Bicycle Drama

Last weekend, I took a day off for some special sightseeing. A number of venues had special openings, and I had set my eye upon an old, private home near Kamigamo Shrine: the Umetsuji Family home. Before I could enter, however, the following velociped-related drama unfolds:

So, I go there on my bicycle because it was nice weather, and whenever I visit a place like this, I always ask where to leave my bicycle. Usually, I can park it near the entrance on the street. Sometimes, I am asked to put it inside the front garden, but in general it’s not a big deal.

This time however, I was told no, I’d have to park elsewhere. One of the guides who were showing people around the house went with me to a nearby Koban police box, but I was not allowed to park there. At least, the policewoman on duty said it was fine to leave it on the road near the entrance, so back to the house we went. I parked my bicycle where I had left it before, locked it, and the moment we entered through the gate I was told: Oh, it’s okay, just bring it inside the garden…

That’s what can happen when you want to (temporarily) get rid of your bicycle, because although Kyoto is quite flat and easy to navigate, most Kyoto people prefer to drive, especially during the hot days of summer. There are more parking lots for cars than for bicycles and it’s very easy to get your bike impounded.

I’m not sure if I have told this before, but once I watched a crew of city workers taking bicycles parked near Sanjo-Kawaramachi, at the entrance to Teramachi shopping street. They parked their truck and waited… and waited… waited patiently until it was precisely 19:00, at which point they took the bicycles, loaded them onto the truck and drove off with them, all within 3 minutes or so. Quite a joy to watch such an efficient team, but I felt sorry for the people who were probably just shopping nearby.

Anyway, once my bicycle was deemed properly parked, I was finally allowed to enter the house. The Umetsuji family had been sake brewers, and the house dates back around 300 years. There were a few interesting features, like a flower-shaped window that is apparently very Kyoto, and a long water-spout that would drain rain water from the roof into a stone “dragon’s mouth” in the garden. The house also had an inner, private genkan and an outer entrance for guests.

Unfortunately, of the rather large house, only three rooms were open, and I found them quite ordinary compared to some of the rich merchant homes I have seen. There were some large-scale calligraphies and two folding screens, one with beautiful paintings with scenes from the Genji Monogatari, but they did show their age. A map dating back to the time the house was built was very impressive though.

However, it was the first time the house was open to the public at all, so I hope they will continue renovating more rooms and restoring family heirlooms over time. And maybe, one day, it will be allowed to take photos too!

Takoyaki Bar

takoyaki ready to eatLast night, friends of mine came over for dinner – we went out to a noodle place – and afterwards, we tried out a new bar just around the corner of my place. It’s part bar, part takoyaki place, run by two friendly guys. We didn’t eat there, so I can’t say how good the takoyaki are, but the sake I had was plentiful and excellent… Definitely a place to go back to – especially since it’s non-smoking, which is rare in bars here.

It was nice to see my friend again. In fact, we lived together in the old house near Yoshida shrine. This time, she came with her twin brother to show him around her old haunts. It was nice to catch up, and she renewed her invitation for me to visit her in France.

More friends to come… I am happy to go out a bit and try new places with them. With or without huge glasses of sake. 😉

Busy…

cogwheelsSorry for missing yet another weekend post. It’s been quite hectic here and will probably stay so until at least December.

One of my oldest clients is back with a lot of work. With him, it always peaks from autumn to early spring, and then there is nothing at all going on in summer (well, it’s too hot to work then anyway). Another client also returned about a month ago, resuming a project I thought abandoned about 6 months before. It is significantly more work now, which is good because it boosts my income, but my stress level is boosted as well, and I didn’t really need that…

What I do need, on the other hand, are advertisers for What’s up in Kyoto. I have finally started to send out ad letters to event venues and hotels, for starters. Many people have told me that they love the calendar, so I guess it’s time to try get paid for it. Let’s see how this goes…

So, you can see that I am a bit pressed for time at the moment. The koyo autumn colors will start soon too, and I hope I won’t miss them this year. But, that’s what friends are for! Four of my European friends are in Kyoto right now, and two more who I’ve met during my PhD studies are planning to come in mid December (no, it’s not the best time to travel in Japan). I’m looking forward to meeting them and showing them around a little. Always nice to brag a bit about the town you live in…

Bati-Holic

I’ll be going out tonight with a friend of mine to see Bati-Holic, a Taiko Drum Rock Band. I have no idea what to expect, but I do like Taiko in general, so it can’t be too bad.

Depending on when I’ll be back, I’ll post a quick update later.

I’m back! It was… hard to describe. And great fun. And what I expected. And something totally different too. And did I already say I had great fun?

So yes, “Taiko Drum Rock” describes it perfectly. The basis of all their songs is in the taiko drums, three of the five members were always drumming away. Then there are an electric shamisen and a gottan to provide the “rock” part, plus a lead singer that was very much hard rock.

