Safety

Japanese police logoLast Sunday afternoon, while I was busy working, it rang on my door. When I opened, I got worried: There was a policeman with a small file in his hands and an inquisitive look on his face.

It was pretty harmless though, because once he had made sure that I was indeed the person living here, he explained why he had come. Once a year, the local Koban – a very small type of police station with only a handful of officers – sends out their officers into their neighborhood to visit every household. There, they make a list of the people who live there and then ask for a contact person in case of emergency.

The idea is that if you had an accident for example, and you would need assistance (going to a hospital), the police would call that contact person for you so you don’t have to face things on your own. For most people, this is a family member, like a spouse or parent. Since I have no family in Japan, I gave the name and number of a friend of mine. The officer assured me that this information would be kept only at the local koban, and not entered into an online database or even into a computer. Just the paper, ma’am (Japanese LOVE paperwork).

Since then, I have asked a couple of friends whether this is usual, and they said yes, this was normal all over Japan. It is one way of showing concern for the citizens, and also a way for the officers in the Koban to know their neighborhood.

I think this is a smart idea, especially for people who live alone or have no family nearby. When you have an accident at home, your neighbors probably know whom to call, but if you’re collapsing on a trip somewhere, then at there is that knowledge that there is a phone number somewhere at a safe place. Always good to know that you’re not completely alone. 

Embarrassment

As you know, I’m pretty busy, and I have not much time for things outside work, so much so that I’m behind on even my daily news. Not owning a TV or smartphone certainly contributes to that, but I’m always saying that if something is  important, the news will come to me because somebody will tell me about it.

And indeed, today, very first thing in my Japanese class, my teacher told me about Shinzo Abe nominating Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m rarely ever speechless, but my jaw dropped on this one. How on earth… Apparently it’s because of the negotiations in Korea – where, I have to state, the Koreans have had an on-off relationship across the border for decades before Trump came along. And apparently, it’s because the American government “asked” the Japanese one for that “favour”.

Somebody is crazy in here, and I’m not entirely sure who it is. First of all: I didn’t know you can ask to be nominated for a Nobel Prize. Probably, since the Nobel Peace Prize is a farce anyway, this one doesn’t matter, but does that work for the Nobel Prizes in Science as well?

Second: How disturbed must somebody be to ask for such a “favour”? Assuming this is true (and Abe does not openly deny it), then is this another move of Trump to outdo Obama?

Third: Another disturbing thing is that now other (right-wing) politicians have come forward and also said they have nominated Trump. Don’t they see that he’s pissing off the rest of the world at the same time? Living in Japan, I can honestly say that what scares me about the Korea crisis is not so much Kim, but the big American brother. I think I mentioned this before somewhere.

It’s unbelievable! My teacher says he is greatly embarrassed by Abe, and he worries that Japan will be seen as the world’s laughing-stock. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it does seem to make the headlines. What is it these days – the world seems to be full with politicians whose only goal is to embarrass themselves and their country (and yes, Austrian politicians do the same, just on a slightly smaller scale).

Experiences

What's up in Kyoto square logoIt’s finally live! I’ve been working on an experiences page for What’s up in Kyoto and just added it to the website. It’s about things to do in Kyoto beyond sightseeing, and I started a few basic things I could think of. There are more things I’d like to try myself first, like the river boat ride or the special train ride that you can take only in summer, both over in Arashiyama. It will be nice to make new experiences and share them on the website.

Actually, that’s already what I’m doing this year: making new experiences. Fun fact: When I was around 16, I wanted to become a journalist. Interviewing pop stars and such. Well, obviously my life turned out differently, but this year, I am learning how to do interviews! Every new museum highlight on What’s up in Kyoto has a section “Questions to the Curator” and I’m actually going there and having a chat with them (with my trusted friend Naoko, who is translating) instead of just doing it by email.

They do get the questions beforehand and they do get a say in the final version that is published on the website, so, strictly speaking, it’s not a classic, free form interview. Still, I am very proud of myself that I’m pulling this off and I’m learning a lot of how to let people talk and taking back my own view point for a while at least. I’m very curious about the other people I will meet through this – I cannot wait making more new experiences.

Artistic

Neon Sign Spelling ARTIt’s a bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m not sure February Resolutions are a thing, but I guess I found an overarching theme for the coming year:

Learn about art.

Yes I know, I have barely time for anything right now, but it does tie in with my What’s up in Kyoto highlight theme this year, which is all about museums in Kyoto. Every month I will highlight another little museum in Kyoto, so I have to go there and look at their (current) exhibition and learn about what that is and who the artist is etc.

This is a part of my education where I am sorely lacking. I had art and music classes only in elementary and middle school, there was nothing at all in high school, and although I could not say for sure any more, I think we didn’t even talk about art history. My history teacher wasn’t interested in that, and my German language teacher never even forced us to read full books, he was more of a short story guy that we got to emulate during our tests.

