Over the New Year’s period, even Kyoto’s public service people get a week or so off. This means, among others: no garbage collection. A few weeks before New Year’s, you get a detailed schedule of what type of garbage is collected until which day and from which day. The schedule is comprehensive, on top of the usual suspects (standard garbage, plastics, glass, and paper) there are also mentioned slightly more exotic things you might want to get rid of: large household appliances for example, or dead pets.

plastic grocery bagsThis year, on the bottom of the page, there was a special appeal to reduce waste. Apparently, the city is making an effort to cut their garbage in half, from a peak of 390.000 tons (per year, I assume?) The rate has slowed down, and now people are encouraged to go the extra mile to reduce 27.000 tons more to meet the target. Particularly suggested are a reduction in food waste (meaning: the throwing out of perfectly edible leftovers or overstocked food) and to be more diligent in separating paper from the general garbage.

Both is fine with me 😉 What was interesting about this appeal was a very simple calculation. They suggest that each person should reduce their waste by 30 grams each day. That sounds rather puny, no? After all, that’s just one PET bottle, or 3 plastic bags, or half a newspaper (probably not the Sunday edition); or one bell pepper, or 1/5 of a carrot or tomato. But when you actually doing the numbers, that little bit does sum up: To 900 grams, i.e., almost one kilo per month, and 10.8 kilos per year. For one person – count the approximately 1.5 million people living in Kyoto alone, and that leads to more than 16.000 tons a year.

Impressive what a tiny little bit can sum up to – if everybody does it!


Nice to be back, even though I didn’t go anywhere. Okay, that’s not true, I spent two days in Kobe with a friend of mine having a kind of After-Christmas party with duck and wine and chocolates (of course). And other friends of mine invited me to an After-New-Year’s lunch last Sunday with roast pork and wine and “hot love” ice cream.

And of course, I went on the obligatory hatsumode first shrine visit to Shimogamo Shrine, where I prayed to “my shrine” – meaning the little shrine devoted to my birth year – for a good year to come. Of course, I also bought a new omamori, especially for success in business, and it already seems to have a positive effect: I got a big project on my desk just yesterday! I hope that’s a good omen for the rest of the year.

Other than that, I spent two rather lazy weeks. I always enjoy not having any appointments where I have to go out (still an introvert, I guess), and I took advantage of that time to get a few private projects done. And, of course: planning a bunch of new ones as well! Also, I did my soroban training (almost) daily. The next shodan test will be in three weeks, and I really need to pass it this time, or I’ll have to start all over again (it’s a bit complicated to explain, I’ll do that some other time).

Overall though, I had a nice vacation, and now, I’m rearing to go. Let the New Year begin!

PS: A big hug and thank you to all my friends who sent me Christmas chocolates and other sweets. They were well received and I’ll try to make them last!



Whew, I’m almost done with my business meetings, only one more next Tuesday, and from then it’s up close and personal… Still stuff to do, as I wrote in my last post, but that i will do from the privacy of my desk. That means, that I will keep to myself for a while, and will take a break until at least the end of the year, maybe even one week longer. Until I’m back, I wish you all, as usual:

Happy Holidays to everyone!
I hope you’ll have a nice time, regardless of your plans.

Christmas Card 2017


It’s time to make serious plans for next year, especially with respect to business. The What’s up in Kyoto crowd is slowly (very slowly) growing, and I want to take the page to the next level. First of all, I’m planning a slight upgrade and redesign by New Year’s Day, including a few new pages.

What's up in Kyoto LogoAlso, I will need new highlights each month – and I have decided to feature 12 of the most important shrines throughout next year, or at least: those shrines with the most exciting or fun events. It would probably be fine just to write the articles on my own like I did this year, but since I don’t have photos of all shrines or all their events, I will approach them and ask for information, photos, and help in general. To be honest, I am rather worried about this because, essentially, I’m nobody. And a foreigner to boot!

This afternoon was my first meeting with a representative of the January Highlight shrine (yes, I’ll keep it a secret until then). And I’m proud to say, it went very well! After making a phone call and sending a fax with further details, a friend – working as my translator – and I were received today by a rather young man representing the shrine. He was very forthcoming and friendly, and we could already clarify a few things I got wrong in the preliminary article that I had brought along. I am allowed to use any of the photos available for download from the shrine, and I have a few of my own as well, so it should be fine. The whole meeting was over in 10 minutes or so.

Now we’ll have to finalise the article, including photos and everything, and send it to the shrine for their final okay, since they are keen to have the information correct. Again, this is supposed to happen by fax… We also have to provide a translation into Japanese, even though the young man seemed to have understood me perfectly well (he didn’t let on, of course). Either he feels more comfortable to read and check in Japanese, or he needs it for the records of the shrine.

Either way, the first hurdle has been taken, it was a relatively low one, thank goodness. My friend will be busy the rest of the month, but we have already sent a fax to the February Highlight shrine – no reply from them yet. We think we’ll have a better selling point if we can prove that we’re already working with another famous shrine of Kyoto. Wish us luck!


Last week before Christmas, and I’m counting down my to-do list. All Christmas cards sent out, Christmas emails to the rest of the world to follow. All oseibo Year-End presents bought, sent, and return “thank you” emails received. One Christmas present left to buy, but I have ordered a small Christmas cake already. Two bonenkai Year-End parties successfully survived.

One more nengajo New Year card to write, and that only because I had to ask my Japanese teacher for his address again. The others I finished over the last weekend, I’m so proud. I even set up a mass-mail form for all my future business nengajo. That alone took me half a day because when I print them, the post code must fit into the preprinted boxes. I’m greatly looking forward to all the time I’ll save next year though!

And, finally, as of today: 1 more deadline, and 4, maybe 5 more meetings and 2 soroban classes. Year’s End. It’s good things are winding down.

