Raise

A new fiscal year has just started and: I’m getting a raise! YAY.

Japanese currencyNo, that’s not a joyful yay, actually, because once you’re self-employed, giving yourself a raise is a bit more complicated than just being happy about more money. That’s because I’ll have to earn the money before I can spend it – have I ever mentioned that I am financially conservative? – and it is quite a large amount, as you will see in a moment.

So, why on earth am I giving myself a raise if I’d rather not? Excellent question! Answer: Because I have to.

Recently, the Japanese government has decided that everybody who is living in Japan must pay into the national pension fund. So far, it was optional (even for Japanese as far as I know) and especially if you were self-employed, you didn’t really need to. But now, since April 1st, paying for your pension is mandatory, and because I have been living on the financial edge already for the last few years, I need that raise to pay my pension.

Even worse, it turned out that I cannot pay pension privately (as I had done with health insurance), but I need to run this through the company, which makes everything significantly more expensive. I have now enrolled in the national social security which means I will pay health and pension insurance in one lump sum – of about 60.000 yen per month. Like in many other countries, this is split into 50% for the employee and 50% for the employer, so 30.000 yen is my salary raise, and 30.000 yen is additional company expenses.

In the end, what I get onto my account by the end of the month is the same as before, but since I now pay health insurance through the company, I am saving 20.000 yen of my personal money, which will give me a bit of breathing room every month. Still, it does hurt: for 20.000 yen more in my pocket I’ll need to earn 60.000 yen more each month.

As I said above: yay.

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place
Seicho Matsumoto

Cover of A Quiet PlaceTsuneo Asai is on a business trip in Kobe when he recieves the news that his wife had died. Eiko had had a weak heart, so, while her death was sudden, the heartattack causing it was not exactly a surprise. The circumstances of her death, however, are puzzling: What did she do in that neighborhood in a part of Tokyo they had never visited before?

When Tsuneo visits that neighborhood to apologize for the trouble caused by his wife’s death, he notices a number of love hotels on top of the hill. Immediately, the idea that his wife must have had an affair takes hold, and Tsuneo is determined to find out the truth.

This is not your typical “whodunit” crime novel, since the death of Eiko was from natural causes. Still, Tsuneo acts like a sleuth on his quest to unravel his wife’s apparent double life, which makes this a compelling read. Once the truth is found, Tsuneo must make a decision, which turns the story into a direction of obsession and what can happen when you don’t let sleeping dogs lie…

Seicho Matsumoto was born as Kiyoharu Matsumoto, an only child, in Kyushu in 1909. He never finished secondary school or university, and worked as an adult making layouts for Asahi Shimbun. His first short story was entered in a 1950 competition and won him third prize. Six years later, he had quit the newspaper and worked full-time as a writer and until his death in 1992, he wrote more than 450 works, only a handful of which were translated into English. His detective and crime fiction, where he not only depicts the crime but also Japanese society and its ills, was very popular in Japan. He won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1952, the Kikuchi Kan Prize in 1970, and the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1957. He chaired the president of Mystery Writers of Japan from 1963 to 1971.

Recently, I discovered Seicho Matsumoto, and his crime novels are well crafted and fun to read. Try for yourself and get the novel from amazon.

Weekend Trip

Last Sunday I took the day off and, together with my soroban class mates and our teacher, of course, we went to Himeji, about 1.5 hours south of Kyoto. There lies Himeji castle which was built in the 14th century, and it is lauded as the most beautiful castle in all Japan.  Its wooden construction is still intact, and the white exterior and the great position on top of a hill – and directly visible from the station – makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Japan.Himeji Castle as seen from the West Bailey.

It was rather busy, not only because of the weekend, but because people went there for their hanami. Himeji is very famous for the cherry trees on its grounds, but it was still quite cool, so not many of the trees were in bloom. There were still enough people that it took us more than an hour from the ticket gate to the inner keep, and inside the castle, we had to wait for one floor to empty before being allowed to climb to the next one.

We spent several hours in the castle and had great fun even though the weather was cool with lots of wind. My personal highlight was meeting Shiromaruhime, the mascot of Himeji. The word means literally “White Circle Princess” and many people were lining up to take pictures with her, and so did our group. I usually don’t buy souvenirs, maybe a postcard or two, but I caught a severe case of cute overload and could not resist buying a small plush toy that is now adorning my desk. She’s really cute, don’t you think?

Shiromaruhime, the mascot of Himeji.

