Yozakura 2024

It appears that last Wednesday I spoke too early about hanami being over. The rain did not appear in the force expected, indeed, we’ve had some fairly nice days. Nice enough for me to go out on Friday evening for some yozakura – illuminated cherry trees – in the Botanical Gardens.

Here are some photos I took (without a tripod). My favourite sakura this time around are those that have pink and white blossoms on one tree. Who’d have thought!

End of Hanami?

After a short cold spell in the middle of March, temperatures rose quite dramatically last week. And while I could adapt practically instantly – I moved my futon back to the big room in the north of the house and packed away my “deep winter” clothes over the weekend – the cherry blossoms couldn’t catch up quite that quickly.

Here and there, some trees were already blooming, but at the same time, there were not even buds to be seen on many others. For that reason, I already predicted a rather spotty hanami experience for this year, it’s only good when all of the trees get to bloom in a big explosive poof at the same time.

And now that it has started raining and will do so until next week, I guess the cherry blossom viewing is over for this year, more or less. Cherry blossoms are very delicate, and a single day of rain will lay the trees bare again. I hope I’ll be wrong, but I’m not holding my breath here.

Death in Midsummer

Death in Midsummer and Other Stories
Yukio Mishima

Nine stories of various lengths are collected here, plus Dojoji, one of Mishima’s modern Noh plays. The stories that stood out to me are:

  • The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love
    Heian period. And old, saintly priest catches a glimpse of the Great Imperial Concubine of Kyogoku. He immediately becomes infatuated with her and experiences once again feelings he had long thought conquered. He believes that all he needs to cure himself is a single meeting with her…
  • Onnagata
    We delve behind the kabuki stage and see the actor Mangiku through the eyes of his assistant Masuyama. Mangiku is an onnagata who specializes in female roles, and like many a drag queen, he is more attractive than a women. But what does Masuyama see in Mangiku?
  • Patriotism
    Just after the February 26th Incident, a young lieutenant of the Imperial troops is shocked to find that his closes colleagues are implicated in the mutiny. Worried that they might meet on opposite sides on the battlefield, he prepares for his ritual suicide – and his wife of six months with him.

Yukio Mishima is a fantastic writer, and even in translation, he creates images in the reader’s mind that put him directly next to the protagonist of the story. “Next to” is important here, because I feel that Mishima stays on the outside of his characters, a mere observer who doesn’t get emotionally invested. Whether this is by conscious choice or due to his own character, I do not know, it’s definitely not because of a lack of talent.

While Mishima is unequivocally lauded as exceptional author, as a person, he is more controversial, at least in Japan. The story “Patriotism” can be seen as a foreshadowing of Mishima’s own death: The staunch nationalist committed ritual suicide in 1975 after a failed attempt at a coup d’etat.

Discover more Mishima with this book from amazon.

Rediscovered Painting by Jakuchu

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity – thanks to What’s up in Kyoto – to be among the first people to lay eyes on a recently discovered painting by Jakuchu. It was a press-only-reveal of a colorful scroll and it was done with all the ceremony that such an event required.

You can read all about this important discovery, and a little bit about Jakuchu, on the Japonica Medium page in my article
Rediscovered Painting by Kyoto Master Returns Home – Jakuchu scroll found in Europe causes stir in Japanese art scene.

It was a nice diversion from the things I usually do, and a friend of mine even recorded evidence of me trying to be a serious photographer. (She calls the photo “kakkoi” – cool.)

I love my job.

Kyoto’s Sanjo Dori and its Buildings

When thinking of Japan’s most modern cities, Kyoto is probably not on anyone’s list. And it’s true, once you leave the futuristic station building (the second largest in Japan, btw.) and lose sight of the candle-shaped Kyoto Tower, the city’s narrow streets lined with wooden houses and dotted with Jisho shrines give off a lovable, but somewhat old-fashioned vibe.

Things were very different 120 years ago, though. After the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor and his new government took residence in Tokyo, Kyoto’s citizens made a concerted effort to keep the city from sliding into obscurity. Japan’s first railroad connected the old and new capital, the Lake Biwa Canal furnished electricity for the brand-new city tram, and a number of Western-style buildings gave Kyoto a distinctly modern look.

To this day, many of these buildings survive in Kyoto’s inner city, especially along Sanjo dori between Teramachi and Karasuma. Take a closer look at the former main street of Kyoto the next time when you’re out shopping and discover these beautiful, not-so-hidden gems.

Let’s take a walk on Sanjo dori westwards from Teramachi. Already at the next corner, you’ll find the 1928 building, so named after its year of construction. Then, it was home to the Kyoto branch of Osaka Mainichi Newspaper, and some traces can still be found in the basement. There are lovely ArtDeco elements throughout the building, especially in the stairwells. Today it houses the GEAR theater and gallery spaces, as well as a restaurant/bar in the basement.

Walk further to the lovely Old Yabetoku Clock Shop with its three arches. This two-story house made with red bricks was built in 1890 for a dealer in watches and precious metals. Sadly, the clocks are gone in favor of clothing, but the building is an important cultural property of Japan.

Directly at the opposite corner lies the SACRA Building, formerly the Kyoto branch of the Fudo Chokin Bank. Built in 1916, it still has the heavy wooden doors and staircase it was originally fitted with. Thanks to the many shops inside, a close-up look is possible.

Two large red brick buildings stand on the second to last block before Karasuma, and they look so similar they could be twins.

The first is the Annex of the Museum of Kyoto, built in 1903 as the Kyoto branch of the Bank of Japan. The inside has been lovingly restored to its former glory: A huge single room with high ceiling and the old wood trimmings of the bank still exudes riches. It was turned into a museum in 1967, and the former vault in what is now the museum’s inner courtyard secures a branch of Maeda Coffee.

Finally, there is the Nakagyo-ku Post Office, another red brick building, built in 1902. This is the only building mentioned here that is still used for its original purpose. It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1970s, thanks to the engagement of the locals.

Many more of these modern buildings from the turn of the century survive in Kyoto, like the Kyocera Museum and other buildings in Okazaki, Kyoto National Museum and Kyoto City Hall, the Restaurant Yaomasa at Shijo Bridge, the old Fucho Prefectural Government building, the old campus of Doshisha University just north of the Gosho… It’s really worth taking the time and looking around a little to find these delightful little gems.

Weekend Project # 4

My grandmother was fastidious and tidy. My grandfather didn’t mind “a little dirt here and there”. There is the saying that certain character traits skip a generation. In my case, they seem to have swapped places.

My house is, while no operating room, fairly clean. I take care of my kitchen especially, even in winter when the non-existing insulation automatically keeps the cockroaches at bay. I check Pumpkin’s litter box twice a day, vacuum as needed (more often in summer, thanks kitty), and I dispose of my garbage regularly and as quickly as possible.

At the same time, I have to confess that I’m not very tidy. Books and paperwork are my Achilles heel, they accumulate at a frightening speed and have a tendency to cover every flat surface that can conceivably be called a desk or table. There, they vie for space with other things I just can’t seem to put away the first time around.

So much to explain (justify?) why it took me two years and three months to tidy my garage, the current state of which is this:

tidy garage

All I needed to do was to move the large box to the other side of the space, put empty moving boxes away and put some hooks into the door. Together with sweeping and even cleaning my bicycle, it took less than two hours in total. I blame my ancestors.

Recognizing Boundaries

After all I’ve been through in 2023, there’s one positive thing coming out of it: I lost 25 kg. Doing this was on my 50 by 50 list and I’m so proud of this achievement!

Interestingly, even though I did it mostly by cutting calories, aka: eating less, I didn’t even feel hungry most of the time. I tried not to have any sweets at home, and it really helped with the cravings. Only towards the end of the diet did I feel as if I would finally touch the substance – in other words: losing muscle – but overall, I think I did okay.

The benefits are obvious: Physically, I’m feeling so much better now! First and foremost, my arthritis has become much less painful. On some days, I can walk fairly long distances without feeling a thing. Funny how much we take a functioning body for granted! I also feel more attractive overall, which is a great boost in confidence. I don’t expect this to change my introverted ways, though.

At the same time, losing all this weight in a relatively short period of time has created the negative side effect that I now need a completely new wardrobe. And the most interesting part of going shopping now is that I need to completely re-evalue my body’s size and boundaries. My underlying body shape hasn’t changed, of course, but I cannot remember a single time in my adult life when I was this thin.

I’ve always been chubby, more or less, and my approach to clothes was: “Let’s not draw too much attention to certain… well, most of the parts.” Over the years, I had perfected a uniform of bright tops with dark wide pants to hide under.

But that has changed. My legs look quite good now, I can check the scales without bending to gaze beyond my belly, and my stomach looks almost flat from the side (okay, on good days only. 😉 ) A friend of mine remarked that I had cut myself in half over the last year, and when I hugged another one, she commented on a surprising lack of boobage…

All this to say: Suddenly, I’m not so sure what fits me anymore, and yes, I have to admit that I’m vain enough to want to look good, and not just for Mr. TDH. At least my tops won’t change much; I’ve discovered the “Lady Tee” years ago and never looked back. But bottoms? Flared jeans seem to look good now that they sit beautifully on my newly separated thighs. Or maybe I should start experimenting with skirts? *gasp*

Sizing is a whole different issue. 20 years ago, there was a meaning behind clothing sizes that didn’t change according to the whims of the manufacturer. Today, where the size numbers have been replaced by random interpretations of the alphabet, you’re essentially on your own. For example, I bought a wonderful red knit dress and some super sexy flared jeans that both fit to a T – one is size S, the other an XL.

So, while essentially looking to replace most of my wardrobe, there will be lots and lots of try-on and error experiences involved. And I’m not looking forward to this…

Busy-ness

Sorry for not writing on Wednesday, I was uncharacteristically busy this week.

It started already last Friday with a maiko press conference that continued on Monday with a maiko photo shoot. While those invitations usually come weeks in advance, this one arrived only two days ahead of the press conference, so I had to wiggle with my deadlines a bit. Still, I am very grateful for the opportunity to look behind the scenes of the Miyako Odori, a public performance of the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu district, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. I’ll go in more depth at some later point, but here’s a quick picture.

Afterwards, I had a big paper deadline on Tuesday, and lots of smaller things to fill my Wednesday, because I decided to go on a short trip to Nagoya on Thursday afternoon and spend Friday – a public holiday in honor of the Emperor’s birthday – with a friend there. The added bonus was to see the BATI-HOLIC concert there on Thursday night. It appears that the guys appreciated me showing up so far from home.

Anyway, it was a very busy week and I had to start working again yesterday; next week will be very busy too, end of the month and all. But with everything that happened last week, it was worth the effort – so many new impressions. And who knows, I might be invited to more maiko press conferences and photo shoots in the future…