One More Week…

That’s what’s keeping me up right now: Just one more week! I’ve had a big deadline on Monday, the last one for this client this year (I hope). And tonight, I had a business meeting at a bar (seriously), for reasons that will become apparent next year. 😉 Thursday will be my “English” day, where we’ll have a nice lunch as our traditional bonenkai and other meeting in the evening. And in between, I have to finish off some other things so that I can take a bit of time off over Christmas just as planned.

What's up in Kyoto square logoOne of those things is to prepare a newsletter for What’s up in Kyoto. I want to do it a bit like the facebook post I do on the first of each month, just a bit more elaborate and with a bit of bonus stuff. I have ideas but nothing concrete, other than it should be sent out just a few days before the end of the month, on the 28th or so. I hope that’s a good idea to reach more people? We’ll see…

Other than that, I’ve had some time for fun stuff too this weekend: We had our Soroban bonenkai on Saturday (we went to a Mexican place). And on Sunday I took half the day off to go to Arashiyama on the last day of the Doll Museum’s autumn opening. Nice to get out a bit, I should do it more often!

Bonenkai

It’s December – time for Christmas cards (all sent already!) and presents (some bought) and nengajo (working on these) and bonenkai year-end parties. I have two this year, one next weekend from my soroban class and the other one for Writers in Kyoto was last Sunday.

We met in an Irish Pub and besides the usual food and drink (Fish’n’Chips! Cider! Baileys!) we provided our own entertainment. Of all the members present, 12 had prepared to read from their works (of course) or made brand new poetry or stories. One of the members played shakuhachi (probably a good idea to ask him when I want to start classes officially) and another one played saxophone.

It was a nice and relaxing meeting and some of the people I had already met back in June during the launch of our anthology. I’m looking forward to next year and I hope I’ll have more time to go to events and meetups.

In case you’re a bit more curious about the bonenkai, I’ve been asked to write a report for our website, see the link above. I hope I’ll have it ready in a day or two.

Grand Open!

Finally, the shopping mall nearby is finished, and they had their “Grand Open” today. There were many people and it was extremely busy, which was to be expected, given how much advertisement the whole mall and some of the individual shops did…

New Quanat

The neighborhood was also invited to a Pre-Open on the 4th and 5th, with shorter opening hours, not all shops fully finished etc. It was a much more relaxed experience… So, first of all, the thing received a brand new name possibly reflecting a new owner? The shop space has almost doubled, and the whole interior received a thorough revamp, making it look more airy and open, especially in the main floors. Most of the old shops are back, but there are also some new additions that I am already fond of:

  • A Kaldi coffee shop, which sells not only coffee but also imported foods (Hello Milka chocolate and Nutella…). I’m glad I don’t have to go to town to shop there, although it might turn out to get very expensive over time…
  • There are now decent restaurants in the basement plus a large food court with “fast food” on the second floor. The food court has doubled in size, has some natural light and nicer seating. Bonus: A brand new Korean place that even sells Samgetang, a soup with chicken that’s stuffed with rice. I can’t wait to try them out.
  • There is also a nice cafe directly at the new entrance. They have a special “Coffee Time” in the afternoon with discounts on cake and drinks. It’s a bit noisy, so it probably won’t be my to-go place when I want to work, but their vanilla souffle is excellent!
  • Not there yet, but coming in March, will be a Loft store. They sell household goods and all sorts of knick knacks and I hope they will also bring their stationary department, where I usually buy all the Birthday and Christmas cards I need.

Interestingly, there is only a single shoe store at the moment, down from the four or so that were there before. And the uniqlo will also open only in March, for some weird reason. Overall, I’m quite happy, even though I’m not somebody who sees shopping as a spare-time activity.

However, I will still go there every few days for my groceries. My supermarket also got a revamp, which, unfortunately, means that I will have to take a stroll through the whole thing just to look for all the stuff I usually buy and which has been moved elsewhere… They do have an enlarged delicatessen section, but the cheese is still as expensive as before.

As I said, right now things are very busy, it even seems as if they got staff from elsewhere, and I hope the excitement and the crowds will disperse over time. The only reason I was there today at all (given that I went the two previous days as well) was that I wanted to buy some Nutella, but had to wait for the Grand Open to get the 10% discount. And then I didn’t buy it after all, because the queue in front of the cashier literally wound once through and around the whole store… So, I’ll be back on Monday to do some serious (Nutella) shopping!

Cold

It’s getting really cold now and I have caught some virus or other. I’m feeling tired and slow and not up for much at the moment, not even writing blog posts, let alone work…

I hope I’ll do better by the end of the week. After all, I have some bonenkai coming up. And the German Christmas Market in Osaka is beckoning too. 😉

Advent

Time flies! Sunday is already December 1st and 1st Advent Sunday. And because of that, I have bought an Adventkalender, which makes me feel very nostalgic.

For all of you who don’t live in Europe and have never heard of an Adventkalender, it is a calendar for the December days up to Christmas Eve. Each day in the morning, you open one little door with the day’s number and there is some little surprise behind it to brighten your day. It dates back to 19th century Germany and is mostly meant for kids to ease the long waiting time for the Christkind, who brings presents on December 24th in the evening.

