Yes…Noh

Not much has happened this week that is worth writing about unfortunately – or should I say: luckily, given the state the world is in right now? So, I’ll give a brief overview of my plans for the weekend.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a day off, mostly because I have physiotherapy for my hip in the morning, and I’m in more pain than usual for the rest of the day. I have been fairly good in keeping up with my exercises though, so overall the pain has reduced. It’s still not good if I walk too long or too far, but I’m doing better, thankfully.

In the afternoon, I want to go see a free Noh play/lecture about Noh. I still love Noh and I would love to go more often if it weren’t quite that expensive. So I’m grateful for any free or cheap possibilities to see a play. In this case, it will be just a short one-hour affair, so I guess it is just a short excerpt anyway. Plus, it is held in Murin-an, a lovely garden with beautiful villa that is wonderful in all seasons, but especially in autumn. A friend of mine will come along, even though Noh is not her thing, really. But since it is completely free for her (I have to pay entrance to the garden) and it’s nearby her house and it’s just an hour, and we wanted to meet anyway… she relented and will come with me.

Murin-an in summer

What I will do the rest of the weekend is not certain yet – except that I’ll probably work one day of it. The cherries are not yet at their peak, and besides, I already have a hanami appointment with a friend next Wednesday. Many fun events have been cancelled, but there’s the possibility of simply using my one-year ticket to the botanical gardens. and seeing how far the cherry blossoms are along there.

We’ll see… I shall report ūüėČ

Facemasks

Thank you all who have sent me emails from your quarantine to enquire about me! Looking at what is happening in Europe at the moment, I have to say that here in Japan, things are much, much better!

Kids are on holidays, universities are closed, and many events have been cancelled or postponed, including the Olympic Games 2020. People are wearing masks if they still have any, and there’s no toilet paper on sale, still. If you talk to people, the main topic is the Corona virus.

But other than this, things are pretty normal: We can go out whenever we like as opposed to just when needed, many museums are now reopening their doors, and the supermarkets are full, both with goods and with shoppers. So yes, for me, things look pretty normal with small exceptions, but then again, I neither care for kids nor for the elderly, and I work from home where I don’t meet many people to begin with.

Every now and then I do go out though, and the Corona crisis has provided me with a new experience! At our last soroban class, our teacher asked everybody to wear a face mask. Who knows where he got that stash from, but I obliged and wore a face mask for the first time in my life. It was… well… At first, it felt like I couldn’t breathe at all. The standard face masks are made with some sort of thick paper-pulp and it is weird to feel your own breath on your face. It took me some time to get used to the mask, but after a while it was okay.

After the class we took a walk at Nanzen-ji temple which was not very busy, but it was also a bit early for the cherry blossoms. The mask felt more and more restrictive the faster we walked about, and when it was finally time to go home, I took it off completely. I have never seen anybody wearing a mask on a bicycle or while doing sports, it really makes breathing much harder.

In any case, there are still no face masks to be had anywhere. And while the situation is relatively relaxed right now, there might come a time when you have to wear a mask when going out. So, I thought I’d be prepared – and did a bit of sewing last weekend. I took the mask I received at the soroban class and made a cloth version of it with some scraps I happened to have at home. It’s nothing fancy and definitely not perfect, but for a first trial I think I did pretty well. The left one below is the sample, the right one my own creation.

face masks bought and made

Signs in Kyoto

Kyoto is different from any other city in Japan, and even Japanese people – born in Kyoto or not – generally agree with me. Personally, I like to call Kyoto “the most Japanese city” of the country, whereas the other big centres like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sendai… feel more generally Asian to me. The differences range from language (besides the special vocabulary that is common in any dialect, Kyoto-ben is considered more formal than any other local variety of Japanese) to customs, food, building styles etc.

Part of the latter are strict zoning laws for the city. For example, with the one and only exception of Kyoto Tower (131 m), no building may be taller than the 5-story pagoda of Toji temple. It measures 54.8 meters, the elevation difference of Kyoto’s Shichijo and Kitaoji streets.¬†

Anyway, I wanted to talk about another thing where Kyoto is quite different from all other cities in Japan, something most people don’t even notice. Look at these two photos below. Notice the difference? Sure you do, but what is it, exactly?

The signs are gone! Since 2013, Kyoto has implemented rigorous standards for company signs, ranging from sizing and placement to detailed rules for coloring. Nowhere in Kyoto will you find gaudy colors during the day or flashy neon signs at night. If you want to hang out your shingle, it better be a classy one.

Starbucks near Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

For this reason, many Japanese companies had to come up with special color schemes for their signs just for Kyoto. And even multinational corporations like Mac Donald’s have to obey the rules. Not every company goes quite as far as Starbucks though, but then again, this particular cafe near Kiyomizudera is the exception there as well.

Many long-established Kyoto companies go the traditional route when it comes to their signage. Even on modern buildings you can see wooden signs, but the large carved ones are most often found on traditional buildings. There also, you may be greeted with a chochin lantern inscribed with the company name or with a logo-bearing noren in front of the main door, which, by the way, is a practical indicator of whether the place is open for business. 