So, I think this is a nice opportunity to learn something new. I have visited several museums already, and I am definitely interested in the exhibitions. I always liked sculptures and applied arts but still don’t know how to approach ceramics or Japanese calligraphy. Interestingly, I seem to like modern (abstract) paintings, something that comes quite as a surprise to me.

I always thought abstract paintings have no … value or no point to them (hard to express what I mean here). But now that I’m actively seeking out new experiences I find abstract art very interesting. They are beyond form and beyond an understanding that relies on depicting the obvious. Some of them completely bypass the brain and hit you in the guts. I have had very strong feelings to a few I have seen lately, and it does surprise me, as I said.

Anyway, learning about art will be my big thing to learn this year. I’ll keep you posted how it’s going.

Efficiency

As you all know – because I have complained about it often enough – there is a construction site next door, where the shopping mall is enlarged considerably. Every time I pass by, I marvel at the efficiency of the work crew and how quickly they are getting things done. By now they are starting to erect the steel frame, and they are very fast in doing so. I took the photo below last week, and they have already put up a new section.

One of the guys guarding the gates knows me already and we chat every now and then when I try to get a closer look. He said that the new mall is supposed to open in December this year, and by the looks of it, they are going to achieve this.

I wish I could be just as fast and efficient as they are. Guess I need to work on that a bit more…

Construction Site next door

Work-Life Balance

I’m very sorry for skipping posts again… I was terribly busy the last two weeks, working for 10 hours and more each and every day, so I’m afraid I had to drop a ball or two. But the big deadline was yesterday and now I have a little more time to breathe – in fact, I even took today off – so I hope I can get back to writing here on my usual schedule.

cogwheelsApparently, my absence raised concerns with some of you, because in the weekend I received an email from a friend of mine who essentially said she was hoping I was just busy and otherwise alright. And then she popped the question: “I was wondering if you have a strategy as to how to balance work and life…”

And I thought: Hey, YOU have that cushy 9-to-5 job with weekends off, mandatory holidays and a fixed paycheck at the end of each month, and you’re asking ME about life-work balance? I am literally spending 90% of my waking hours in front of my laptop and didn’t have a day off in 3 weeks and I am your go-to person for this question? You must be kidding me!

But then she went on to say that she’s taking her work home in the form of worries of the “will this turn out okay” variety, and that is indeed an issue I have struggled with myself, in particular during my time in academia. The point is that I am rather perfectionist, and I have troubles getting things done to the standards I set myself, so often it was a problem of “why even bother doing this if you can’t do it right anyway”. And during my time off, I felt guilty for not doing my job properly, so I felt I didn’t deserve that time off. Interestingly, now that I am essentially self-employed, I find it much more easy to satisfy a client and work to their deadline (and standards) rather than doing the same for my own projects, even though they are more important in the long run.

So, I talked about this to a therapist, and the answer was essentially that I put myself under too much pressure to perform at work and that I may have deficits in my private life when it comes to spare time activities, friends, etc. He also said “Sometimes the psyche sabotages because she wants to satisfy her own needs.” 

The answer was spot on. I’m an introvert, which makes it very easy to neglect the human interaction part (“I don’t really need people anyway.”) I thought about this for a while and then implemented a no-computer-day once a week. I could do anything, just lay in bed reading, or cleaning the apartment or going to a museum, or seeing friends, just as long as it didn’t involve the computer.

The important part here was not what I was doing, but to give myself permission not to work and not to worry about it because tomorrow will be early enough. I think this was the main part that helped me relaxing about work and not obsessing about it constantly. The result was that I am now more focused at work so I can get much more done and at the same time, I fully enjoy myself on my days off.

I hope this is useful to my friend, it’s a bit hard to describe what I did, but I have eased up considerably about work. I do what needs to be done, and then I move on and shut down my brain. By now, I can even handle using the computer on my days off, and even though I have been very busy for the last month, I don’t feel as emotionally drained as before. Good luck with it!

The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book
Sei Shonagon

Cover of "The Pillow Book"The Pillow Book is hard to describe. It is an ancient diary, not a novel, so there is not much plot. The entries are undated and although there are references to this or the other festival in this or the other season, it is hard to get a feeling of the flow of time. On the other hand, the little entries tell of a time and place so strange, that whatever moved the writer at her time seems to come from an entirely different universe and sounds like fiction after all. The individual entries talk about the routines of daily court life, interesting outings to festivals, and there is gossip of course, about friends, foes, and lovers alike.

Sei Shonagon was a court lady on the Heian court in Japan at about 970 – 1020. She began writing The Pillow Book when she received a book of fine writing paper as a gift, and her diary ends when the paper was used up. Her little vignettes tell of a time long gone and of strange customs that even at her time only a few people were privy to.

