As I mentioned, I gave myself a 10 mm buzz cut about a month ago. And just the time I save every morning by not having to style it or wait until it’s dry has me convinced that I’ll keep it this way for a long, long time…
So far, reactions were split across the gender divide.
Men don’t seem so care, really, although I did notice some stares from across rooms and even streets. Only my doctor, whom I’ve been seeing for 10 years now every three months, seemed to be genuinely shocked. First thing he said at our last appointment was, “so… you got a haircut…” to proceed to the practicalities of the how and to finally end at the why – and if the cliché of women changing their lives with a haircut is true. I told him to pay attention if his wife ever shows up with something drastic like this; the next thing she may want to change may be him… He also asked the best question of them all with “Isn’t it cold?” (It’s indeed a bit chilly on the bicycle.)
Women on the other hand are almost vicariously excited about it, in particular younger ones. I’ve heard “that’s so cool!” several times now, and just today, I got compared to Annie Lennox. Of course, Annie is even now, at almost 70, so much more beautiful than I’ve ever been and ever will be. No contest. And now, I have her “Little Bird” fluttering around in my head…
Somehow, I fell into a Japanese music hole on YouTube the last couple of days… and here I emerge with the Yoshida Brothers.
The brothers from Hokkaido began to play Japanese shamisen from a very young age, and started performing when they were around 20 years old. Their music mixes elements of Tsugaru-jamisen (a very rapid but still traditional style of playing) and western influences. Their first album sold 100,000 copies, and they have performed even internationally. This is one of their latest uploads to their YouTube channel, a dedicatory performance for the Buddha (sound isn’t perfect):
Two weeks ago, I was invited to a Japanese drum class to review it for What’s up in Kyoto (I love my job!) Japanese drums are generally called wadaiko, but there are many different sizes that all have specific names. I’ll do a bit more research on this – looks like a weekend post on drums is coming up! But let’s talk about the lesson.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings somewhere between excitement and apprehension. I have zero musical talent and couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended on it, and after I had to quit the recorder (flute) in primary school, all I’ve been playing were LPs and later CDs. So, there was a base level of embarrassment to begin with, which grew exponentially when I entered the classroom and saw that it was set up for a single student only. Yay.
Thankfully, we started easy: raise the drumsticks high and just drop them onto the drum. Tap the edge of the drum. Play loudly and then very quietly. Interestingly, the stance to play wadaiko with slightly bent knees and straight back reminded me of the basic stance in Aikido. I wonder if this is because the strength for playing should not come from the arms and shoulders, but from the hara, the centre of the body (just like in Aikido).
In any case, the class moved to basic rhythms and, finally, to a real song (is it a “song” if it’s just rhythm? Serious question) with a beginning, middle and end. My teacher and I played together and took turns with improvisations in the third part, and although I wasn’t very good at those, it was fun to watch him play.
The lesson took one hour, in which I had great fun thanks to the teacher who was very encouraging. Unfortunately, I felt quite conscious of my body throughout the class, partly because I was the only student as mentioned and thus felt under constant scrutiny, but also because I was facing a huge mirrored wall all the time… Overall, however, the fun definitely outweighed my body issues and I felt extremely energized after the class, so much so that I couldn’t sleep at all that night.
Things that surprised me: the drumsticks were very light; apparently, there are different weights and sizes, not just for smaller and larger drums (obviously), but heavier drumsticks make it less tiring to play for longer periods. Also, where the drum is hit makes a difference – dead centre sounds different from closer to the edge. Now that I had time to think about it, the reason is probably the added interference/overlay of the soundwaves near the edge, but that wasn’t clear to me at first. Finally, you need to hold the drumsticks quite tightly to avoid them bouncing and hitting the drum twice – no wonder I ended up with blisters on both my thumbs.
Before I tell you my final verdict, I must mention the teacher: it was Kuro-chan (real name Shugo Kurosaka), the blonde frontman of Bati-Holic. (Since I’ve fangirled about the band already.several.times, I’ll spare you today, but do check them out, they’re great!) We got to talk after a concert, and he mentioned that he’s teaching too, and I jumped on the occasion. He began learning taiko when he was 12, and when he entered university in Kyoto, he started a taiko club there (which still exists today!) He said he quickly found out that there was money in this, and since he wanted to do something music related anyway… The rest is history. Because he has so much experience teaching and also works with kids, he’s very patient, and we were both laughing a lot during the lesson, which speaks for his relaxed attitude.