Signs at the Shimadai Gallery

Yes, Kyoto is different! And with this rather small and insignificant change, the city government allows you to take your eyes off the blinking signage so you can focus on the things that really matter.

Yasaka Pagoda at night

All photos above are taken from the publication “Signs in Kyoto” by the Kyoto City Government.

Almost Hanami!

Cherry blossom season is about to start, thanks to global warming much earlier than usual. The forecast is very accurate, it says that the first blossoms start flowering today; and in fact, I saw my first sakura just yesterday on my way to visit a friend! Next week, the sakura should be in full bloom.

hanami forecast 2020

I’m looking forward to doing some hanami! I will probably simply go down to the river for a quick onigiri rice ball, but it’ll be fun nevertheless.

Getting Old…

This year I’m turning 45! Even if you wouldn’t know it, my body certainly does, and it is hitting me with all sorts of ailments. A little one is that I’m getting gray. I have dark hair, and although my hair dresser says it’s not bad at all, I have days when I feel that I can see every single one of the white whiskers and I need to start dyeing rightaway.

A much bigger one has been causing me problems since last Christmas: I have pains in my left hip when walking. As such that’s nothing new, I had that pain already back when I was at university, although not as badly. The pain is such that it pulls “inside” into my groin; it gets worse over time, and I need to stand still and take the weight of my left leg for a while before I can walk further again.

I have never seen a doctor for the pain, it just seemed normal to me. Some 10 years ago, a Korean friend took me to her “bone-setter” and he performed a miracle and fixed it within 10 minutes or so. I had been completely pain-free all that time – right up until last Christmas, when I could almost feel my muscles cramp up and the pain came back within a minute – and with a vengeance.

But now, of course, I’m a proper adult, so it took me only a few weeks until I went to a specialised orthopedic clinic nearby my home. After a total of 13 x-rays (made in 2 parts), 1 MRI (made in 50 minutes) and some 10 visits to physiotherapy (where I burned through 4 therapists so far), I finally had an appointment with a hip specialist at that same clinic last Saturday.

The diagnosis comes in several parts:

1) I have hip dysplasia, where the hip bone does not cover the head of the femur as much as it should. I have it on both sides, but it’s more pronounced on the left, it’s congenital by the way.

2) I have a tear in the left acetabular labrum, which is a cartilage and part of the joint capsule of the hip, and essentially keeps it all together. How this came to be, we don’t know, but it looks spectacular on the MRI, as if something had burst right out of my hip bone (think Alien)!

3) I have osteoarthritis in my left hip, a degenerative disease where the cartilage inside the joint that cushions the friction between the two bones is slowly wearing down. It’s probably caused by 1) and 2) together, and this is what actually hurts.

While the doctor was polite and explained everything to me in great detail, he also said there’s nothing he can do, really. Technically, the tear in the joint capsule could be repaired with arthroscopic surgery, but he says that the long-term outcome is generally poor, so there’s not much point in doing it.

What he suggests is a conservative treatment with physiotherapy. The idea is to strengthen and stretch the muscles in the hip so that they keep everything in place – hopefully in one that doesn’t hurt quite as much. So far, therapy has indeed been successful, in that the pain has diminished. What pain is left is also not focused in the groin area but more in the center of the leg, which is more bearable for some reason.

The doctor also prescribed some pain killers for the time being, I am not sure how much they are helping though. In the long run, the very long run, we’ll be looking at a hip replacement, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon, thankfully.

So yes, I’m getting old. We all do. Although the pain will probably stay with me, I’m not worried too much about it. In the worst case, I’ll just try to find another miracle bone-setter…

Return Stamp

As I have mentioned in a post last year, the Austrian-Japanese relations are now 150 years old. Which, usually, sparks all sorts of commemorative events and speeches and celebrations…

And stamps. Japan has come up with a set of 10 stamps showcasing the beauties of Austria (you can see it in the post linked above). Of course, relationships go both ways, so Austria also has created a commemorative stamp. It shows the ship that sailed to Japan bearing Austrian presents and an Archduke if I remember correctly…

Thanks you a friend who always sends letters with beautiful stamps, I can finally show it off. What do you think of it?

150  years Austria-Japan Relationship Stamp; the Austrian one.

More on the Corona Virus

People are getting more and more concerned about the Corona virus here in Japan. Here are a some news from my end – don’t worry, I myself am still fine and healthy!

The latest move of the government is to give prime minister Abe the ability to declare a state of emergency if needed. This means that the prefectural governors could then instruct residents to stay indoors and ask for schools to close and events to be canceled. Local governments could also demand that essentials like medicine and food be sold to them. They could temporarily take over private land and facilities to provide medical care. The difference to now (where schools are already closed) is that now the government does not have the legal power to force school closures etc. but they would have if a state of emergency was declared. Such a state of emergency could last for up to two  years, by the way.

woman wearing a surgical maskRight now it is virtually impossible to buy face masks anywhere. Of course, there are people who still have supplies and are selling them at exorbitant prices – a politician (!) from Shizuoka has just made 8.8 million yen this way. From next week on, it will be illegal to sell face masks at a profit, incurring a fine of 1 million yen and/or one year in prison.

