Humans, please!

In my newly renovated supermarket, a change has taken place: Semi-automated cashiers are now everywhere. I don’t mean self-checkouts (there are maybe 5 of these), but cashiers where there is a real human ringing up your purchases, and when done send you off to pay at a machine nearby. It does annoy me, a little at least. I always chat to the cashiers, and I have my favourite lady over at the roast chicken stand too. But now, there is barely any time to talk to the cashiers anymore. Not that they got much human interaction before anyway.

And in the uniqlo I go to in town, they have done the same. And it’s even worse, because there are only two manned cash registers (where they still don’t handle your money anymore, but at least they pack your things for you) and another 10 that are self-checkout. Fun fact is that there are tons and tons of staff everywhere, so it’s not as if they are trying to save money, really, not unless staff with permission to handle money are paid better.

I have to admit that the lines in my supermarket are moving much faster now, obviously. Not just because the cashier can ring up the next customer while you pay, but also because there are four or five machines where you can pay for each cashier. I don’t want to test it, but I guess not even during rush hour in the weekends would you ever have to wait to pay. Efficient, definitely. Humane, not so much.

I wonder where this is going. I do understand that Japan is facing a severe labour shortage and they need to start early to do something against it. But going all the way robotic, I’m not sure… Is this hotel below just the prototype of where we’re heading? And do we really want that?


What's up in Kyoto square logoFor my What’s up in Kyoto highlights this year, I have chosen event venues. There are a number of great places with live music as well as traditional theaters in Kyoto, and it’s a step away from the traditional events I usually do. As a bonus, I thought I would make a draw to win tickets for one of the events at the venue. I already had plans to do that last year with the museums, but the logistics is  much easier this time around I think.

So, I set everything up on my end, and I got this month’s event venue on my side to sponsor two tickets for their signature dance event. I advertised my “win 2 free tickets” from the beginning of the month and had the lines open so to speak until yesterday morning. And how many entries did I get? Want to guess? Not a single one… Let’s call this disappointing, shall we?

I am not entirely sure what the reasons for this utter failure are. Perhaps I
– didn’t advertise enough or not to the right people
– don’t have enough visitors to begin with so there are not enough interested people
– didn’t choose the right event (contemporary dance is not for everyone)
– made it too difficult to enter (too many clicks to get to the entry form)
– …

Oh well. I will try again. After all, how else am I going to improve?

Half Way…

I still haven’t upgraded my computer… Before starting this, I thought, it might be a good idea to do some cleaning so maybe the whole thing will go faster. By now, I’m not so sure anymore. Yesterday, I spent more than 3 hours getting rid of about 50 GB of old data. And I haven’t touched the big issues yet – my photos…

I guess my updating journey will take a bit longer than planned. *sigh*


Just so that you know: I’ll have to do a software update for my laptop. If this were just my personal one, I wouldn’t care that much, but with my office machine I need to be a bit more careful, especially since I’m planning to keep using it for quite a while longer.

So, just in case I’ll go offline, it’s likely that the new software has sucked my laptop and me into a black hole…

The Crab Cannery Ship

The Crab Cannery Ship and Other Novels of Struggle
Takiji Kobayashi

Cover of The Crab Cannery ShipThis book consists of three novellas, all written in the late 1920s/early 1930s. All three concern class struggles, the rising of the working class, and the left-wing movements in Hokkaido.

  • The Crab Cannery Ship is a novella about a season of crab fishing near the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka. Neither factory nor ship, local fishermen and other laborers from Hokkaido have to endure unspeakable hardships to feed their families, until, at last, there is an uprising… 
  • Upon the jailing of her brother, Okei and her mother must move to Otaru to make ends meet. Yasuko, the younger sister works there already, in a small restaurant. When she gets involved with Yamada, a member of the worker’s union, the lives of both sisters change, but whether it’s a change for the better remains to be seen.
  • Life of a Party Member is exactly that, the struggles of a member of the left-wing party who is forced into the underground. However, he still keeps up his work to convert people to the socialist movement. It is not clear whether this piece is autobiographical.

The three stories in this book can probably be called left-wing propagandist literature, and the author, as a member of the labour movement does nothing to hide it. However, the writing is incredibly vivid and conjures up dreary pictures of the lives of impoverished people. I felt very drawn to the protagonists, and was ready to step in to help, all the while seeing through some of the more obvious propaganda (of course, with almost 100 years of hindsight). The first story was republished in 2008 and became a bestseller in Japan, a sign for the constant need to make a change, I guess.

Takiji Kobayashi was born in 1903 and moved to Hokkaido as a small child. He started writing short stories and published them when at university, and at that time he became a member of the labour movement. “The Crab Cannery Ship” was written in 1929 and it sold 15.000 copies before it was banned. He continued to write more stories and books in support of the labour movement and socialist ideas. In 1931, Kobayashi became an official member of the already outlawed Japanese Communist party, and one year later, he went underground. In 1933 he was captured by the police, tortured, and died while in custody – officially – from a “heart attack”.

If you’d like to read this book that became a bestseller and sold 500.000 copies 80 years after it was published, head over to amazon.


cogwheelsJust as promised on Tuesday, here are the two most important of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2020. I do have more than these of course, but they are either very personal or too trivial/silly to share on the internet, so you’ll have to make do with these two.

  • Improve Work-Life Balance

This is my main work resolution, and I guess I’ll have to explain it in a bit more detail. As you know, I am self-employed and working from my home-office. It’s been 5 years now and over time I have fallen into the trap that is waiting for many people who work from home: a blurring of work and private life. It’s very easy to have work disrupted by tasks around the home: Oh, let me just throw in a load of laundry so it runs while I’m editing these pictures. Or: I’ll just quickly dust my desk (which then devolves into an office deep-clean). While it’s definitely nice to get some housework done, it’s not great having to work until late in the evening, even though I’m a professed night owl. In the end, it leads to a weird feeling of not getting anything done: During designated leisure time I’m thinking about all the work stuff I should have been doing and during work I’m procrastinating with household chores.

