Back 2 Normal

Thanks for your kind messages: I’m almost back to normal, only a few sniffles remain and a persistent cough that mostly manifests in the mornings and scares Pumpkin out underneath the covers. My hot water has reappeared too, just as surprisingly as it was gone. Probably it wasn’t frozen pipes, but just a frozen valve in the water heater itself (which is outside). The first hot shower after a few days of washing my hair in a bucket felt like a treat!

There were a few other treats in the last 3 weeks I should be reporting on. First, the Bati-Holic concert on the 14th, which was probably the reason why I got that nasty cold to begin with: I was pretty sweaty after the concert and then bicycled home; even though it was a fairly warm night, it was probably not the best of my ideas…

Second, the Tuesday after, my friend from Tokyo invited me to a kabuki performance in Osaka. It turned out not to be “real” kabuki, but a mix of kabuki and noh theater together with taiko drums. The first half was a bit disappointing – I had seen “Hagoromo” several times before – but the second half with a famous lion dance performance – one father and two son lions – made it all up to me. Performers were Bando Tamasaburo, a kabuki actor famous for his onnagata female roles, and the taiko group Kodo, which I’ve seen before in joint performances like this. It was a great afternoon, even though I got violently sick on the way home and in the end had to cancel our plans to see the Andy Warhol exhibition on the next day.

Last week I was up and running again (mostly) and I visited Daigo-ji temple for work on Thursday. I took some lovely pictures of the snowy temple, and if you don’t mind me repeating myself (or rather: this month’s highlight on What’s up in Kyoto), I’ll write about Daigo-ji next Sunday.

And finally, because I finished all my work and then some relatively early on Monday, I treated myself to another Bati-Holic concert… Sadly, there were not many people, but it was fun anyway. Interestingly, the guys seem to know me already. When I entered, I bumped into one of the members on the way to the dressing room, and he said “Hey, nice to see you again, thanks for coming!” It’s not as if they only have three fans or something, so I find it almost embarrassing when something like this happens…

Anyway, this time, the group was complete, no Corona-necessitated substitutes this time, so my signatures are now complete as well. So happy!

Goodness, I sound like such a fangirl…

The Gate

The Gate
Soseki Natsume

The couple Sosuke and Oyone live at the verge of poverty in the outskirts of Tokyo in the beginning of the 20th century. When Koroku, Sosuke’s much younger brother, is forced to live with them and expects them to pay for his university tuition, the situation in the household goes from bad to worse. By chance, Sosuke and his landlord begin a friendship that may improve the lives of the three young people. However, when Sosuke hears that Oyone’s brother, for whose misfortune he believes to be responsible, is back in town, this might mean that they once again must leave everything behind and settle elsewhere. To clear his thoughts, Sosuke goes on a visit to a Zen monastery in the mountains…

A beautiful book by Soseki Natsume, although, to be honest, nothing much happens. We hear about the day-to-day life and hardships of the loving couple, but just as with many other Japanese novels, the most important things are only implied. Only more than half through the book do we hear about the reason for Sosuke’s estrangement from his family, for example. Things pick up speed when Sosuke visits the Zen temple, and his struggles with the unfamiliar life are depicted beautifully. What is your answer to this koan, posed to Sosuke by the head priest: “Your original face prior to your parent’s birth – what is that?”

Soseki Natsume, pen-name of Natsume Kinnosuke, was born in 1867 as the 6th child of a rather poor family. From the age of 15, he wanted to become an author, but because of his father’s disapproval, he entered university to study architecture and English. He went to England in 1901 for two years, and did not like the experience. Today, he is one of the most famous writers of Japan. Soseki Natsume died in 1916, only 49 years old.

Soseki considered “The Gate” his favourite novel, and you can get it on amazon.

Heavy Snow

This is what my street looked like this morning:

It started snowing yesterday in the late afternoon, and I even took a walk around the block last night, when it was still snowing. It must have stopped in the night already, that’s why we only have 15 to 20 cm, but for Kyoto, this is very unusual. Looking at the news, there has been snow and cold temperatures all over Japan, and most people in the cities are not used to dealing with it.

For example, trains were stranded everywhere, and there was an article telling of people shut in a train for 5 hours just outside of Kyoto’s Yamashina station while personnel tried to free the switches from snow. I also read that some convenience stores and smaller food shops had to close because they had been sold out – the article implied a run on the shops. I’m wondering: WHY? Sure, I get it, probably a lot of the supplies scheduled to come in last night were stuck somewhere; but you don’t need to go shopping every day to survive. It was very quiet up here, I think the post man didn’t come at all, so I didn’t see any of the usual kamikaze drivers (people who park their car outside and don’t bother cleaning off all the snow before driving), but there must have been plenty in town.

I did have a problem of my own: No hot water. There was plenty of cold water, and the gas was working as usual – but they didn’t combine to produce hot water. I am guessing that the hot water pipes are frozen shut, and since the temperatures hovered around 0 degrees all day up here, they didn’t thaw yet. This night is forecast to be very cold again (-4 degrees), but it seems that the next days at least should be warmer. So far, I haven’t called anybody, but it seems that the pipes, while frozen, are still intact. If something changes one way or the other, I will have to do something about it. But that’s a problem for tomorrow.


Just in case you worried about a certain lack of post yesterday: This time, I’m sick. It’s just a cold, and I’m already feeling a little better today, but I’ll be off to bed again soon. Nothing quicker to cure a cold than a cat snuggled up against your back…

Bati-Holic II

Last night, I went out, and I can’t believe it took me that long to see another Bati-Holic concert! During that time, the world had (and still has) Corona, and the Kyoto Taiko Drum Rock Band has released their new CD “What a Sushi”. I haven’t listened to all of it yet, so I can’t say if I have a favourite on this album.