Final verdict, or: Where is this going? Well, one of my goals in Project 50 by 50 is to “start a new hobby.” And because this whole music thing is so far out of my comfort zone, it may just be the right challenge – and I’m here for it. For various reasons, I can’t start right away, but I hope I can make it happen after summer at the latest. I’ll keep you posted.
Daigo-ji lies a bit off the beaten tracks in Fushimi, but for those who like everything super-sized, this is the perfect place to go in Kyoto: On the precincts of 300 hectares (mostly forest of Mt. Daigo) 80 different species of birds can be found, 1000 cherry trees, and more than 100,000 artefacts are kept in the temple’s museum. Many of its 80+ buildings are designated as National Treasures, and the 5-story pagoda is the oldest building in Kyoto. I went a day after it snowed in Kyoto, which makes for especially beautiful photos. The road to Kami-Daigo was still closed, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it anyway, it’s too long a hike…
This temple dates back to 874 when the monk Shobo (posthumously named Rigen Daishi) built a small hermitage close to a well on Mt. Daigo. This part of the temple near the mountain top is nowadays known as Kami Daigo, and three successive emperors donated buildings there. Emperor Daigo moved here after his retirement, and after his death (when he was named after the temple in which he had lived for many years), the pagoda was completed at the foot of the mountain (Shimo Daigo) in 951 in his honour.
Unfortunately, the 15th-century Onin War destroyed most of the buildings of Daigo-ji. However, since the temple’s head priests managed to maintain good relationships to whomever was in power at the time, the temple was rebuilt several times and continued to grow through the centuries. When Hideyoshi came to power, Daigo-ji received his special patronage. He restored the Sanboin (originally from 1115) and had 700 cherry trees planted.
In the Edo period, Shugendo yamabushi began practising at Daigo-ji, and to this day, part of their training and worshipping consists of long, meditative walks around the temples’ precincts. The temple’s prosperity declined during the anti-Buddhism movement of the Meiji period. However, dedicated head priests could preserve the precincts and the numerous temple treasures until today.
As mentioned above, the vast precincts of Daigo-ji can roughly be divided into three parts. The Sanboin-Reihokan area lies directly behind the Somon main gate of the temple. The Sanboin on the left side is the former residence of Daigo-ji’s head priests. Just inside the gate is an enormous cherry tree called “Taiko Shidarezakura” that is 160 years old. The Sanboin itself was founded in 1115, but the current building dates back to 1598, when it was reconstructed and enlarged for Hideyoshi’s famous hanami party. The beautiful Karamon gate with golden imperial chrysanthemums and Hideyoshi’s own paulownia crest on black lacquer is a National Treasure.
So is the Omote Shoin, the main drawing room of Sanboin. It is constructed in three parts, each one a bit higher than the previous; the lowest part can be used as a Noh stage when the mats are removed. From the Omoto Shoin, the whole garden can be seen, a masterpiece of Momoyama garden designs, created by Hideyoshi himself. The main hall of Sanboin with a Buddha statue and statues of Kobo Daishi and Rigen Daishi that lies a bit to the back is not usually open to the public.
Opposite the Sanboin lies the Reihokan, the temple’s museum. Opened in 1935, it is home to over 100,000 Buddhist statues, paintings, and other artefacts. Around 75500 National Treasures are collected here and trace the history and culture of Daigo-ji back to its beginnings. There are special exhibitions in spring and autumn.
On passing through the Niomon Gate (erected 1605; the Nio statues are from 1134), visitors enter the Garan or main temple area. Here lies Daigo-ji’s Kondo or main hall, with a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha who heals illnesses. Both kondo and the pagoda nearby are National Treasures.
Opposite lies the famous Goju-no-to, a five-story pagoda that stands 38 meters tall. Built between 936 and 951, it has survived wars, earthquakes, and fires, and is now Kyoto’s oldest building. On the first floor are culturally significant wall paintings, but the building is not usually open to the public. Interestingly, the special construction of this pagoda makes it almost automatically earthquake-safe, and it inspired the similar construction of Tokyo’s Skytree.
Further uphill lies the Kannondo, which is the 11th temple of the Saikoku 33 Kannon pilgrimage. It enshrines a Juntei Kannon that is said to grant wishes to have children. Next to it is the Bentendo hall for Benten, the goddess of music. While this may not be the most culturally significant building of Daigo-ji, its beautiful colours mirrored in the pond easily make it the most photogenic one.
Beyond the Bentendo and its pond and garden lies the third part of Daigo-ji, called Kami-Daigo. It takes about one hour to reach it, but the views from the top of the mountain are certainly worth the hike. Furthermore, Kami-Daigo is the oldest part of the temple, and most of the buildings there are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Among them is Daigo-sui, which marks the spot of Rigen Daishi’s original hermitage. The Kaisando from the Momoyama period (1606) is the largest building on Mt. Daigo. When it was first built in 911, it was dedicated to Rigen Daishi, and his statue there is from the Kamakura period.
The vast precincts of Daigo-ji make this temple a great place for hikers and people who like to explore on their own. Since Kami-Daigo takes a while to reach on foot, it does not see many visitors throughout the year, but the other areas at Shimo Daigo can get quite busy during hanami and the autumn colours.
With my 48th birthday just around the corner, I have decided to make a few changes in/to my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with how my life turned out so far. When I was stuck all the way back in my deepest teenage angst & depression, I couldn’t have imagined any of this. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. So, I’ve done two things:
I chopped off my hair. I’ve been wearing it short since living in Hong Kong in 2007, but now it’s a mere 10 mm long. Doing that felt extremely liberating, and once the deed was done, it energized me for the rest of the day. So far, the reactions were mostly surprise, but people were positive, and I’m feeling less stuck already. There really seems to be something to the old trope of “women who want a change, first change their hair”.
Project 50 by 50: 50 goals to reach until my 50th birthday. This was inspired by somebody whom I admire and who made massive changes when turning 50. I already started last August by setting the first 20 goals; 15 more at the beginning of this year, and another 15 are due next year. (That’s deliberate, you never know how life turns out, and there may be new things to focus on.) I don’t want to go into details here since this is obviously a very personal project, but some of the goals are to go out more often and make friends, save enough money to renovate the rest of the house, take regular days offline, stop neglecting this blog… Overall it’s a quirky list ranging from the mundane to the almost esoteric, but all the goals are meant to improve my life in some way and/or to make me a better human (if only in my mind).
Already, I have been making progress on some of the goals, one of them being “study Japanese and take the JLPT every December”. I mentioned taking the test, and the results are in: I passed, with 160/180 points!
Now, this was the easiest test covering only the very basics, and had I failed this after all these years in Japan, it would’ve been very embarrassing. The next level will be more difficult, and it will already include keigo (respect language). I’m worried… Best to go and study more.
Season of Shadows Osakabe has been assigned a temporary lead position in administration, but as his term is up, refuses to step down. But why? This is the question Futawatari from Personnel has to answer – and quickly. But Osakabe is avoiding him and keeps his cards close to his chest…
Cry of the Earth An anonymous tip alerts Shindo of Internal Affairs that Station Chief Sone is visiting the local red-light district. Since Shindo knows Sone personally, his first suspicion runs to slander. Or perhaps there is something even more sinister going on…
Black Lines Young officer Hirano disappears on her way to work. As this comes after extensive news coverage of a crime she solved, her superior officer Nanao is worried that the criminals may have retaliated…
Briefcase A parliamentary debate involving the Chief of Police is just a few days away when Political Liaison Officer Tsuge is warned that one of the questioners is out for revenge. In his quest to diffuse or at least prepare for the situation, he is ready to overstep all boundaries…
These four short stories deal with the inner workings of the Japanese police force in (fictional) Prefecture D. We meet a number of policemen from Yokoyama’s Six Four again, but other than that novel, this collection does not involve any traditional police sleuthing to solve criminal cases. Instead, we delve deeper into the depths of internal police affairs and get to see what some officers are ready to do just to get ahead.
Hideo Yokoyama worked as an investigative reporter for a regional newspaper in Gunma Prefecture before turning to a career as novelist. His books are meticulously researched and often depict office politics within the police force. He has received five Japanese literary prizes focused on crime and has written short story collections and eight novels, six of which have been made into films.
Although it may sound a bit weird, but these four stories of office politics are as gripping as any other crime novel. You can get the book from amazon.
This afternoon, I had to go to Arashiyama to take photos of next month’s highlight temple on the What’s up in Kyoto website. And here’s the first plum blossoms that I see this year:
And that after a day of on-and-off snowing in my (eastern) part of town, where, when I left, there was still snow on Mount Hiei. There was no snow anywhere in Arashiyama (in the western part of town), and in fact, it was a lovely day with sunshine and blue skies – and lots and lots of tourists at the usual haunts over there.
It was fun to go out, I sat at the river for a bit, too. I hope spring will come quickly this year.