The atmosphere was relaxed in a very small club, and most of the visitors must have been fans for a long time already. I was surprised at the age spectrum, from a young kid that was probably one of the band member’s son to an elderly couple rocking away in the background, and everything in between.

I think I’m becoming a fan already! If you want to know what Bati-holic is all about, check out their website (in English and Japanese!) with lots of videos:
https://www.bati-holic.jp/

New Consumption Tax

With the beginning of October 2019, Japan has raised the consumption tax from 8% to 10%. Compared to the 20% I’m used to from Austria, this seems rather puny, but then again, it’s another hike from the only 5% it was back in 2014.

It seems that consumption taxes are a rather touchy issue in Japan, with the first consumption tax ever being introduced only in 1989 (and with a rate of 3% only). Not even 10 years later, in 1997, the new government raised the tax to 5%, and only in April 2014, the tax had been raised to 8%. That is a doubling of taxes in only 5 1/2 years, quite a hike indeed!

Of course this didn’t go smoothly at all, even in a country where conformity and obedience to the higher-ups in the hierarchy is practically mandatory. And especially elderly people often have only a tiny pension, and it can be very hard for them to make ends meet. Whether the government had them in mind when it come up with a number of (rather interesting) exceptions to the 10% rule, I do not know.

new taxes in Japan

However, “items necessary for daily living” are still taxed at 8%. As you can see above, that food and drink as bought at a supermarket or delivered, but not alcohol or dining out, which are taxed at 10%. This can lead to interesting situations like at the Starbucks, where the barista must now ask you whether your coffee is indeed “to go”, so they can apply the correct amount of tax. On the other hand, they are not to bother customers who consume their coffee indoors after all.

Fun fact: newspapers are also considered “necessary for daily living”. Books are not, sadly…

Anyway, for me, that is, the company, this change in taxes does not make a difference. My services still incur 10% taxes, and for foreign customers, there’s no tax at all. I still have to change all my invoice templates to reflect the new amount, but since they are printed only when I need them, it’s not a big deal.

New Meishi

Finally I got around to ordering new meishi – business cards. So far, I have been using one with my company’s logo for everything. However, now that I’m starting to actively advertise What’s up in Kyoto to local businesses, I wanted meishi with the appropriate logo to make things easier.

my new business card for what's up in kyotoI just received my brand new business cards this morning, and here is the back side. I felt it was a good idea to include the QR-code leading to the website, to make it easy for people to go there and have a look. What do you think?

Coronation

The new Emperor of Japan was officially crowned today. It was another special holiday today – I missed that completely – but since the main events of the transition are over, it was also the last holiday.

The ceremony was rather solemn and subdued, with lots of traditional pomp that goes back to the Heian Period, about 1000 years ago. I didn’t have time to watch all of it, but here is a video of the coronation ceremony, it’s about 70 minutes long. Be warned though, there are long, long periods in between where nothing much happens!


From a quick glance at the video, one thing is interesting: The whole family is there in the throne room, plus a few members of the Japanese parliament – but I could not see the Emperor Emeritus or his wife anywhere. The man in the wheelchair is the uncle of the current Emperor, as far as I know, but his father is not present. Interesting, isn’t it?


Typhoon #19

Last weekend, this year’s typhoon #19 (called Hagibis) passed through Japan’s west coast. It caused great damage in and north of Tokyo, and a massive amount of floodings and landslides everywhere on its path, in particular in Nagano province. Hagibis was one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit Japan, and it caused the deaths of at least 55 people, with a few still missing.

Thankfully, Kyoto was not affected, at least not in my area. The typhoon passed through on Saturday afternoon, with lots of rain in the morning and strong gales of wind in the afternoon. Just before nightfall, everything was over.

And at that time, there was an interesting phenomenon, something I have never seen before: a bright yellow sky, with the sunset usually on the mountain visible on the right. If you know what could cause this interesting color, please do let me know!

A yellow sky after typhoon #19 in 2019.

Peter Handke

By now, you should have heard of Peter Handke, an author from Austria: He has just won the Nobel Prize in Literature today. Congratulations!

I’m not really sure how I feel about this, partially because I have never (consciously) read any of his writings, and partially because he was more or less defending the Serbs in the Yugoslav war, which didn’t go down well at all at the time.

That leaves the interesting and quite difficult question whether an artist should be judged by his art alone (in particular when considered for an art prize), or if their personal views on society, politics, etc. should come into play as well. Clearly, the artist imbues his pieces with something of himself; that’s why we often want to know more about them, their inspirations, their life, their routines…

But is this truly important? Would the Nike of Samothrace be any less of a masterpiece had it been carved by a mass murderer?

Nike of Samothrace

Visa Issues…

A few days ago I came across this very funny video on twitter. It’s mostly self-explanatory, in particular with the subtitles. A little background information to make sure you won’t be missing the finer points of the video: The standard length of a work visa in Japan is 1, 3, or 5 years. Once you have received a 5-year work visa, you may apply for permanent residency at the end of it. And with this, I’ll let you enjoy this masterpiece by Maydaysan in Japan: