Ice, Ice … Window?

Welcome to 2021 which is still pretty much the same as 2020: With Japan being at the height of the third Covid19-wave, Kyoto and 10 other provinces have entered the second lockdown today. It will be in effect until February 7th, unless things are changing of course. Just like last year in April/May, restaurants, department stores, movie theaters etc. should close earlier, companies are encouraged to allow their workers to work from home, and people are asked to avoid going outside unnecessarily.

At least the last part shouldn’t be too difficult, as it is cold. Really cold. Not that this is unusual for this time of the year, but there is a certain edge to it at the moment. For example, last Friday, when I wanted to open the window in my bedroom, I couldn’t. Here’s why:

Can you see the ice that’s blocking the windows from moving? Whenever it gets cold in Kyoto, my single-glazed windows are fogging up over night, and it takes a while for all the dew to evaporate on the next day. On very cold days, I have had little ice streams flowing down the windows over night. However, this is the first time that a whole ice block has formed and froze my windows shut. It took one hour until I could open them again and remove the ice.

Two things are interesting about this: First, I told a friend of mine about this and she didn’t even bat an eye. So… is this normal around here? Or maybe she wasn’t impressed because the freezing cold had burst one of her water pipes that very same night and it took her several hours to get it fixed. Obviously, she had bigger fish to fry that day.

And second: even though it was so cold in the room that so large an amount of ice could form on my window, I slept like a baby and never woke up for a single minute. I am usually very sensitive to cold but I felt nothing that night. It seems that the heavy duvet filled with sheep’s wool I bought last autumn was an excellent investment!

I’m Back!

Happy New Year again! I hope you had some nice holidays and some quiet time for yourself. I did, and it was wonderful! The construction, or rather: de-construction next door had their last day on December 30, as did the garbage facility, so I had 4 days of really quiet time. It seemed almost as if all of Kyoto had shut down, the mornings were so quiet and nothing stirred at all.

I didn’t dare going out at all though. The bell-ringing on New Year’s Eve was largely cancelled, but I could hear them clearly for an hour or so around midnight. Hatsumode also I postponed, just to be safe. It’s the year of the ox, so I would have to go to Kitano Tenmangu shrine, but this shrine is super busy to begin with, so I didn’t want to add to the crowds (which we are still supposed to avoid because Corona isn’t over).

Instead, I did a lot of reading over New Year’s. A friend of mine sent me a book with stories by Viennese authors as a Christmas gift, but I decided to read this one in style – and in a cafe and not at home (if you know Viennese “Kaffeehaeuser”, you’ll understand.) I borrowed books from the library, but the one I wanted, they had to get through inter-library loan from Kyushu, and I haven’t heard back from them yet.

So yes, I’m gearing back up again since Monday. I have a new client and work will start soon, possibly this week, and some of my previous work will continue on Friday, if everything turns out alright. After the garbage fire of 2020, I can only hope that this year will get much, much better. I do need it – but then again, I guess we all do.

Happy New Year 2021!

Happy New Year of the Ox!
I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and successful year 2020!
I hope for all of us that this year will be a vast improvement over the last one and that things will get back to the real normal soon.

Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!
I wish you all quiet and peaceful holidays!

As you can see, this year’s Christmas cards come from my stash of ancient goodies. I hope my friends liked them anyway. 😉

As I am almost done with my work for this year – one more meeting plus the What’s up in Kyoto newsletter (which you definitely should subscribe to!) – and with Christmas Eve tomorrow, I’m calling my Christmas holidays already! I will take time off over New Year, and post again on January 6th with an update.

Please take care until then, stay healthy and safe, and I’ll see you next year!

Silence

Silence
Shusaku Endo

Father Sebastian Rodrigues is a Catholic priest whose dream it is to go to Japan as a missionary. When news reaches Portugal that his old teacher, Father Ferreira, has apostatized, he finally receives permission to go to Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed and all foreign priests are persecuted.
When Rodrigues enters Japan in a little boat in the dead of the night, a hidden Christian community welcomes his arrival and hides him from the authorities. However, he is soon betrayed and imprisoned, where he awaits his trial at the hand of the lord Inoue. While in prison, Rodrigues reflects on his life and faith, and can finally meet with Ferreira, who has an unexpected confession.

I greatly enjoyed this gripping story, and from the very beginning, you want to know what will happen next. Endo tells of the persecution of Christianity in the early Edo Period in great detail, but always through the eyes of the outsider Rodrigues. Once captured, he questions his determination and even faith, and the “silence” of the title refers to that of God, who is unmoved by the sufferings of the Japanese Christians and Rodrigues’ prayers. A great history lesson in a great story of human (and divine?) failure. Highly recommended!

Shusaku Endo was born in 1923 in Tokyo, but his family moved to Machuria when he was three. Already in elementary school, he published a newspaper with friends. He returned to Japan with his mother after her divorce in 1933, and one year later, he was baptised at a Catholic Church. He began studying in 1943 and started publishing stories in literary journals throughout the war. Endo received the Akutagawa Prize for “White Men” in 1954 and the Tanizaki Prize in 1966 for “Silence” which was turned into a movie by Martin Scorsese. Most of Endo’s writings have a decidedly Christian, if not Catholic bent. He died in 1996 in Tokyo.

This historical novel may not be the best read for the Christmas season, but if you want to give it a try, it’s available from amazon.

