Snakes and Earrings

Snakes and Earrings
Hitomi Kanehara

19-year-old “not a Barbie girl” Lui meets mesmerizing Ama in a club and moves in with him rightaway. She is fascinated by his forked tongue and soon takes the first step to get one herself: Ama’s friend Shiba pierces her tongue. On a whim, Lui decides to get a tatoo as well, and Shiba uses the opportunity to talk her into having sex with him. Lui is torn between the two men, but when Ama’s jealousy explodes, she is forced to take drastic measures. Can she prevent things spiralling out of control?

The unexpected meeting with Ama draws Lui towards the edge of Japanese society, where people experiment with body modifications, choose unorthodox lifestyles, and mingle with underworld types. This book provides an interesting glimpse into a part of society that (prefers to?) remain in the shadows.

I picked up this book because Dogen mentioned the author in one of his videos. To be honest, I didn’t like it very much. Although the subject matter reminded me of Ryu Murakami, she’s not a writer of his calibre, and some of the violence and an s&m sex scene were too graphic and drawn out for my taste. Since these occured faily early in the book, I wonder if the author wasn’t only after the shock value. It was also pretty short, more of a novella, and the best thing about it is that it’s a fast read.

Hitomi Kanehara was born in Tokyo in 1983, dropped out of school at age 11 and left her home when only 15. Snakes and Earrings was written when she was 21, won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, and subsequently sold more than a million copies in Japan. She claimed that some of the themes in the book were inspired by her own issues with self-harm. In 2012, she moved to France with her husband and children where she lived for 6 years before returning to Japan. Kanehara has gone on to write more than 10 books to date, some of which won further literary prizes or were translated into other languages as well.

If you want to try something a bit different, you can get this book from amazon. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Visitors

It must be the garden. Or just the fact that I’m now living on ground floor. I’m getting much more visitors of the crawly, unwanted kind than ever.

I suspect there is a whole cockroach colony living behind my kitchen cabinets. Besides putting up traps and keeping the kitchen as clean as possible, there is not much I can do about them. Pumpkin is used to have his nibbles over night (especially in summer, he ate mostly then). So, essentially, I’m feeding not just him, but the cockroaches too. Let me know if you have ideas.

Ants are also attracted to Pumpkin’s food dish, but they are relatively easy to get rid of. A bit of insect spray on their path, and they won’t return. For the most part, they stay in the garden anyway.

I have no idea how the spiders enter the house, though. Attracted to the light, they magically appear in the evenings. The little jumping spiders, no bigger than 2 cm, are cute, and I try to catch them in a tissue and put them outside. But there are others…

One night, I found a brown hunting spider the size of my palm perched on the inside (!) of the fly screen in the toilet. I carefully closed the window, and after a couple of days, it was gone – outside, hopefully. A few days later, when I went to bed, there was an even larger spider sitting on the door to the library. Pumpkin scared it off – or maybe it was my screeching? It was enormous, leg span around 20 cm, the size of my spread hand, and as it escaped over the tatami, it resembled the “Thing” from the Addams Family. I could even hear its footsteps.

So, instead of going to bed, I picked up the insect spray from the kitchen, then huddled on the top end of my futon, waiting. Three hours later, the spider re-emerged and nonchalantly placed itself on the wall less than a meter from my head. It eyed me with curiosity (obviously planning on how to eat all that.) I still shudder thinking about what happened next, so let’s just say my insect spray and I prevailed in the end. Let’s hope it didn’t install its family inside the house.

But not all the visitors are bad. I’ve seen geckos climbing fly screens and windows to hunt. The little fella here has greeted Pumpkin and me on our morning walk in the garden for the last couple of days. I wouldn’t mind if they were to bring their families!

The Hardest Part of Japanese

I’ve stumbled across this youtube channel and have been binging his videos ever since. Dogen-san makes fun of (learners of) Japanese, (foreigners living in) Japan and, every so often, himself too. His Japanese is impeccable, and he has a patreon where he teaches Japanese pronunciation.

This is one of his slightly less serious lessons. If you ever struggled with this part of the Japanese language, you’ll understand.

Typhoon Aftermath

This season’s typhoon #14, “Nanmadol” has cleared Japan yesterday. It wreaked havoc as it crossed first through Kyushu from south to northwest and then when it returned from the west through northern Honshu. At the latitude of Kyoto city, it was far enough out on the Japan sea to only cause a bit of rain in the night to Tuesday. Looking at all the damage it has done in the rest of Japan, we were very lucky.

It could have been much worse. In August, we had a number of very heavy rainstorms. One of them caused more than 90 mm of rain in a single hour in northern Kyoto city, and at some point people there were even asked to evacuate. Note that Kyoto’s Kita-ku district reaches far into the countryside, so I’m not sure where exactly that was.

Given that I live fairly far uphill now, my area isn’t prone to flooding, at least according to the local hazard map I received when buying the house. However, during those rainstorms, the little stream at the back of my house swelled to a raging torrent, and what is usually not more than 10 cm of clear brook turned into a brown soup that filled half of the bed provided for it.