My favourite from their previous one is “Brightness”; the video is from a Kyoto concert in 2019.

This is closely followed by “Panorama”, where the lead vocals are replaced by a flute. Enjoy!

I’m back!

Happy New Year again! Probably, by now we’ve all settled back into our workday routines. I sure have…

It was a very nice and relaxing holiday. I even tried to stay offline for a good part of it – so in case you haven’t heard back from me regarding any year’s end/start wishes, that’s the reason why. I was fairly busy doing things around the house, small projects that I had wanted to do for a long time, but that always fell by the wayside. Things like “clean the bicycle” and “tidy living room downstairs” and “clear office cable spaghetti”. From my list of 21 items, I did 12 completely and started 2 more only in the last 2 weeks. I’m pretty satisfied.

The biggest project was certainly to fix the shoji in my bedroom, and while this is a relatively easy thing to do, I ran out of paper on the last frame and needed to shop for more. But it’s done finally, and it’s amazing how clean the room looks now, even though nothing has changed but the colour of the shoji paper. I will talk about how to fix shoji in a separate post.

For the first time since living in Japan, I bought an ofuda, a lucky charm for the house, see the photo. It is supposed to go onto the kamidama, a special, slightly elevated place for the gods. Older houses have one in the kitchen, but my house doesn’t have one. No big deal, there are other places. The reason why the photo looks a bit washed out is because the ofuda is covered with thin paper, and I have been told to leave the paper on, probably so it doesn’t get dirty in the year it should stay in the house.

Other than that, the weather has been quite pleasant, especially compared to last year. Of course, Pumpkin is freezing anyway and sleeps under an extra blanket on a heating mat in my office… And there were a few colder days, but overall, it’s much warmer than it was last year. We’ve only had one day of – very little – snow so far and even though it is objectively cold, subjectively, it doesn’t “bite” that much. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Happy New Year 2023!

Happy New Year of the Rabbit!
I wish you a very happy, healthy, and successful 2023!

This is “my” year, and if my Chinese horoscope is correct (*), it will be an extremely lucky and successful one. We’ll see, but it’s always good to start the New Year with vigor and expectations of good things to come.

(*) No, I don’t believe in this. But it’s fun to read horoscopes every now and then.

Winding Down

Pumpkin looking cute in his kitty bed in my office.

Another year (almost) over! One year and three weeks in which I’ve been living here, and Pumpkin celebrated his “Gotcha Day” just last week. So, it’s our second Christmas together in the new house, and I’m hoping that many more will follow!

Looking back, there were no more big changes for me this year (they all happened in 2021 already). So, 2022 was more a year of tranquillity and settling in to the new normal. I guess there will be smaller ongoing improvements to the house and my life (hopefully), but I don’t expect any massive upheavals in the near future.

The benefits of middle age. Or should I call it “the boredom”?

In any case, I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll have wonderful holidays too – and I’ll see you again next year!

Okoku Konoshima

What makes an artist famous? His works must appeal to at least some of his contemporaries to begin with, but a certain timeless quality is necessary as well to attract new admirers in the future. And of course, the right connections are necessary, or in other words: marketing. Nobody gets famous by working away alone in their basement. Still, things can be more complicated than that.

Kyoto-born Okoku Konoshima is one of these cases. Although he was a prolific artist, many of his large-scale paintings were bought by museums during in lifetime, and he was commissioned to decorate all the fusuma in the main hall of Nanyo-in temple, he doesn’t count among the circle of the truly famous. Only recently, his work has garnered renewed interest. Part of this may well be because he mostly withdrew from artist’s circles in his later life. But let’s start at the beginning.

Okoku Konoshima was born in 1877 as Bunjiro, the second son of a businessman in Kyoto’s bustling Sanjo-Muramachi district. His father’s house saw many guests of different walks of life, and Konoshima was able to meet tea masters, painters, poets, and other creative people from a young age. Although he was meant to study business, likely to take over or at least get involved in his father’s furniture business, he dropped out of the commercial school he was enrolled in and took painting classes instead. 

In 1893, when he was 16, he began to take classes from Imao Keinen, one of the leaders of the Maruyama-Shijo school. This particular school of painting put a great focus on sketches, and over his lifetime, Konoshima filled 674 sketchbooks with animals, flowers, and other drawings. And already in 1899, at the age of 22, Konoshima’s painting “Uryu Brothers” won a prize at an exhibition and was subsequently bought by the Imperial Household Agency.

Konoshima is best known for his paintings of animals. He received free annual passes for Kyoto City Zoo, but was happy to take inspiration from everywhere. His animals are very realistically drawn, but at the same time, they are done in an almost lyrical style that shows a great affection for them.

Besides his animal paintings, there are his landscapes. Konoshima travelled extensively from age 26 or so and filled dozens of sketchbooks on his yearly trips through Japan. They became the basis for large-scale landscape paintings on folding screens and fusuma sliding doors. With these ink paintings, Konoshima created a modernized style rooted in traditional Chinese paintings by incorporating the spatial perspectives of Western paintings. In a way, he was able to transplant these traditional landscapes from China to Japan, creating vistas that were both new and familiar.

As mentioned above, Konoshima withdrew from painter’s circles later in life and instead focused on poetry and calligraphy. His reasons for that are unknown, but he was fond of poetry throughout his life. He died in 1938 when he was hit by a train in Osaka.

I’ll add some images tomorrow.