This measure is only valid for face masks, but there are other things that are sold out or rationed as well: disinfectants for example, tissues and toilet paper, and, interestingly, female hygiene products (think panty liners). I don’t even want to know what people do with these… Just in case you want to be creative and make your own reusable face mask, here’s a how-to:
https://www.cottontimemagazine.com/page/10
It’s in Japanese, but thanks to the pictures, it’s pretty straightforward.

A number of delivery companies are taking measures to limit contact of their drivers with customers. You don’t need to sign when you receive a delivery for example, and it may even be that the driver will place your purchases not into your hand, but onto the floor in front of your apartment instead.

Hence the latest news from Japan. I’m still not worried, but then again, I’m not going out much anyway. My Japanese teacher has a serious knee injury and will not be able to come to our classes for a while, so that leaves at the moment only 3 appointments each week I have to go to, plus shopping of course. Also, sitting at home 24/7 is not good for my mental health, so people will still find me at my favourite cafe every once in a while.

Hina Matsuri

Tuesday was March 3rd – the day of Hina Matsuri, or the doll festival. It’s an ancient purification festival dedicated to daughters. In the old days, special dolls were used to absorb illness from people and then often ritually discarded.

Nagashi Bina dolls at Kamigamo Shrine.This year, I went to Kamigamo Shrine for their Nagashi Bina ceremony. Many shrines have a ceremony like this and the core of it is simple: You write your name and your wish onto a slip of paper that is often shaped like a human figure, and then you place the doll into a stream at the shrine so that the water “purifies” the paper and takes your wish with you. Some rituals have you rub the paper doll at your (aching) body or you blow on it to have the doll soak up all your misfortunes or illnesses before you place it into the stream.

At Kamigamo Shrine, there is first a ceremony at the main shrine. I did not see it because I was rather late and the entrance to the building was crowded. Anyway, I bought a little paper box and wrote my wish onto a piece of paper that I put into the box. After the ceremony at the main shrine, the priests and shrine maidens came down to the stream and did a quick purification and prayer ceremony at the stream. They were then the first ones to release boxes into the stream. Afterwards, the other visitors were allowed to do the same.

Nagashi Bina and Plum Branch from Kamigamo Shrine.It was a nice ceremony and overall, there were not many people, either because of Corona or because Kamigamo Shrine is a bit off the beaten tracks. There was an NHK TV team filming the scene though, and the friend I was with told me later that they showed a short segment on the evening news (sans yours truly, thankfully.) As a bonus, we received flowering plum branches to take home as the doll festival is often also called the plum festival, fitting the season. My branch is now gracing my living room, and I hope it will remain blooming for a while.

As I have mentioned before, now that I know about all those fun events, I rarely have time to go anymore. However, I am resolved to see more of Kyoto’s traditional events, especially at places I have not visited before. I hope I can get out of my shell a bit more and meet more people this way too.



Malice

Malice
Keigo Higashino

Bestselling author Kunihiko Hidaka was found murdered in his office by his wife and his old friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Detective Kaga, who happens to be an old acquaintance of Nonoguchi’s, investigates the case and thankfully, the murderer is quickly found. All the evidence that is subsequently revealed seems to corroborate the motive as the murderer explains it, but detective Kaga is not satisfied. Thus begins a search for the true motive behind the killing, which sends Kaga back to the past of Hidaka and Nonoguchi – as well as his own.

This is not your typical whoduneit, but more of a whydunit. After about a quarter of the story, the murderer has been found. However, the motive he reveals is nothing but a smokescreen erected to slander the victim beyond his death, and the real “Why?” comes to light only at the very end. While I know that people can go to great lengths to destroy an enemy, I found the fabricated motive too far-fetched, and the denouement of the real one at the end somewhat disappointing, although it was quite chilling. But maybe I’m just too much of a goodie two shoes…

Keigo Higashino, born 1958 in Osaka, started his professional writing career in 1986. He published more than 60 novels, 20 of which have been turned into films. He won a number of prestigious awards and served as the 13th president of Mystery Writers of Japan from 2009 to 2013.

Find out why the writer was killed and get the book from amazon.

About Cats…

Well, yes, about cats… I was thinking about getting a cat. An adult cat. Although kittens are cute, they are quite a lot of work, and I think older cats are a bit easier to work with. The Tamayuran has lots of cats of all ages from a hoarding situation at the moment, so that would be perfect.

Of course, this is a rental apartment, I needed to ask my landlord. And he said no. It’s not that he is personally against it, but the policy of the whole apartment block is “no pets”, meaning no dogs and no cats. I guess a hamster or some fish would be fine, but that’s not quite the same as a fluffy ball of fur.

So, no cats. I’m very disappointed to be honest. While I am planning my exit strategy, I shall live the cat-owners life vicariously through Chiko’s channel on youtube. Somebody found a kitten near his home and has rescued it and taken it home. And a gorgeous one she is, don’t you think?