It took several days for the waters to recede, and the loud noise coming from the otherwise so quiet stream surprised me quite a bit. At that time, I finally understood why the agent mentioned it several times at the time of the sale.

But now, the only consequence of the typhoon is that the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees over night. Although we still have 23 degrees during the day, and the temperatures should rise again soon, it feels pretty cold right now. So much so, that last night, for the first time since this spring, Pumpkin wanted to sleep under my blanket. I guess we’re officially in autumn now.

Two-Holiday Week

It’s a super short work week, with only 3 days in the office!

Today is Keiro-no-hi, “Respect for the Aged” Day, where Japan honours the elderly. And there are plenty of them. For the first time, there are more than 90,000 over-100-year olds, all of which receive a congratulatory letter and a silver cup from the government. Or rather, a sake cup made from nickel alloy with silver plating, as the real silver would be too expensive. This year, 80,161 women are over 100 years old, with only 10,365 men reaching such an old age. The oldest woman is 115, the oldest man 111 years old, definitely something to strive for.

I was planning to visit a museum today, but we’re all sitting tight because of typhoon # 14 “Nanmadol”, which is coming up the western coast of Japan. There is even an extreme weather warning in place, and when I woke up in the morning, my neighbours had all their shutters closed. So far, however, the day was quite humid but with not much rain. Maybe tomorrow?

And on Friday will be Shubun-no-hi, the autumnal equinox, with another day off. The typhoon should have passed by then, so I’ll just move today’s plans to Friday.

Moonstruck

Just a quick heads up. A friend of mine from Tokyo came for a visit, and we roamed through Okazaki yesterday: Keage Incline, Murin-an, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art…

It was definitely worth it, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards because of the heat. And I need to play catch up with work. So, just a wonderful picture from our dinner on Monday night – the harvest moon, only two days after it was full. Courtesy of my friend.

Austria’s Most Wanted – Tibor Foco

On March 13, 1986, a young woman named Elfriede Hochgatter was found shot dead near rail tracks leading to Linz, Austria. The 24-year-old, whom her friends described as a nice but headstrong person, had worked as a prostitute nearby the place where she was found. A suspect was arrested the very next day. This seemingly straightforward murder and its aftermath would turn into one of the best known criminal cases of Austria. It is still not solved today.

Tibor Foco was born in 1956. His parents were business owners in Linz with roots in Hungary. Tibor is described as intelligent and extremely disciplined, and he enjoyed fast cars. His hobby turned into a career when he became a professional motorcycle race driver, where he had a number of successes. Despite that, the promising young man decided to open the “Bunny Bar” in the red-light district of Linz, apparently to finance his racing career. Maybe it was also a manifestation of his dark side, because he was said to look down on women and knew how to successfully manipulate him. Yet, he tried to do his business as much above ground as possible – a novum in the red-light district – which may have earned him some enemies.

When the body of Elfriede Hochgatter was found, Tibor Foco because the prime suspect from the start. Not only was his own bar next to Elfriede’s workplace, the two had had an altercation that had got physical in the night of the murder. And when Regine Ungar, Tibor’s mistress and prostitute in his bar, testified to the police that Tibor had forced her to shoot Elfriede, it was an open-and-shut case. Despite a number of inconsistencies, and the fact that Tibor Foco always proclaimed his innocence, he was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987. Tibor Foco was incarcerated in Stein near Linz, one of Austria’s high security prisons.

With his sentencing and imprisonment, the case should have quickly lost the public’s attention, but the opposite happened. None of the evidence found on the body or even the crime scene could be linked to Tibor Foco. Other evidence was misplaced or disappeared, and allegations of police misconduct surface. The prison director believed Tibor to be innocent, and even jurors openly questioned his guilt. But all applications for a retrial were denied.

Instead, Tibor Foco was allowed to study law at the university of Linz, which no other prisoner for life has ever been allowed to do. Here, Tibor’s iron discipline was a boon. He was a good student and model prisoner, and eventually got permission to attend selected courses in person, always accompanied by two policemen. But the lecture on April 27, 1995, he would miss.

On this day, he and his police escort arrived at the university at 8:25. One officer stayed in the car, the other accompanied Tibor inside. There, through some smart planning and quick thinking, Tibor was able to shake off his guard and retrieve a package left for him in a toilet. It contained the key to a nearby garage where clothes, money, and, most importantly: a motorcycle were waiting for him. By the time reinforcements arrived at the university, Tibor Foco was long gone. His escape – meticulously planned by himself from prison – took less than 10 minutes.

In the aftermath, old accusations of police misconduct and procedural errors quickly resurfaced. Regina Unger recanted her testimony and alleged that she was tortured. And Tibor’s alleged accomplice was granted a retrial and was fully acquitted in 1996. One year later, Tibor’s case was reopened, and he was even offered safe conduct if he returned, but he didn’t take the offer.