 

Reiwa

Japan is moving into a new era – quite literally – with the abdication of the current emperor on April 30th and the ascension to the throne of his son on May 1st. The preparations for this enormous event must have started a long time ago, but most of them are done in private, so that the average Japanese is not aware of all that’s going on behind the scenes.

Yesterday, however, the first big official event took place: The reveal of the new era (gengo) name. Each reign of a Japanese emperor is associated with an era name, and while an emperor is never called by his given name during his lifetime, his era name will be used to refer to him when he is dead. Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, there were four eras: Meiji (1868 – 1912), Taisho (1912 – 1925), Showa (1925 – 1989) and Heisei, the current one. Before the Meiji Restoration, the era name could change more frequently. Often, a new era was begun to give the nation a symbolic fresh start, after a natural disaster, or a number of deaths in the imperial family, for example.

Yoshihide Suga , Chief Cabinet Secretary announces the name of Japan’s forthcoming new eraAnyway, the new era that we in Japan will live in from May 1st will be called Reiwa. The two kanji were taken from the Manyoshu, one of the oldest collections of Japanese poetry, compiled in the second half of the eight century. Like many characters, these kanji have different meaning. The first one – rei – has a meaning of to rule, to order, but can also mean elegant, fine, beautiful, or auspicious. The second character can mean peace, calmness, harmony.

There are two interesting articles on how Japanese era names are chosen in the modern era.
This one is about the forthcoming one, Reiwa:
http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201904020020.html
And this is an interview with one of the people sitting on the committee for the current one, Heisei:
https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/backstories/insiderexplains/

It is interesting to note that the term Reiwa itself has no meaning as a word, it is more a concept that is open to some interpretation (just like Heisei, by the way). Prime Minister Abe explained that Reiwa signifies “a culture being born and nurtured by people coming together beautifully.” We will see how this will work out. For now, however, the Japanese seem to be pleased with the new era name. Friends have told me that they sound is good. Let’s hope the era itself will live up to the “good sound”.

Efficiency

MannerschnittenJapanese efficiency is amazing! Yesterday, I ordered a new pack of “Manner Schnitten” from THE Japanese online retailer Rakuten. They said that delivery would take a day or two, and I thought, okay, Wednesday morning I’m home, so let’s have them delivered in the morning., it’ll be fine.

Today, in the early afternoon, when I came home from my Japanese class, I found a slip in my letterbox that they had already tried to deliver my package at around 11 – less than 24 hours after my order! And when I called the delivery driver to tell him that I was home now and if he could please try again, it took him barely 20 minutes to stand at my doorstep again.

The efficiency is absolutely fascinating, I am greatly impressed! The parcel was handed to the delivery service in Fukuoka yesterday at 15:07, and they tried the first delivery today already at 11:02, that’s 20 hours only. Wow! My friend says that’s normal, she says if she doesn’t get her stuff within 2 days or so she starts worrying that something might have gone wrong…

Shunbun-no-hi

Today is Shunbun-no-hi, the vernal equinox, and a national holiday in Japan.

Traditionally, people would visit the graves of their ancestors and do some spring cleaning around their homes, but I am not sure if this is still a thing. Also, this day was meant as the official beginning of winter, since from now on the days will be longer than the nights again.

The moon at Ishiyama by Hiroshige, 1834.

I am definitely looking forward to spring, even though the winter this year was quite mild. For now, it is too cool still for hanami, and I have not seen any cherry blossom buds except in very sheltered spots. But, this year’s cherry blossom forecast states that they will start blooming in Kyoto some time early next week. I shall report.

Unsuccessful

Today was not my day, and that’s putting it mildly…

First, I received an email from my friend who’s helping with the What’s up in Kyoto highlights. The museum that I had planned for next month has declined our offer of highlighting, very politely of course, but it’s still a no. Back to square one.

stack of papersSecond, I spent about an hour at the bank trying to transfer money to my account in Austria, and in the end, I was unsuccessful. I forgot – yet again – “My Number”, a sort of personal identification you now need for any kind of international banking. Plus, they want to know where the money came from, what I’m doing with it and that that other account is truly mine. All of which I have already told them before – several times – but they’ll just need to check again for good measure. I did mention before that the Japanese love paperwork, didn’t I?

Third, I went to another little museum that might be another highlight option, but this turned out to be more of a gallery. They are not totally uninteresting, but probably not what I’m looking for after all. I’m a bit unsure whether to feature them, and tomorrow I will visit another museum  and see what they have to offer.