Streets of Kyoto

When Kyoto was founded more than 1000 years ago, it was modeled after the then capital of China. This means, all of the city was laid out on a rectangular North-South, East-West grid, with the grounds of the imperial palace on the northern end of the city, representing its head.

Lots of things happen in 1000 years, in particular the growth of Kyoto beyond its original boundaries to fit the 1.5 million people living here today. A large portion of the newer parts of the city have simply extended the grid scheme, but especially near the mountains that enclose the town, this is not the case anymore.

However, to be considered a “true” Kyoto person, you must live in that inner part of town that once made up the original city (ideally, that means your family has been living there forever). And so as not to get lost in those little streets that all but looked the same in the time of the old Japanese wooden houses, children learnt the Kyoto street song, listing all the streets of Kyoto “proper” first from North to South, and then from East to West.

Even today, every person born in Kyoto knows this song. I am not sure if the song itself has a meaning beyond the street names, but since they are abbreviated and one of the lines talks about “Ane san”, meaning older sister, I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually did tell a story. Enjoy!

Just in case you’re wondering what’s with the penguins: Kyoto City Aquarium houses 47 penguins that are all named after the 47 streets in this song. And in this video, you hear the staff of the Aquarium.


Yesterday I read a short article in an Austrian newspaper about the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. To cope with the expected influx of foreign visitors to the country, it is planned to have a number of robot models greet and assist passengers on the airport in Tokyo. The robots are supposedly able to perform easy tasks (like carrying bags), doing instant translations, or answering simple questions. The goal is to show off how modern and cool Japan is.

My first reaction to that one: I laughed out loud. I’m not sure, maybe it’s Kyoto, but somehow the “modern Japan” has still not permeated the whole of my city here… Let me illustrate this:

Recently, I have started contacting companies in Kyoto about the What’s up in Kyoto event calendar (actually, a friend is helping with this one). First contact is per phone, we tell them about the event calendar and what we want and then, at some point comes the “more information” part of the call. When this happens, we inevitably get an “oh, just send us a fax with the details, okay?”


Have you heard of emails? 21st century and such? To be fair, those are not IT companies, but still, all of the places we are contacting have websites, often quite beautiful and elaborate ones. Still, no emails, they want a fax. And finally, they want you to show up in person and do the whole sales pitch again, of course.

This is the fascinating thing about Japan: On the one hand, they have robots in all shapes, sizes and intelligences. And on the other hand, they are holding on to technology from the 1980s because that’s just what they do. This country will never cease to amaze me.

Back 2 School

I’m going back to soroban school! My soroban teacher is all excited about me passing the test next time in January, so he said he wants me to come back to get the final polish.

With the last test I passed all but two of the exam types (okay, except anzan – mental math, but that’s no surprise). So, for the next test in January, I only need to focus on divisions and additions; if I get at least 100 points (i.e., 10 correct exercises), I will have passed the shodan exam, just as I had planned. For both divisions and additions, I am hovering around 80 – 90 points, which is a good starting point. However, I make too many avoidable mistakes, so I have to put in extra effort here, both to increase accuracy, and to increase speed.

old style soroban at a fleamarketI went to class today, and my sensei said something very interesting: When I do the math, I speak the equations in my mind, for example “6 times 3 is 18” (in German, of course), and afterwards I set the appropriate numbers on the soroban. My sensei watched me and said that I seem to stop between two such equations, which means I’m stopping on the soroban as well. This interruption of the smooth flow of the hand movement may introduce extra mistakes, he said.

Solution: I should slow down, just enough to speak the equation and set the beads on the soroban at the same time. This will lead to a smooth, almost continuous flow of the movements of the hand – which in turn will increase speed, and maybe even accuracy. It does sound a bit weird at first, but if you think about it, it makes sense. I will try to do this for a couple of weeks and see where this is going.

Besides that, it seems that by now I know the book by heart – I make very few mistakes when doing the basic exercises that can be done in the seven minutes’ time frame, but beyond that I make more mistakes. According to my sensei, this is not just because the numbers are getting longer, so to get a better training experience, I should now start with exercise number 11 instead of the beginning.

I’m sure he has a point there – in both respects. I am really eager to finally pass the shodan exam, so I’ll do as he suggests. Wish me luck!



Fumiko EnchiBook cover of Masks

Yasuko Togano has lost her husband Akio in an avalanche on Mount Fuji several years ago. Nevertheless, she has decided to stay with her mother in law Mieko, and also to finish Akio’s work on ghost possession. This work is her link to the friends Ibuki and Mikame, who both are in love with the attractive Yasuko, despite the fact that Ibuki has a wife and daughter.

Mieko Togano is a renowned poet, and although she tries to remain out of sight, it is in fact she who pulls all the strings. She is the hidden force when Yasuko starts an affair with Ibuki, and when Harume, the strikingly beautiful but mentally handicapped twin sister of Akio gets caught up in things, Mieko will do anything to see her long harboured plans bear fruit.

Mieko, although only prominent in the last third of the novel, is the main character, the driving force behind everything. She, who has lost everything and tries to regain a small piece of it, is not above sacrificing her own family.

This was a fascinating read about the strength of women. When Ibuki and Mikame muse about Mieko’s being a witch, possibly able to control other people with her mind, they make an interesting statement: The misogyny found in Buddhism and Christianity was simply a way for men to control that inner strength of women, which they always feared, but never understood…

Fumiko Enchi (1905 – 1986) was born in Tokyo. She was home-schooled and was taught English, French, and Chinese literature; through her grandmother she got to know the classics of Japanese literature. She is one of the most prominent Japanese writers of the Showa period.a

A fascinating book – get your copy from Amazon!