To this day, Tibor Foco tops Austria’s Most Wanted List at Interpol. Rumours place him in Eastern Europe or even farther away from Austria, but given his discipline, it is unlikely that he will ever be found. Today, many Austrians, including the victim’s late mother, believe Tibor Foco to be innocent.

This is just a short summary of one of Austria’s most spectacular criminal cases. Whether Tibor was really innocent or just a master manipulator, will probably never be found out. I have written a much longer article on Tibor Foco and his escape called “Austria’s Most Wanted: 27 Years and Counting” for the anthology The Best New True Crime Stories: Unsolved Crimes & Mysteries, which will be officially released on Tuesday.

The book contains 14 more unsolved crimes from all over the world, and I couldn’t put it down and breezed through it in a few days. I knew some of the presented cases already (like the case of Emanuela Orlandi from the Vatican), so I found it a little less interesting than the prior anthology I contributed to. However, it is a fascinating read in any case, so, if you’re into true crime, you should definitely pick this one up. Here’s the link to amazon. I hope you’ll like it!

I’m back!

What a summer! It was mostly relaxing and stress-free, this my first summer in my new house. And it wasn’t quite as hot in my bedroom underneath the roof as I had feared. The temperatures stayed mostly in the low to mid 30s during the days and dropped just enough in the evening to make sleeping possible most nights. I’m not sure if this is because of the “cool mountain air” “up here” where I live now, or if summer was generally a little cooler this year.

Pumpkin did suffer from the heat too and visibly perked up the few times I used the air condition. He spent most of July and August inside the oshi-ire in my office, and during the nights he slept on the cooler wooden floors, trying to catch even the tiniest breeze coming through the house. Now he’s back on his zabuton cushion next to my futon at night, a sure sign that autumn is coming.

As was to be expected, summer wasn’t super busy, but a few things did happen, and I will write about some of them in more details in future posts. Here a few titbits:

I am getting older… I’m back at the physio therapy for my hip pain, which took a while but was relatively easy to do. And I now have glasses for reading, which was quick but more complicated to achieve. At first, the doctor gave me the wrong prescription; the second one isn’t 100% correct either. By now I think that the first prescription was correct, just had the left/right eye swapped…

Thanks to the new glasses, I can now read furigana again, which is absolutely necessary in my Japanese studies I have picked up again. I am planning to take the next JLPT in December, starting small at the lowest level.

I learnt other new skills that will help me keep the house in order in the future.

Thanks to those skills, one more room is finished/furnished.

And then, there is Project 50 x 50…

But more of all this at another time. Nice to be back!

Taking a Break

Sorry for not writing for such a long time. I’ve had good intentions, but I need a break again. Things are busy, and I feel like I’m in a rut and sitting at the computer 24/7, even if I don’t. And with the summer heat that has finally hit Kyoto, it’s pretty difficult to work anyway.

So, I have decided to take a break from posting here over summer, probably even until the end of August. I have no plans of going anywhere – not that I have money to do so, and Pumpkin doesn’t like being left alone – but I may try a few fun things in Kyoto. So far, there are still very few tourists, and the locals enjoy themselves.

Speaking of local enjoyment, here are a few highlights of Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri 2022. This is the Saki Parade on July 17, I watched it with a friend of mine from Tokyo:

Shinzō Abe’s Death

Shinzō Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, was assassinated last Friday during an election campaign speech in Nara. He was born in 1954 into a family that served as politicians, and he himself entered the political scene in the 1990s. For four terms, he served as prime minister, until he retired for health reasons in 2020. Yet, he remained an eminent figure in the background and still had considerable influence over his party and thus, the country.

His assassination shocked the country. There is a video out there, showing him on a street corner in Nara at around 11:30, giving a speech. Suddenly, from nearby, shots are fired (you can see the smoke), and Abe falls, obviously hit. He was pronounced dead in the hospital at around 17:00.

What’s so shocking is, that Japan has extremely strict gun laws. It is very difficult and can take years to get a gun licence, and in fact, the assassin had to make his own gun. Last year, in 2021, there were only 10 incidents with guns; 8 of them were related to the yakuza (organized crime) and only one of them was fatal. Interestingly, assassinating Japanese politicians seems not to be unusual. In 2007, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot during an electoral campaign, and in 2002, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan was assassinated. The assassinations of the last prime ministers, however, date back to the February 26 Incident in 1936, when two former prime ministers were killed.

I found it especially disturbing how close the murderer could get to Abe. Watching the video I mentioned, they were within a few meters of each other; Abe had his back turned. Yes, Japan is a very safe country and violent crimes outside the yakuza are rare. Yet, I found security sorely lacking. Would Abe be still alive if the assassin had only had a knife? I’m not so sure.

I’m also curious about the ramifications on the country. Clearly, Shinzō Abe’s politics have shaped the country for 15 years, if not twice as long. The void he leaves will have to be filled one way or the other. But how this will happen, we’ll just have to wait and see.