Hanami 2020

It got pretty cold again last week, especially the evenings are rather chilly these days. Sadly, right now would be the best time to see the sakura… Yesterday it was pouring all day just like during the rainy season, so that was the end of the cherry blossoms nearby my home at least.

On top of that, the friend I wanted to do hanami with had to stay home and take care of her sick cat. Hime-chan was an elderly Siamese cat my friend had since autumn last year, and she had kidney problems from the very beginning, as many older cats have. Hime-chan passed away last night, but I am sure that my friend has given her many great months at the end of her life. 

pink cherry blossomsAnyway, I have hope to visit the Botanical Gardens a bit later in spring. Not all cherries bloom at the same time, and in the Botanical Gardens, especially along the Kamogawa river they have planted lots of late-blooming sakura. So, there may be an opportunity for a little hanami after all.

Yes…Noh

Just as promised in my last post, I went to the Yes…Noh event at Murin-an garden last week with a friend of mine. My friend was semi-happy about it, since she is not really into Noh, but she likes the garden, so this was a good compromise. And I had fun, even though the Noh was not quite as I expected.

yes...nohI thought that maybe we’ll see a few scenes with a fully dressed actor, but no, it was a su-utai performance. Here, the actor sings his role (or part of it) but there is no accompanying music, no costumes, no mask. The only accessory he has is his fan. This kind of performance feels very raw, and because of the venue it was very intimate too. The actor sat in one of the rooms of Murin-an and sang  while looking out into the garden. And for two more acts, he stood in the garden and performed there.

We got a short introduction to the play the songs were taken from, it was Yuya, suitable for the sakura season. The play was well-chosen, not just to fit the season, but it also is set nearby, at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera temple. Like many of the Noh plays based on the Heike Monogatari, it is said to have a true core. Anyway, here is a summary of Yuya:

Yuya is a concubine to Taira no Munemori, one of the most powerful men in the country. She receives word that her mother is sick and begs to return home. But Munemori refuses twice, he wants her to be present at a cherry blossom viewing. There, a little rain makes the cherry blossoms fall, Yuya composes a poem on the fly and Munemori finally relents and lets her go.

A lovely sentimental play for a lovely time of the year (even though Murin-an is not famous for its cherry blossoms…) And there’s more to come: Apparently, this is now a monthly feature event at Murin-an. I’m looking forward to more!

Facemasks

Thank you all who have sent me emails from your quarantine to enquire about me! Looking at what is happening in Europe at the moment, I have to say that here in Japan, things are much, much better!

Kids are on holidays, universities are closed, and many events have been cancelled or postponed, including the Olympic Games 2020. People are wearing masks if they still have any, and there’s no toilet paper on sale, still. If you talk to people, the main topic is the Corona virus.

But other than this, things are pretty normal: We can go out whenever we like as opposed to just when needed, many museums are now reopening their doors, and the supermarkets are full, both with goods and with shoppers. So yes, for me, things look pretty normal with small exceptions, but then again, I neither care for kids nor for the elderly, and I work from home where I don’t meet many people to begin with.

Every now and then I do go out though, and the Corona crisis has provided me with a new experience! At our last soroban class, our teacher asked everybody to wear a face mask. Who knows where he got that stash from, but I obliged and wore a face mask for the first time in my life. It was… well… At first, it felt like I couldn’t breathe at all. The standard face masks are made with some sort of thick paper-pulp and it is weird to feel your own breath on your face. It took me some time to get used to the mask, but after a while it was okay.

After the class we took a walk at Nanzen-ji temple which was not very busy, but it was also a bit early for the cherry blossoms. The mask felt more and more restrictive the faster we walked about, and when it was finally time to go home, I took it off completely. I have never seen anybody wearing a mask on a bicycle or while doing sports, it really makes breathing much harder.

In any case, there are still no face masks to be had anywhere. And while the situation is relatively relaxed right now, there might come a time when you have to wear a mask when going out. So, I thought I’d be prepared – and did a bit of sewing last weekend. I took the mask I received at the soroban class and made a cloth version of it with some scraps I happened to have at home. It’s nothing fancy and definitely not perfect, but for a first trial I think I did pretty well. The left one below is the sample, the right one my own creation.

face masks bought and made

More on the Corona Virus

People are getting more and more concerned about the Corona virus here in Japan. Here are a some news from my end – don’t worry, I myself am still fine and healthy!

The latest move of the government is to give prime minister Abe the ability to declare a state of emergency if needed. This means that the prefectural governors could then instruct residents to stay indoors and ask for schools to close and events to be canceled. Local governments could also demand that essentials like medicine and food be sold to them. They could temporarily take over private land and facilities to provide medical care. The difference to now (where schools are already closed) is that now the government does not have the legal power to force school closures etc. but they would have if a state of emergency was declared. Such a state of emergency could last for up to two  years, by the way.

woman wearing a surgical maskRight now it is virtually impossible to buy face masks anywhere. Of course, there are people who still have supplies and are selling them at exorbitant prices – a politician (!) from Shizuoka has just made 8.8 million yen this way. From next week on, it will be illegal to sell face masks at a profit, incurring a fine of 1 million yen and/or one year in prison.

This measure is only valid for face masks, but there are other things that are sold out or rationed as well: disinfectants for example, tissues and toilet paper, and, interestingly, female hygiene products (think panty liners). I don’t even want to know what people do with these… Just in case you want to be creative and make your own reusable face mask, here’s a how-to:
https://www.cottontimemagazine.com/page/10
It’s in Japanese, but thanks to the pictures, it’s pretty straightforward.

A number of delivery companies are taking measures to limit contact of their drivers with customers. You don’t need to sign when you receive a delivery for example, and it may even be that the driver will place your purchases not into your hand, but onto the floor in front of your apartment instead.

Hence the latest news from Japan. I’m still not worried, but then again, I’m not going out much anyway. My Japanese teacher has a serious knee injury and will not be able to come to our classes for a while, so that leaves at the moment only 3 appointments each week I have to go to, plus shopping of course. Also, sitting at home 24/7 is not good for my mental health, so people will still find me at my favourite cafe every once in a while.

Hina Matsuri

Tuesday was March 3rd – the day of Hina Matsuri, or the doll festival. It’s an ancient purification festival dedicated to daughters. In the old days, special dolls were used to absorb illness from people and then often ritually discarded.

Nagashi Bina dolls at Kamigamo Shrine.This year, I went to Kamigamo Shrine for their Nagashi Bina ceremony. Many shrines have a ceremony like this and the core of it is simple: You write your name and your wish onto a slip of paper that is often shaped like a human figure, and then you place the doll into a stream at the shrine so that the water “purifies” the paper and takes your wish with you. Some rituals have you rub the paper doll at your (aching) body or you blow on it to have the doll soak up all your misfortunes or illnesses before you place it into the stream.

At Kamigamo Shrine, there is first a ceremony at the main shrine. I did not see it because I was rather late and the entrance to the building was crowded. Anyway, I bought a little paper box and wrote my wish onto a piece of paper that I put into the box. After the ceremony at the main shrine, the priests and shrine maidens came down to the stream and did a quick purification and prayer ceremony at the stream. They were then the first ones to release boxes into the stream. Afterwards, the other visitors were allowed to do the same.

Nagashi Bina and Plum Branch from Kamigamo Shrine.It was a nice ceremony and overall, there were not many people, either because of Corona or because Kamigamo Shrine is a bit off the beaten tracks. There was an NHK TV team filming the scene though, and the friend I was with told me later that they showed a short segment on the evening news (sans yours truly, thankfully.) As a bonus, we received flowering plum branches to take home as the doll festival is often also called the plum festival, fitting the season. My branch is now gracing my living room, and I hope it will remain blooming for a while.

As I have mentioned before, now that I know about all those fun events, I rarely have time to go anymore. However, I am resolved to see more of Kyoto’s traditional events, especially at places I have not visited before. I hope I can get out of my shell a bit more and meet more people this way too.



About Cats…

Well, yes, about cats… I was thinking about getting a cat. An adult cat. Although kittens are cute, they are quite a lot of work, and I think older cats are a bit easier to work with. The Tamayuran has lots of cats of all ages from a hoarding situation at the moment, so that would be perfect.

Of course, this is a rental apartment, I needed to ask my landlord. And he said no. It’s not that he is personally against it, but the policy of the whole apartment block is “no pets”, meaning no dogs and no cats. I guess a hamster or some fish would be fine, but that’s not quite the same as a fluffy ball of fur.

So, no cats. I’m very disappointed to be honest. While I am planning my exit strategy, I shall live the cat-owners life vicariously through Chiko’s channel on youtube. Somebody found a kitten near his home and has rescued it and taken it home. And a gorgeous one she is, don’t you think?

Slowly Please!

Anti-corona masks are everywhere these days. Even my Japanese teacher wore one today on doctor’s recommendations. I remarked how difficult it is for me to understand Japanese when I cannot see the other person’s face. And how I always ask people to speak slowly on the phone because of that. And then my teacher said: “Did you notice that native speakers of Japanese and English speak ‘slowly’ in a different way?”

Yes indeed!

When you ask me or another Westerner/English speaker to “speak slowly”, we make longer pauses between words, phrases or sentences. At the same time, we rarely slow down the individual words themselves.

In contrast, a Japanese person will slow down the words and sentences as a whole, adjusting the pauses in between only slightly. It’s as if they literally speak in slow motion like a machine (minus the distortions, of course).

Of course, after living here since 2013, I noticed these things before, but rather unconsciously. I never really thought about why this would be the case. Now that I did, I notice that if you spoke to me in English or German in such an overly slow manner, I would think that you are retarded or at least think that of me. Either way, not a good assumption to make.

My teacher has been teaching English during his whole active career and has seen this happening in schools everywhere; and I know that it is still happening. He is right when he says that this does not help with listening comprehension in the long run, because people generally don’t speak like this.

Still, this is what Japanese people do – and expect – when “speaking slowly”. I’ll keep it in mind!

Ancestors

I have another one of my “pick up” stories for you today: Craving some katsudon, I went to lunch to one of my favourite “fast food” places nearby. Usually, I do some writing while I’m waiting for the food to arrive. However, I had spent all morning at the doctor’s (long story for next week) where I expected a long wait, so I had a book with me and started reading. When the food came, I plopped it next to me on the bench.

Cue the two ladies sitting at the table next to me, taking an interest in the book – quite a tome – and, as happened so often before, they were chatting me up. The usual questions ensue: Where are you from? How long have you been here? What are you doing? What’s your name? I answered all their questions and to the final one, I returned: “And what’s your name?”

I was surprised at the answer, it was a name I had never heard before, and I said as much. The older one of the two women proceeded to tell me how all three of her nieces had been Saio-dai (imperial princess) at the famous Aoi matsuri a number of years back. This is an honor usually bestowed only on very old (and wealthy) families of Kyoto, and again, I said as much.

Toyotomi HideyoshiTo which the old lady proceeded to tell me that in her family they had head priests of Matsunoo Shrine and various other shrines and temples; that others had been important producers of Kiyomizu ceramics near Gojo street. And then she mentioned, rather casually, that one of her ancestors, some 400 years ago, had been the personal physician of Toyotomi Hidenaga, the younger half-brother of Hideyoshi. An ancient Kyoto family indeed!

Oh, the book I am reading now? A novel about the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi…

Snow!

It snowed today! As I was hoping, February is getting colder, and although it is still not as cold this year as it could be, I am glad I still only use a single room in my apartment.

When I woke up this morning, I found a light dust of snow covering my view in only the second snowy day… okay: morning this winter. The photo below is from 10 days ago, when it was snowing all morning. Unfortunately, the ground is way to warm, so the snow doesn’t stay for long. In fact, today everything was gone by the time I had to leave at 10:00. There was still some snow at the Daimonji mountain nearby in the afternoon, but I’m sure it will be gone by tomorrow.

Anyway, here is my obligatory snow picture for this winter.

Snowy view February 2020

4 Tenor Madness

Just like everybody else, I have this love/hate relationship with my job. Yes, even though I do what I want by being self-employed, I still have to do things I don’t like so much. And then, of course, there are the perks…

live spot rag logoThis month, the What’s up in Kyoto highlight is the Live Spot Rag, a small club at Kiyamachi with live music almost daily. There seems to be a slant towards jazz, but I have seen other bands and soloists in their programme as well. Besides sponsoring two free tickets for a Jazz concert in the last week of February (you can still win them if you’re interested), the manager also invited me to a concert.

And she suggested the “4 Tenor Madness”, a jazz concert with 4 saxophone players, which I saw yesterday. This is only the second time I have been to such a small concert, where the musicians know half of the audience and you can chat with them afterwards. And I don’t know anything about jazz, and was never and still am not into going out on my own much because introvert and such.

But it was fun. The Rag is very small, and I guess if there are really all 100 seats taken, it’s getting very cozy. But the food is nice and the drinks too, and the place is non-smoking (at least during the performance), which is always a bonus. As I know nothing about jazz, I could only make out a handful of the tunes (“Cantaloupe” was the encore, for those of you in the know), so I can’t say how much of the concert was actually “real” songs and how much of it was improvised.

Besides 3 old hands, there was a young sax player as well, and although I have been told before that I’m tone-deaf, I noticed at times that she was less experienced than the guys.

But yes, I had fun. Unfortunately, there were not many people in the audience – not surprising for a rainy Wednesday night I suppose – so I didn’t chat to anyone. Well, maybe next time.