between anxiety and curiosity. Both of which meant that he was up all night, keeping me the same…

She came down to finally get to the bottom of my BATI-HOLIC obsession and went to their 20th Anniversary concert with me. Well, let’s just say she isn’t into rock music. Which is fine; I’m happy that she at least tried. The photo of lead singer Nakajima is courtesy of my friend, just before she left to have dinner. I had an absolute blast for more than 2 hours, met some old friends and made some new ones… As I said: PERFECT!

Anyway, I am sure you’re pretty tired of my fangirling here already, so I’ll stop… In case you’re not, I wrote an article about 20 Years of BATI-HOLIC for my WUIK newsletter, which actually made it into a (rock) music magazine in Australia of all places. You can read my article in the Heavy Magazine.

After sleeping in and having a relaxed breakfast, my friend and I went to Shisendo, a nearby temple that is always pretty quiet. The gardens are nice, but not spectacular (outside the azalea season that is), but it is a nice place to sit for a while.

In the afternoon, we went to the Insho Domoto Museum, a favourite of mine; their current exhibition is about monochrome ink paintings, and my favourite painting is exhibited as well. I still can’t describe why it makes me feel the way I feel, but it still moves me to tears every time I see it. My friend was quite put out (and not as impressed about this particular painting I might add.)

Anyway, my friend is back in Tokyo, I’m back at home, Pumpkin is back at ease – and at least I had the perfect weekend! Tomorrow is a holiday to boot, so I can sleep in again. I’m very happy!

Summer Time…

It’s still raining almost every day, but nevertheless, it’s summer time. In other words: cockroach time…

Last week I caught two adults in my livingroom’s oshiire closet, and I thought that would be it for a while. Until a bit earlier tonight I found the huge mother-of-all-roaches and chased her through the kitchen. I need to buy more bug spray, just in case the monster spiders make a re-appearance as well…

In other, work-related news: I am now officially on social media. On X (formerly known as twitter), to be precise. The reason is that many opportunities for writers are not only announced on X, but also require you to “simply dm me for details or to pitch”. Of course, I’ve had an account there for What’s up in Kyoto for years, but I felt it would be a bit weird to use it for unrelated writing work. Thankfully, of all the social media, I find X the least intrusive wrt privacy, so here we’ll go. I already started off with a photo of Pumpkin, who knows where this will end.

Yes, I know what you think – next thing she’ll tell us is that she actually got a mobile phone… Well, I am indeed contemplating that one too…

The Death of the Tea Master

Early this year, I had the opportunity to write an article about Sen-no-Rikyu, Japan’s foremost tea master. Born in 1522, he shaped the Japanese tea ceremony like no other – inventing wabi-sabi on the side. Rikyu rose through the ranks and eventually, he served the country’s leaders Nobunaga and Hideyoshi – until the latter commanded him to commit suicide in 1592.

My article details his life and legacy and was published last month in the 20th issue of EATEN, a print and digital magazine devoted to food history.

The reason I’m sharing this here is because I’m so immensely pleased with the illustrations the editor chose to accompany my piece. They are woodblock prints from 1896 and capture the essence of Rikyu’s tea ceremony perfectly.

As a writer, there is always a bit of apprehension when it comes to images for one’s articles; this is nothing we can influence. When they turn out so wonderfully, it’s cause for extra celebration.

The whole magazine is stunning (a few photos are on the website above) and it’s well worth reading. Other articles in this drink-themed issue center on the connection of NASCAR and bootlegging, how to make the perfect cup of coffee, and it includes a number of recipes enjoyed by Oxford Dons in 1835. Cheers!

Touring Kyoto

This spring, I decided to lean out of my comfort zone and to take people on tours in Kyoto. So far, I have led about 10 groups of people, all German speakers, and the experience was certainly interesting.

First and foremost: all my clients were delightful people. They were curious and interested, some even prepared for their tour. They also wanted to know about life in Japan in general, and I hope I could dispel a myth or two… Overall, I enjoyed myself, which came as a surprise to me.