So, while my work-life balance as a whole is rather okay, I have decided to better separate my tasks. That means I have set myself a minimum of 5 hours of work every day (not counting any breaks) PLUS a set ending time for work at 18:00.

Clearly, there will be exceptions like when there’s a looming deadline, I have meetings during the day, or when I have a job that can only be done in the quiet time in the evenings. However, over time, I hope to get back to a similar routine I had when I was working in a “real” office: work during the day and do fun stuff or chores in the evenings.

  • Get out!

This one is for my private self. I have always been an introvert, and I could spend days, weeks, possibly months just reading on the couch without further human interaction. However, I already work from home, and I did notice that my social life here is essentially non-existent. So, my goal is to get out more often. Depending on work-load, I want to take at least one full day off each week, and then, I’d like to go out and do something new. There are many events in Kyoto I have never been to, and since I can choose which days to take off, I can always find something interesting to do.

I don’t think that I’ll ever overcome my introversion (mostly because I don’t see anything inherently wrong with it), but it’s nice to see new stuff and potentially meet new people. It’s always interesting what you can experience on a day in the city, and I have met my current friends at the most unexpected places and occasions.

So yes, those are my two main goals for 2020. Let’s hope I can stick to them!

I’m Back!

Happy New Year again! I had two wonderful weeks (mostly) off in which I did a lot of fun things. I went to several exhibitions, did just enough maintenance around the house to feel very adult and accomplished, and finally, I had enough time to do relaxing things.

For Christmas, I bought myself a cake (a Japanese tradition) and I had potato salad and sausages for dinner on Christmas Eve (a family tradition). Presents were plentiful, and not all bought by myself! While I bought a long-needed pillow and a new pyjama, my friends surprised me with chocolates and special Christmas tea and a number of Christmas cards. Even though I’m not religious, Christmas is something very personal for me, and I try not to go out on December 24 and 25. I have celebrated Christmas with others before, but it doesn’t feel right to me; every family has their own traditions and I felt like the 5th wheel… Better to stay home and make my own tradition!

As for the exhibitions, I went to the Insho Domoto Museum to see the “Best of Insho”, where a number of his most famous works are on display. Among them are sliding doors that he painted for a temple. I really like Insho Domoto’s works, especially the abstract paintings he created when already past 70 years old. As many larger exhibitions in Japan, this one comes in two parts, and I am planning to go and see the second half of it as well.

I also went to see the Nitten, a yearly exhibition of the Japan Art Academy and its members. It tours through Japan and comes to Kyoto in December/January, where about half of the exhibits are from artists from Kyoto and Shiga provinces. There are five categories in the Nitten: Japanese painting, Western painting, calligraphy, sculpture and applied arts/crafts. I still don’t get calligraphy, but I really like the applied arts and crafts section. There are some stunning pieces each year, and to me, it’s the highlight of the Nitten. Unfortunately, I am always disappointed by the sculptures. Many of them are slightly larger-than-life nude (female) figures, but to me, they seem very static and lifeless.

omamori charm in the shape of a ratFinally, for New Year, I waited for my Hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine in the New Year) until January 3rd, hoping to avoid the crowds. However, I made the mistake to visit Otoyo Jinja, a usually very quiet little shrine just off the Philosopher’s Path, which happens to be Kyoto’s Rat shrine. Why is that important? Because it’s the year of the Rat, and you’d want to start it off on the right foot (and with the right deity), of course. Apparently, many, many other people had the same idea and I ended up waiting in line for 2.5 hours, just to go and do my first prayer… I don’t think I’ll be doing that ever again, but just in case, I have the proper omamori charm to prove my dedication! (Note the little tail. And the whiskers!)

Speaking of dedication, of course I have a number of New Year’s resolutions, but I will write about them on Thursday.


Finally! Yesterday was the last day with appointments this year. For lunch, I went out with two of my friends / English students to a lovely Japanese restaurant that has a nice traditional lunch menu for very little money. Even though one of my friends warned us that it might not be enough, I felt quite satisfied afterwards. Still, she had already planned to visit  one of the best chocolate places in town so I wasn’t complaining…

At the Bel Amer Chocolaterie, I had a chocolate-berry parfait, one of my friends had a chocolate-citrus parfait and the other one had this smoked chocolate that you can see in the intro at the link above. I can say we were all very happy with our choices! I did manage to refrain from buying any chocolates to take home though, and I’m mighty proud of myself!

Instead, I took home a lesson in Japanese gift giving: My friend recently had a grandson, and so she had received a gift to celebrate the occasion. Now, she had to send a return gift back in this endless circling dance of Japanese gift giving… I’ll probably never going to learn this!

chocolate cakesIn the evening I had my final English class and we met in a very nice cafe because our usual haunt is closed for renovation until the end of the year. My student, ever the gentleman, insisted on paying for everything and even bought me two pieces of chocolate cake to take home. Now, isn’t that a nice ending to my work week?

Okay, it’s not really over, I still have a number of things to do, but at least I don’t have any work appointments in the next two weeks. I’m also planning on taking most of the time off and I have already made a list of fun things to do, the nerdy type of fun things at least.

Also, I have decided to take an official break from posting here, so unless something ground breaking happens in Kyoto in the next two weeks, you’re on your own. I’m sure you have fun stuff to do as well.

See you next year!