Changes

Sorry for not writing last night, I was out all day in the cold and felt a bit sick, so I turned in very early…

So, yes, it got really cold the last few days. Even though a temperature drop after the momiji is normal, I don’t recall it ever getting that cold that quickly. At the moment, the temperatures are like in February and we even had some snow this morning, a December first as long as I’ve been living here. I have been worried about an early winter, and it’s not looking good at all. 

The construction workers next door seem unfazed by the cold though. For a month now, it has been very noisy during the day because they are tearing down the buildings. As you can see, there are six buildings in total: one family home, one apartment building (which was renovated only in 2015) and four houses for the dairy company that was there.

By now, the two closest to the entrance at the left are gone, and the workers are still busy cleaning out the apartments – see the trash at the top left window? I notice that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of separation for recycling going on. At least the smaller buildings were demolished, windows, roofs and all. Then again, these are wooden structures, so maybe it’s easier sorting through the debris in the end?

In any case, according to the plan they sent out to the neighborhood, they should be done with the demolition this month. And the new building or buildings should stand some time in April and May. I’m curious what it’s going to be…

Sweet Apples

There are countless Japanese sweets. Some are made exclusively for tea ceremony, and others are eaten as desserts. Traditionally, many of these sweets are made with heavily sugared anko red bean paste or they involve matcha. Since I am not a big fan of red anko, I am happy whenever I find sweets that don’t have it. Like these palm-sized apples:

Crimson Apples dessertThese are called beniringo – crimson apples – for obvious reasons, and they are delicious. At first, I thought they would contain white anko (which I do like), but no, it gets better: they have an apple filling! They are a perfect afternoon snack, just two or three bites and very sweet. I have returned to the shop twice now and handed these sweets out to friends, and I’m actually tempted to buy another batch before they start the winter season with their sweets and I have to wait another year.

These wonderful apples are made by Kogetsu, a traditional Japanese sweets shop from Kyoto that opened back in 1945. Today, they have 16 stores in Kyoto and their sweets are sold in 69 shops (including department stores etc.) throughout Japan. If you’re coming to Kyoto and interested in Japanese sweets, both traditional and with a modern twist, I recommend you check them out.

Consolidation

We are having typical December weather in Kyoto. Mornings and nights are pretty cold, but when the sun is out during the day it’s actually nice and pleasant. I could even dry my clothes within just a few hours on my balcony today!

The momiji season is all but over by now. Last Friday, I went to Eikando with a friend of mine and it was just a bit too late for the autumn colors. The temple was packed with people despite everything but it was not unbearably full. Afterwards, we went to the Lake Biwa Canal Museum where I could find out more details about the boating trip I took beginning of October. Even my friend was pleased with the museum, she’s a nerd at heart too.

Now that autumn is more or less over, I have packed all my things and moved them to my living room for the winter. I usually do this just after Christmas, but I’m not expecting any guests to stay with me this year, so I did it today. As I said, the evenings are cool enough to need heating, and I think it’s a waste to heat up one room and go to bed in another freezing one. I don’t need heating during the day yet, especially when it’s sunny, so I’ll keep using my office as long as possible.

Business as usual, so to speak. At least one thing that didn’t break down completely this year.

The Woman in the Dunes

The Woman in the Dunes
Kobo Abe

Niki Jumpei travels to a remote beach to catch sand beetles for his collection. On his search, he discovers a village with houses that are overcome by the sand, so much so, that some of them stand on the bottom of pits dug into the dunes. When he misses the last bus home, the village elders allow him to stay with a woman who lives in one of these sunken houses. The next morning however, Jumpei finds himself trapped down there. Forced to help the woman excavate the sand so as not to be buried by it, he must choose whether to fight against the inevitable or to give in to it – and to the woman.

This is probably the best known book by Kobo Abe and a personal favourite of mine to which I return ever so often. We follow Jumpei’s inner journey as he is trapped at the bottom of the pit, and the question “what would I do” is ever present. The ending of this novel is interesting, and depending on your own answer to the question above will either come as a shock or as a natural conclusion of Jumpei’s path.

Kobo Abe, born in Tokyo in 1924, was a Japanese writer, playwright, musician, photographer and inventor. Following his father’s footsteps, he studied medicine in Tokyo and graduated in 1948. In his last year in medical school, he started writing short stories, and already in 1951, he recceived the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. Woman in the Dunes, published in 1961, earned him the Yomiuri Prize and international acclaim as was turned into a movie. Abe was famous for his surreal and modernist style. He died in 1993.

Somehow I feel that this kafkaesque novel is the perfect ending for 2020. If you want to give it a try, you can get it from amazon.

Biting Bullets

Quite a while ago, I broke another tooth. Essentially it’s a lot of filling in the middle with only the outer rim still tooth enamel – and a part of that finally broke away. It happens. What is not quite normal is that only today I finally bit the bullet and made an appointment at the dentist’s.

schematic of a toothWhat took me so long? Well, I’m terrified of dentists. And while I’m not alone in this, I can pinpoint the reason exactly: When I was a child and our local dentist had to drill down on something, there was smoke coming out of my mouth. I cannot recall whether the procedure hurt, but that blueish smoke wafting in front of my young eyes has scarred me forever.

Over the years, I have grown up and gotten better at going to the dentist, overall, at least. But this time, the hurdle was extra high: the newly broken tooth was the smokey one… I’m not looking forward to this, since it will take several visits to fix this. Not to mention that it will probably cost me a fortune. Thank goodness I haven’t spent all of Shinzo’s money yet.