Ever since I came to Japan, friends of mine had suggested tour guiding to me, but I was always very reluctant. The main reason: I’m an introvert and I feel I’m not good with strangers; and on a tour you have to “function” immediately. But it turns out that this is not an issue at all. I only had small groups of four people max, and the fact that I finally get to talk about Kyoto and its history for hours to an appreciative audience is quite exhilarating.

The other thing I was worried about was my hip problem: One tour means six hours of walking, a good part of it uphill… However, since I lost so much weight last year, it was less of an issue than I had feared – provided I can take breaks or at least lean against something especially towards the end of the tour. And there are always painkillers, of course.

However, there is one unexpected negative as well: The day after a six hour tour, I’m wiped out. I feel more mentally drained than physically tired, and this might be because of my introversion – having to interact a whole day with people I don’t know seems to deplete my batteries pretty fast. Therefore, I try not to schedule mentally challenging tasks – or, heavens forbid: appointments – the day after a tour.

For that reason, the whole tour guiding thing will probably remain a side job for the high seasons in spring and autumn. While it’s always good to test one’s boundaries, it’s just as good to know where they lie.

The Reason I Jump

Naoki Higashida

Let’s get it out of the way: This is a book about autism. And its author, Naoki Higashida is autistic himself. Therefore, he is in a unique position to explain what this means. The book takes the form of a Q&A, where he answers 58 questions by “normal” people. Some of the questions are, for example: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly”, “Is it true that you hate being touched”, or “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” Some of the questions are more about his personal quirks, and to others he doesn’t have an answer, like “Why are your sleep patterns all messed up?”

I’m not really sure what to make of this book. Yes, it’s a fascinating first-hand account of somebody living on the spectrum who tries to explain what that actually means. He does so with deep insight into his own condition (which is to be expected), and with a surprising eloquence at times.

And it’s exactly this eloquence that makes me pause. Not because of his autism – I’m no MD, so I can’t evaluate how or if this would affect his intelligence – but because, allegedly, he wrote this book when he was only 13 years old. Granted, I don’t have experience with 13-year-olds and the chapters are very short, sometimes just a page or so. Yet, I somehow have the impression that there has been a lot of editing for the original publication and potentially again for the translation. The final short story that is included in the book is more in line what I see as the writing capabilities of a boy in his early teens.

Naoki Higashida was born in 1992 and diagnosed with autism as a child. Unable to speak at the time, he wrote this book (first published in 2007) using an alphabet grid. Since then, he has published both fiction and non-fiction and works on raising awareness of autism throughout Japan.

Despite my reservations, this book provides an interesting – and much needed – glimpse behind the emotional walls of an autistic child. Get it from amazon.

Simply…

Following up on my post about Kyoto’s IC cards, I decided to buy a prepaid ICOCA and take advantage of the new point system for commuters. Mostly, I’m still riding my bicycle, but there are some occasions where I need day tickets, which are not available on the bus anymore. Instead of purchasing some at a subway station, with an ICOCA, you can “buy” them online in advance. You still have to pay the full amount for all your trips on that day, but whatever is beyond the price of the day ticket is reimbursed in points (which can be used to reload the card) the next month. Anyway, I digress.

Buying the physical ICOCA was the easy part. The next step, registering the card under my name could be done online without much trouble, thanks to online translators.

One final step was necessary to be able to earn the commuter points, and the website said: “Simply insert your card into a ticket machine at a subway station to finalize your registration.” That’s what I did (or so I thought, when charging the card) all the way back in April. Points are awarded in the following month on the 15th, so I waited patiently.

And nothing happened for three months, even though I could login to the website and check how many of those one-day passes I had purchased so far. Still: No points arriving. The young assistant at my nearest subway station couldn’t help me beyond offering me a phone number (which is useless to somebody who still heavily relies on visual cues and handwaving when speaking). So, as I was in the area on Monday, I went to the bus & subway info center at Kyoto station to sort things out in person.

There, a lengthy back-and-forth eventually resulted in them making the call to the main office on my behalf. And I was informed that the final confirmation step at a ticket machine was still missing. I was a little surprised, but begging for help, somebody finally took pity and went with me to the nearest subway entrance to see what was going on.

