Disappointment

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?

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!

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.

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!

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…

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?

Opportunities

What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been very busy with moving What’s up in Kyoto to the next level. So far, I did all of that work on that website for free, a very time-consuming hobby indeed. But now I am gearing up to allow advertising on the site, and a friend of mine has helped me draft some letters for various businesses that I’ll get translated into Japanese and then start sending off in the hope of getting some income.

Also, I have devised a cunning plan to drive more visitors to the website, but I’ll need to do a little bit more research on this one. Essentially it is involving all the international conferences that are organised locally by universities; scientists are curious and would appreciate a list of things to do in Kyoto, I’m sure.

On top of that, to bridge the money chasm while I’m waiting for all those advertisements to come in, I have applied for a writer’s position at a local English magazine geared towards foreign visitors. That was some two months ago, and: I received a no.

However, I still went there today for an interview. The people in charge were impressed with the What’s up in Kyoto website and all the other experience I have concerning social media and online publishing, so they are considering me as their new, actually: their very first webmistress!

Their current website and online presence has been quite neglected, and we were talking  how to put it on better feet for now. I left with a good feeling and quite some excitement about me getting to learn all sorts of new things. And I kinda sorta got invited to their next staff meeting. Does that mean that I’m hired already?

Kyoto Crafts

Sorry for not posting on Tuesday – I fell into a craft-shaped hole… Let me explain: The last three days there was the “Tradition and Innovation – Culture and Industry” exhibition at the Miyakomesse in Kyoto, and it was promised that a number of Kyoto artisans would exhibit their work and actually be present to do and explain some work there.

Since my Tuesday Japanese class is just next door, I decided to drop in and have a look at the craftsmen and the exhibition. I thought it would take maybe an hour, because how big can such an event be, really. Boy was I wrong!

There were 40 little booths with a large variety of crafts. Most of the space was devoted to the different steps of nishijin weaving – nowadays used to make an obi for kimono – from the design on plotting paper and the dyeing of the silk to the threading of the silk onto the loom to the actual weaving. There were other textile arts like yuzen dyeing – painting or printing onto silk – embroidery and weaving decorative ropes.

An obi from start to finish

Then there were decorative arts like woodcrafts, bamboo weaving, lacquerware, cloisonné, damascene work, making umbrellas and carving Noh masks; and finally things necessary for a traditional Japanese house like bamboo blinds for in- and outdoors, bamboo fences and even roof tiles.

Making an end tile.

There were places set aside for exhibitions of ikebana and calligraphy, and a large place for tea ceremony; and of course there were stalls to buy Kyoto food and sweets.

The “Innovation” part of the exhibition showed a few interesting pieces of modern inventions by companies that did traditional crafts; for example there was one traditional producer of gold leaf which is now making ultra thin sheets of copper (think micrometres) for modern electronics. And the experimental kyocera car where the mirrors are replaced by cameras.

Kyocera Car

So yes, that one hour that I had planned turned into three. Partly because I wanted to learn as much as possible, which was aided by the fact that there was an English interpretation service. And partly because I happened to be the only foreigner there on Tuesday afternoon, so it seemed that people were extra friendly and talkative and wanted to show/explain everything in extra detail.

For example, I was invited to try hikizome, a type of yuzen dyeing, and I was asked if I wanted to put on a kimono and pose with one of the “Miss Kimono” already present. And I had to try dashi, fish broth, apparently made by one of the best kaiseki haute cuisine chefs in town. And I got photographed a lot that afternoon. By the end of it, I was so exhausted, I even forgot to buy the ginger mochi I like so much.

Noh Masks.

But, no matter, I went there again today. Not for the ginger mochi only, although I did buy a pack. I went there to pick up my new hanko! One of the crafts on display was seal-carving. I  started chatting with the artist, I mentioned that I always wanted a hanko with my name in katakana. When I wrote down my name, he quickly came up with a nice design – and I ordered a hanko on the spot. I received it today – complete with a little silk bag and some red ink – and I’m absolutely thrilled about it.

I was also thrilled to meet two friends there, rather by accident, which was nice. Also, I handed out postcards promoting whatsupinkyoto.com to everybody who asked about my job. And, as an extra bonus I can now tell you that my (business) acquaintances include the Deputy General Manager of the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Who knows what this might lead to…

Giving Up

A Man presses a "reject" buttionEven though I kept trying many times, I had to realise this morning that I’m not a fashion expert. Not even a fashion person. And definitely not a fashion writer.

You may know that I regularly write articles for various online businesses. To name a few, I have written about smartphones, doctors, hotels… This is all managed by another company for whom I work freelance, and they keep sending me invitations for new projects.

The way this works is that you need to sign up, you get invitations for a project. If you like the project, you send a writing sample (usually according to a given brief), and if you are chosen to work on the project, you will get all the further details. And payment further down the line.

Several times now, I have tried to get work writing for fashion brands or retailers online. I do not know anything about fashion, but I did write very successfully about smartphones without owning one, so I thought this would be in the same category. Well, I never got picked, and this morning I finally understood why.

As the test, I had to write a 300-word article about a well-known fashion brand. And, being me, I took the nerdy approach: a bit of history, a bit of innovations, a bit of types of clothes and a bit about the big-name designers they currently work with. I wrote it last night and let it sit, which is always a good idea when it comes to this type of writing, at least in the beginning.

This morning, I went online to a link I was given, and all the way down, there was an introduction to the brand. (Before you ask why I need to write this when it’s already there, I guess they are regularly updating the writing on the pages to make it seem more dynamic?) And that intro took the fashionista approach, talking about shoes and hoodies and leggings and sportswear and bras and socks and caps and backpacks and accessories and of course that it will feel wonderful when you wear it.

Note that this was on the bottom of a page already showing photos of all these things (minus the wonderful feelings of course) plus: the writing brief stated explicitly not do get sales-y. There were two sentences unique about the brand (one of them talking about their latest designer), but everything else was completely interchangeable with any other brand out there.

I didn’t even bother sending in my sample. Obviously this type of writing is so far out of my natural habitat, that it is a complete waste of time to even consider learning the how-to. So: I am calling a strategic retreat and cut my losses. Best to stick to stuff that I know something about. Serious nerdy stuff. Like smartphones. 😉

Service?

As you know, from this (fiscal) year on, I am enrolled in Japan’s national pension and health insurance, which costs me more than 60.000 yen every month (I have complained about this, I’m sure). Signing up for the service went very smoothly, and now I’m getting a monthly letter from them indicating how much I have paid for pension/health insurance. Not that this is necessary, since I can see that in my company bank book, but the Japanese love paperwork.

One evening about two weeks ago, I received a phone call, and it took me a while to understand that it was from the Japanese Pension Service in Kyoto. The following is a short version of the weirdest phone conversation I ever had:

“We have sent you a letter,” the woman on the other end of the line announced proudly.

“Oh? I didn’t receive anything yet.”

“Yes, it can take a week or so until you receive it. But please read the letter when it comes. Thank you!”

Ummm… okay. Mind you that she didn’t say what the letter was about. Fast forward about a week when indeed I got a letter from Japan Pension Service. Essentially it said “We just want to tell you that this is indeed your yearly income (amount goes here)”. Well, yeah, this is what I have entered on the form I gave you when I enrolled in the service, so…?

I am not sure what the letter was good for to begin with, since it told me what I already knew. But the phone call before that takes the cake. I mean, does Japan Pension Service call every single company when they send them paperwork? Or am I getting the special foreigner treatment? Well, as long as this extra work is not deducted from my pension in the end…