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…

Summer!

It’s much later than usual, but finally today we had the first day of summer! It was sufficiently hot (36 degrees), humid (75%) and sunny (I even got a sunburn on my way to the city) to be called a decent summer day. And there was a nice shower in the late afternoon to cool everything down before the evening  – I’m calling this a perfect day!

And it started off well too. I went to one of the museums I’d like to feature as a What’s up in Kyoto monthly highlight soon, and everything went incredibly smoothly. I had my own tour guide even before I had explained why I was coming, everything went easily in English, and when I asked for an interview with the museum’s director I got an immediate “consider it done”. All I need now is to come up with a time and date. Perfect!

Afterwards, I went to a local gallery that has a large rack full of flyers and event advertisements. I only recently discovered the place because it’s a bit out of the way of my usual haunts, but these are the places where I can leave my own postcards for my website. So I went there, scoured the flyers for new ones, and then went to the office to ask if I could leave my own. “Sure,” the man in charge said. Usually, these places have a limit on the number of flyers or postcards they take, but when I pulled out my pack of about 50 cards, he said “oh, just give me all of them, it’s fine.” Perfect!

In the afternoon, I went with a friend of mine to Shimogamo Shrine where the yearly Mitarashi Festival is ongoing. You have to wade through the cold stream, light a candle on the way and place it before the shrine at the end of the pond. It was very nice and refreshing, just as planned. Perfect!

And afterwards, we went to my favourite chocolate place to buy just before they are closing down for their summer holidays in August. We even got 20% off because there are only a few days left and they want to get rid of as many chocolates as possible, obviously. Perfect!

So you see, my first day of summer this year couldn’t have been better. Let’s hope it’ll stay this way!

Recognition

Last Sunday, I had a fun work-related experience that I just need to share! So, I went to my monthly soroban class for foreigners at the Int. Community House and sometimes there are new people other than the usual suspects. That’s because my teacher is taking part in a “cultural experience” that allows people to come and try a variety of Japanese traditions, like wearing a yukata, or learning about tea, or doing soroban.

This time, there were two students from Italy who are spending a month in Kyoto, and I asked how they knew about the soroban class and if it was because of the cultural experience thing.

What's up in Kyoto square logo“No, we found out about the class on the internet.”

“The internet is pretty big, you know…”

“Oh, there is this site, it’s called What’s up in Kyoto…”

*joyous squeal*

In that moment, I felt so good. Finally I could see that all that work has some benefit for somebody! And when she said that she loves the calendar because there are all those events where there are barely any tourists, and that she’s checking in “religiously”, I was over the moon. Totally.

So yes, it’s always nice to hear from a happy customer, especially from one you didn’t even know you had. More reasons to keep it up! I just found a few regular zazen classes that I entered into the calendar, and today I have written a small piece for the experiences page about sento and onsen that I’ll put online within the next days. And then, maybe and finally, I’ll get over my inertia and get the page on vegetarian/vegan restaurants up that I have been planning for ages already…

Assistance please!

Just a very short call for help please:

Recently, I have set up a website analytics tool (matomo) for my work website What’s up in Kyoto. I have used matomo before when it was still called piwik, and I was very happy with their approach to privacy and everything.

However, with their change from piwik to matomo, something else must have changed too because the statistics for What’s up in Kyoto and all the other sites I’m monitoring have dropped considerably. It also seems I don’t get any referrals anymore from facebook or twitter or this page to the What’s up in Kyoto page, which is possible but not realistic.

What's up in Kyoto square logoI would greatly appreciate it if you who are reading this could visit my What’s up in Kyoto site either by clicking the link above or the image. It’s just to check if the referrals from this site are tracked or not.

Just so that you know, I am not able to see any of your personal information. I have set up matomo’s tracking for maximum privacy protection while still giving me useful data. For example, I only get part of your IP address up to country level. So, while I may see that you’re in Germany for example, I have no idea what city you are in. This is makes it practically impossible to find out who you really are – there are some 80 million people living in Germany 😉

Thanks for your help!

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.

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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…

Experiences

What's up in Kyoto square logoIt’s finally live! I’ve been working on an experiences page for What’s up in Kyoto and just added it to the website. It’s about things to do in Kyoto beyond sightseeing, and I started a few basic things I could think of. There are more things I’d like to try myself first, like the river boat ride or the special train ride that you can take only in summer, both over in Arashiyama. It will be nice to make new experiences and share them on the website.

Actually, that’s already what I’m doing this year: making new experiences. Fun fact: When I was around 16, I wanted to become a journalist. Interviewing pop stars and such. Well, obviously my life turned out differently, but this year, I am learning how to do interviews! Every new museum highlight on What’s up in Kyoto has a section “Questions to the Curator” and I’m actually going there and having a chat with them (with my trusted friend Naoko, who is translating) instead of just doing it by email.

They do get the questions beforehand and they do get a say in the final version that is published on the website, so, strictly speaking, it’s not a classic, free form interview. Still, I am very proud of myself that I’m pulling this off and I’m learning a lot of how to let people talk and taking back my own view point for a while at least. I’m very curious about the other people I will meet through this – I cannot wait making more new experiences.