How is it that as soon as I promise to post more diligently here, things get away from me again…?
At least I finally finished a little weekend project. A friend of mine gave me a large furoshiki with a print of one of her favourite woodblock print artists, Clifton Karhu. As it is gorgeous, I didn’t just want it to sit in a drawer somewhere. Therefore, I made a cheap wooden frame, so I could hang it on the large wall in my office. Here we go:
Of course, furoshiki are square, so I trimmed the image a little at the top, which is just sky and more leaves. “Trimmed” is not the right word here, I just folded the fabric to the back of the frame. Usually, you would staple the fabric to the wood, but since I didn’t want to destroy the furoshiki, I only sewed it to the back. This makes the picture less stable and a bit wobbly to be honest, but overall I’m happy with the result. And with the bold colors, it fits into my office perfectly.
Thanks for your kind messages: I’m almost back to normal, only a few sniffles remain and a persistent cough that mostly manifests in the mornings and scares Pumpkin out underneath the covers. My hot water has reappeared too, just as surprisingly as it was gone. Probably it wasn’t frozen pipes, but just a frozen valve in the water heater itself (which is outside). The first hot shower after a few days of washing my hair in a bucket felt like a treat!
There were a few other treats in the last 3 weeks I should be reporting on. First, the Bati-Holic concert on the 14th, which was probably the reason why I got that nasty cold to begin with: I was pretty sweaty after the concert and then bicycled home; even though it was a fairly warm night, it was probably not the best of my ideas…
Second, the Tuesday after, my friend from Tokyo invited me to a kabuki performance in Osaka. It turned out not to be “real” kabuki, but a mix of kabuki and noh theater together with taiko drums. The first half was a bit disappointing – I had seen “Hagoromo” several times before – but the second half with a famous lion dance performance – one father and two son lions – made it all up to me. Performers were Bando Tamasaburo, a kabuki actor famous for his onnagata female roles, and the taiko group Kodo, which I’ve seen before in joint performances like this. It was a great afternoon, even though I got violently sick on the way home and in the end had to cancel our plans to see the Andy Warhol exhibition on the next day.
Last week I was up and running again (mostly) and I visited Daigo-ji temple for work on Thursday. I took some lovely pictures of the snowy temple, and if you don’t mind me repeating myself (or rather: this month’s highlight on What’s up in Kyoto), I’ll write about Daigo-ji next Sunday.
And finally, because I finished all my work and then some relatively early on Monday, I treated myself to another Bati-Holic concert… Sadly, there were not many people, but it was fun anyway. Interestingly, the guys seem to know me already. When I entered, I bumped into one of the members on the way to the dressing room, and he said “Hey, nice to see you again, thanks for coming!” It’s not as if they only have three fans or something, so I find it almost embarrassing when something like this happens…
Anyway, this time, the group was complete, no Corona-necessitated substitutes this time, so my signatures are now complete as well. So happy!
The couple Sosuke and Oyone live at the verge of poverty in the outskirts of Tokyo in the beginning of the 20th century. When Koroku, Sosuke’s much younger brother, is forced to live with them and expects them to pay for his university tuition, the situation in the household goes from bad to worse. By chance, Sosuke and his landlord begin a friendship that may improve the lives of the three young people. However, when Sosuke hears that Oyone’s brother, for whose misfortune he believes to be responsible, is back in town, this might mean that they once again must leave everything behind and settle elsewhere. To clear his thoughts, Sosuke goes on a visit to a Zen monastery in the mountains…
A beautiful book by Soseki Natsume, although, to be honest, nothing much happens. We hear about the day-to-day life and hardships of the loving couple, but just as with many other Japanese novels, the most important things are only implied. Only more than half through the book do we hear about the reason for Sosuke’s estrangement from his family, for example. Things pick up speed when Sosuke visits the Zen temple, and his struggles with the unfamiliar life are depicted beautifully. What is your answer to this koan, posed to Sosuke by the head priest: “Your original face prior to your parent’s birth – what is that?”
Soseki Natsume, pen-name of Natsume Kinnosuke, was born in 1867 as the 6th child of a rather poor family. From the age of 15, he wanted to become an author, but because of his father’s disapproval, he entered university to study architecture and English. He went to England in 1901 for two years, and did not like the experience. Today, he is one of the most famous writers of Japan. Soseki Natsume died in 1916, only 49 years old.
Soseki considered “The Gate” his favourite novel, and you can get it on amazon.