In Austria, pretty much every household with children has an Adventkalender, often one for each child. Behind each door there is a little piece of chocolate, a perfect start into the day in my opinion. So, when I saw a real German Adventkalender a few weeks back in a shop, I just had to buy it. It now hangs in my office (unopened) and awaits my prying hands on Sunday morning.

German AdventkalenderI may have been a little bit too hasty in buying it. Just two or three days later I received my seasonal catalogue from Royce featuring Christmas chocolates – and a Royce Advent calendar. With Royce chocolates. And for the same price as my German one… Oh well. It’s the thought that counts in this season!

Formalities

Keigo is the Japanese word for polite or formal speech. Unfortunately, it has a lot of nuances that are very difficult to grasp for the foreigner. Besides the standard “mas”-form that should be used when speaking to strangers (and can be compared to the German “Sie” or the French “vous”), there is the sonkei honorific form and the kenjo humble form. Both of them come with special vocabulary for often used verbs like eat and drink, come and go, etc.

While the vocabulary can be learnt comparatively easily, it is rather difficult to figure out when to use these forms. The honorific is used when talking to (and sometimes even about) people of higher status than oneself. The humble form is used when referencing one’s own actions in the same circumstances. You could see it as a way to make a difference in status clear to everybody who is watching the interaction, or to make sure that the other person is aware that you understand your own (humbling) spot in life.

These nuances are extremely important when doing business in Japan, and it is vital to make the right first impression. Even Japanese who are not used to doing business  may have difficulties here. As a foreigner, I do have a certain amount of leeway, but that only works when I approach somebody in person. The moment I am writing business letters in Japanese, this breaks down, obviously.

For my recent ad letters, for example, it is very important to address the recipient in the correct manner. My friend and I spent about an hour just to get the very first sentence right, which is a simple:

To the General Manager

There are many different versions of general managers out there, from the simple tencho shop owner to the significantly more important daihyo torishimariyaku, the president and CEO. Of course, if you are addressing the general manager of a hotel, you’re speaking to the soshihainin no matter what. 

You see, navigating business in Japanese is tricky. I hope I will swim – or at least stay afloat long enough until I learn to do it properly.

Botanical Gardens

It’s the height of the koyo autumn colors and yesterday, the weather was just perfect: nice, sunny, not too windy… Since I was in the area for work, I decided to take a stroll in the botanical gardens of Kyoto to see their momiji. And it was an excellent decision! The grounds are so vast that people just disappear in them. It would be hard to feel crowded even on so perfect a day as yesterday. Anyway, here are a few photos I took in the botanical gardens yesterday.

Botanical Gardens Kyoto - koyo 2019

Botanical Gardens Kyoto - koyo 2019

Botanical Gardens Kyoto - koyo 2019

Botanical Gardens Kyoto - koyo 2019

Botanical Gardens Kyoto - koyo 2019

Errands

I was very busy today, running all kinds of errands and I’m exhausted… But, I have accomplished almost everything I was planning to do, so I’m feeling pretty good about myself at the same time.

  • buying cards to send next month, Christmas and Birthdays and nengajo New Year Cards (altogether, that was around 10000 yen… letter writing IS expensive these days!)
  • buying oseibo end-of-year gifts for my accountant (my lawyer gets chocolates from another place)
  • got new event info to enter into the What’s up in Kyoto calendar
  • studied Japanese & taught English
  • bought a zipper to repair old pants, plus new pants on a whim (it’s hard to find bottoms that fit me here, so I had to jump at the opportunity)
  • found a repair shop for my sewing machine (so I can actually repair these old pants)
  • sent off a birthday card for a friend (it’ll be late, sorry…)

Japan - Austria 150 Year Friendship Stamps.While I was at the post office to buy a stamp for the birthday card, I noticed these special stamps in commemoration of “150 years Friendship Japan – Austria”, and I just had to buy them. These 10 stamps show things that are – not just to the Japanese mind, but to mine too – associated with Austria. I thought about listing them, but it might be more fun for you to find out for yourself what they are.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a while to recognise the image on the bottom left. I think I know now what it represents, but I (and probably many more Austrians) associate this event with theater rather than with concerts… Anyway, fun thing to have for this Austrian fan of Japan.

PS: I’m sorry to say, but I am still very busy these days. So, I have decided not to write any weekend posts for the time being. They take a lot of time to research and write, and I don’t have time for this at the moment, at least not regularly. I am planning to resume them when I’m less busy, probably by next year. Sorry for the weekend silence!

Remodeling…

As I have mentioned several times before, the shopping mall nearby my home is being enlarged and renovated. Many shops have closed already, and now that the renovations are in the final stages, my supermarket is closed as well. For the next three weeks, I will have to get my groceries elsewhere. Thankfully, there is another supermarket nearby, so I won’t go hungry or without chocolate for too long.

The big “Renewal Open” as they call it here will be on December 6, just in time for Christmas and New Year shopping. I’m looking forward to it because I’m curious what new shops they will have then.

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!