There, it turned out that “simply insert your card into a ticket machine…” involves the following steps, all of which only in Japanese, of course:

  1. Choose a ticket machine that has the “points” option available in the first place (50% chance)
  2. Push the correct button (25% chance if you’re not fit with the kanji)
  3. Enter your (online) password and confirm
  4. Check the info displayed and, if correct, confirm again

Well. Everything’s simple in hindsight. And with help at hand….

Music Appreciation

As I mentioned, I sat down with BATI-HOLIC bandleader Nakajima-san for an interview the other week. Although we talked mostly about the band, I also took the opportunity to ask a few personal questions. About his cats. About his favourite bands. And about that one thing that keeps bothering me about their concerts:

People don’t sing.

You see, I love singing along with my favourite songs, even though I know I can’t sing (recording myself one rainy afternoon in my high school days drove that one home quite forcefully.) Still, I sing loudly and proudly and with lots of enthusiasm.

But at the concerts I go to, the audience stays mostly quiet. Yes, there is the dancing and the waving of tenugui, and they may join in with the refrain or shouts at certain songs. But otherwise: silence.

Nakajima thinks that many Japanese people believe that they can’t sing (how come karaoke is that popular then?) and they don’t want to bother the others around them. Also, most people just want to simply enjoy their favourite band performing live. However, he does admit that this is less of an issue in the small venues that BATI-HOLIC play in, since the music is so loud that it safely drowns out every other sound.

I can see his point, but still, singing along with the music at a concert is one of the main reasons I go there in the first place. It’s great to dive in deeply and I also feel that it creates a special bond and community with the other people there. Not to mention fantastic live versions of songs. It’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.

As a side note, Nakajima also mentioned clapping along with the beat – and how it really annoys him when people get it wrong. Interestingly, it doesn’t bother him when he’s on stage himself – I guess he’s too immersed in creating his music at the time.

But when he’s in the audience himself, he says he finds it disturbing when “someone is obviously grooving in a different way from the beat that the song has! Honestly, I sometimes wish they wouldn’t clap at all.” I understand what he means. And now, of course, I’m super conscious of my own clapping… Thanks, Nakajima!

Monkey Business

This afternoon, Pumpkin and I were startled out of our Sunday contemplation by noise from “upstairs”. At first I thought something had loosened and fallen. Pumpkin however made his way into the kitchen immediately and looked into the garden, growling. When I couldn’t find anything amiss, I went back to what I was doing.

A few minutes later, more noise, and when Pumpkin kept staring and growling and I took a closer look, I finally noticed them too:

Going into my third year living here, this is the first time I see monkeys – Japanese macaques to be precise – in this neighborhood, even though I’ve noticed warning signs nearby. So I thought, they were safely on the other end of town (aka: in Arashiyama’s monkey park.)

But no, two males had been visiting and were romping on the roofs and in the trees for a while before making off again. Now I wonder if some of the noises coming from the roof in some nights were also monkeys on the prowl. Then again, this was the first time Pumpkin got upset and growled throughout their visit. He now sleeps at the back of my chair again, keeping close watch over me, I guess.

It surprised me that they were pretty big but at the same time only have a very short tail. I wonder if they’ll be back and if I should be worried sleeping with open windows…
Sorry, I was a bit too slow taking pictures, these are the best ones.

Summer is Coming!

Today was the first day this year with more than 30 degrees! In other words: summer has officially started in Kyoto. My windows can stay open now, the duvet from my bed is on standby while I’m using the covers only (pyjamas will become optional in a few more weeks), and I’m looking into buying special summer items that dissipate heat.

Interestingly, I really didn’t need to check the thermometer to deduce that it’s summer now. I found out by a simple fact: Pumpkin is sleeping on my desk now.

Yesterday evening, he still squeezed behind me on my office chair (Side note: how come cats always use up 50% of your space, no matter what size it is?) but today, he prefers the cool wood of the desk in the coolest room of the house.

To be perfectly honest, it does annoy me a little. He has absolutely no business being so cute, and when he’s sleeping right next to me, I feel like canoodling him every 30 seconds or so. Goodness, I have stuff to do!