Fourth, after two disappointments in a row, I decided to try out a new cafe in town that sports a large advertisement talking about “Big Apple pie”. Since I’m not allowed to eat chocolate, I’m happy to try that – the next time it’s open, because today they were closed.

Fifth, I then decided to go home, but not without buying one of those interesting “sweet potatoes”, which actually are pastries made with white anko (the only type of anko I like) and have a nice, cinnamon-flavoured dough outside. They are a small handful only, and very, very delicious. but again, the store was closed today, and I had to go home empty-handed.

See, this would be one of the moments where I would be reaching for my jar of Nutella. But of course, Lent and promises and stuff…

*sigh* I’m glad this day – which was definitely not one of my highlights – is over. Tomorrow will be better. I hope.

Doing Without

Sorry for not posting on Tuesday, I was extremely busy. I worked until 3 in the morning, had 3 hours of sleep and went back to work again… Rinse and repeat today, but I have to admit that I slept a bit longer tonight. I had two of my regular writing deadlines yesterday evening plus an added one that was moved forward by two days… and two more deadlines tomorrow and a full day of going places too. How come that every time I think I’m having work under control, something unexpected crops up? So much for my “work/life balance”…

chocolate cakesAnd the worst thing about this is: I’m doing it without my fuel – chocolate. I eat quite an amount of chocolate each and every day, plus chocolate cookies and cocoa and Nutella, of course. And especially when I’m working, I have some chocolate to munch on. But now I stopped. For the time being.

A friend of mine has, well not challenged, but inspired me: Every year during Lent, he completely abstains from all kinds of sweets, except for a half spoonful of sugar for his morning coffee. He says it’s not so much a thing of losing weight (he is fit enough to run marathons), but more a proof of concept: “I control the sweets, the sweets don’t control me.”

I found that inspiring enough to go and try myself this year. It could be anything, really, but it should be a challenge. Since I have no problems with meat or alcohol (that’s what many people abstain from during Lent), or even sweet things like candy, I decided I’d try not to eat chocolate in any form until Easter (on April 21st). I do allow myself other sweets, mainly because I hardly eat any candy, but also because sugar is my fuel. I am certain that I cannot function without a sweet breakfast, and given my workload right now (which will remain the same for another month), I don’t want to try doing without sugar altogether right now.

So, I started skipping the chocolate last Friday, and so far, it is pretty easy. I do have some cravings, but it’s not like I’m dying for the chocolate. It’s probably more like a habit rather than a serious addiction. Interestingly, shopping became slightly more complicated. I have my favourite types of sweet bread and cookies, and – you guessed it – they are all with chocolate! That means I stood in front of a full shelf in my supermarket and thought “but… what do I eat??”

That was kind of funny. If that’s the only setback I’m experiencing, I’ll be doing fine. Besides, right now is the strawberry season, and there is always sweets with matcha. I love Japan!

Taiko

Among the many types of traditional Japanese music instruments, taiko drums are probably the most exciting. They have been used in many settings, including court music and theater – both noh and kabuki – but the biggest taiko drums were used during warfare. There, they were used chiefly for communication, to let the troops know when to attack or to retreat, or simply to keep the beat during long marches.

Today, these large drums are often played during festivals, and then, it’s usually in the form of a kumi-daiko, where a group of people with different sized drums performs together. I enjoy listening to taiko music, it is – excuse the pun – always very upbeat and energising. The video below shows a performance by Kodo, which is probably the taiko troupe that is best known outside of Japan, since they are touring abroad for four months each year.

The video is 8:24 long and safe for work – although you might want to turn the volume down a bit.

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What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been procrastinating for quite a while now on something that’s rather important for my What’s up in Kyoto website. Yes, I have been very busy with other ventures that actually are paying my bills, but ultimately, that’s an excuse.

What I need to do to drive my business forward is to get word about What’s up in Kyoto out there, to people who matter. Users, i.e., tourists, first and foremost, but also to local museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, hotels… you name it.

So, I need to write advertisement letters, preferably different ones depending on the recipient. And I’m so not good at writing those… By now I have learnt to talk about my accomplishments without feeling impostor syndrome. Some of the things I have done I’m actually really proud of. But these advertisements are different, they are more on a level: Look, I’m so great and you definitely need to work with me. That verges on bragging, and I’m so not good at doing that.

The fun thing is that with all the writing I have done lately, about smartphones and hotels and other stuff; if I have to write copy about other people or businesses, it’s actually not that difficult. But doing the same for me, it feels quite wrong, somehow. However, I’ll have to try to push through this obstacle. Wouldn’t be the first one where everything is much easier once you’re on the other side…