The book is very strange, and every time I read it, I feel differently about it. Her stories, although they seem trivial at times – as diary entries are bound to be – still have an eerie way of drawing you in. I don’t know much about the customs of that time, but I wonder what people with a better understanding of them think about The Pillow Book.

Go find out for yourself and get your copy from amazon!

Winter Greetings

Japanese written correspondence is different from what is done in the West, and it often much more formalised as well.

Take the well-known nengajo New Year’s cards for example. You send them to basically everyone you know or who has done you a favour in the last year, and express your hope of continuing new relations for the year to come. If you send them on time (between December 15 and 25), Japan post will take care that they are delivered on January 1st.

When people are in mourning, they are not supposed to send (and receive) nengajo, so they send mochu hagaki mourning cards in the beginning of December to alert everybody of the situation. I did that with my friends last year, even though they all knew that my grandmother had died and would not have sent me a nengajo anyway.

Instead of nengajo, people often send so-called kanchu mimai winter greetings during January. They are slightly less formal and can be sent for any reason really, but still should be sent some time before Setsubun in the beginning of February. This year, I am sending kanchu mimai to all the shrines I visited as a highlight in 2018. A friend of mine suggested this instead of sending nengajo, partly because of the mourning part (even though the shrines would not know that) and partly because she thinks that they would probably receive hundreds (thousands?) of nengajo, and mine would go under.

kanchumimai winter greeting cardSo, I have bought a pack of kanchu mimai cards with a simple design with spring flowers, and as customary, my greetings will go on the front of the card. I asked my friends what to write, and I chose something very simple and short, so that it won’t take hours to write all this. I am not sure I will be able to get it done this week, we will see.

By the way, there is an equivalent card for summer, a summer greeting, called shochu mimai which can also be sent for any reason, really. Interestingly, the idea of sending postcards from holidays has never caught on in Japan, maybe because their holidays are so short anyway? In these instances the Japanese prefer to bring small omiyage presents.

Pressure

Japan’s societal rules put a lot of pressure on individuals. On women more than on men. The country is still very patriarchal, and male-female equality is not something that comes easily to the guys in charge. One very recent incident is now stirring up the media as well as people in Japan, I’m simply posting a link here, so you can read the story of Yamaguchi Maho yourself.

https://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/113542530.html

Transition

As you probably know, this year, Japan will have a new emperor. The current one – the Heisei Emperor – will retire on April 30th, and his son will ascend to the throne on May 1st. There are many preparations for this event, some things are known already, and others have yet to be decided.

It is known that the retired emperor will receive the title Jōkō, which means “retired emperor” and he is the first to hold this title in almost 180 years. It is not known if he will stay in Tokyo or not, although Kyoto people do (more or less secretly) hope that he might come to live in the palace here.

It is known that on April 30, the Heisei Period will officially end, but it is not known which name the new era, starting on May 1, will have. This will be announced on April 1st, and for practical reasons, it is unlikely that the new era name will start with a T, S, or an H.

It is also already known that, on occasion of the enthronement of the new Emperor, there will be 8 national holidays in a row, from April 29 – May 6. That’s because the change will take place during Golden Week, where there are already several holidays to begin with.

  • April 29 is Showa Day, in remembrance of the father of the Heisei Emperor
  • April 30 is a “Sandwich National Holiday” because, according to Japanese law, all work days falling between two national holidays are automatically national holidays as well.
  • May 1 is a Special National Holiday because of the ascension of Still-Crown Prince Naruhito and the celebrations for the occasion
  • May 2 is a “Sandwich National Holiday” like April 30.
  • May 3 is Greenery Day, the first day of Golden Week
  • May 4 is Constitution Day, also part of the Golden Week
  • May 5 is Children’s Day, the last Golden Week holiday
  • May 6 is a “Happy Monday Holiday” because, according to Japanese Law, all National Holidays falling on a Sunday will be celebrated as a day off on the following Monday.

Add to this the weekend before, and (most of) the Japanese are looking at 10 days off in a row.

The ceremonies are not over at this point, the real enthronement will take place only on October 22nd and will probably involve a very private and secret ceremony at Ise Shrine, the highest ranking shrine in Japan.

Already now, ceremonies are being held since this year is the 30th anniversary of the current emperor’s enthronement after the death of his father in 1989. There is a large exhibition organised by the Imperial Household Agency that shows photos of many of the Heisei Emperor’s visits to Japanese and foreign cities, as well as gifts received at those occasions. Also on display are the traditional clothing worn by the current emperor and empress at their enthronement ceremony 30 years ago.

If you are in Kyoto, this very popular exhibition is taking place at the Takashimaya right now, and definitely worth a visit.