Humans, please!

In my newly renovated supermarket, a change has taken place: Semi-automated cashiers are now everywhere. I don’t mean self-checkouts (there are maybe 5 of these), but cashiers where there is a real human ringing up your purchases, and when done send you off to pay at a machine nearby. It does annoy me, a little at least. I always chat to the cashiers, and I have my favourite lady over at the roast chicken stand too. But now, there is barely any time to talk to the cashiers anymore. Not that they got much human interaction before anyway.

And in the uniqlo I go to in town, they have done the same. And it’s even worse, because there are only two manned cash registers (where they still don’t handle your money anymore, but at least they pack your things for you) and another 10 that are self-checkout. Fun fact is that there are tons and tons of staff everywhere, so it’s not as if they are trying to save money, really, not unless staff with permission to handle money are paid better.

I have to admit that the lines in my supermarket are moving much faster now, obviously. Not just because the cashier can ring up the next customer while you pay, but also because there are four or five machines where you can pay for each cashier. I don’t want to test it, but I guess not even during rush hour in the weekends would you ever have to wait to pay. Efficient, definitely. Humane, not so much.

I wonder where this is going. I do understand that Japan is facing a severe labour shortage and they need to start early to do something against it. But going all the way robotic, I’m not sure… Is this hotel below just the prototype of where we’re heading? And do we really want that?

I’m Back!

Happy New Year again! I had two wonderful weeks (mostly) off in which I did a lot of fun things. I went to several exhibitions, did just enough maintenance around the house to feel very adult and accomplished, and finally, I had enough time to do relaxing things.

For Christmas, I bought myself a cake (a Japanese tradition) and I had potato salad and sausages for dinner on Christmas Eve (a family tradition). Presents were plentiful, and not all bought by myself! While I bought a long-needed pillow and a new pyjama, my friends surprised me with chocolates and special Christmas tea and a number of Christmas cards. Even though I’m not religious, Christmas is something very personal for me, and I try not to go out on December 24 and 25. I have celebrated Christmas with others before, but it doesn’t feel right to me; every family has their own traditions and I felt like the 5th wheel… Better to stay home and make my own tradition!

As for the exhibitions, I went to the Insho Domoto Museum to see the “Best of Insho”, where a number of his most famous works are on display. Among them are sliding doors that he painted for a temple. I really like Insho Domoto’s works, especially the abstract paintings he created when already past 70 years old. As many larger exhibitions in Japan, this one comes in two parts, and I am planning to go and see the second half of it as well.

I also went to see the Nitten, a yearly exhibition of the Japan Art Academy and its members. It tours through Japan and comes to Kyoto in December/January, where about half of the exhibits are from artists from Kyoto and Shiga provinces. There are five categories in the Nitten: Japanese painting, Western painting, calligraphy, sculpture and applied arts/crafts. I still don’t get calligraphy, but I really like the applied arts and crafts section. There are some stunning pieces each year, and to me, it’s the highlight of the Nitten. Unfortunately, I am always disappointed by the sculptures. Many of them are slightly larger-than-life nude (female) figures, but to me, they seem very static and lifeless.

omamori charm in the shape of a ratFinally, for New Year, I waited for my Hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine in the New Year) until January 3rd, hoping to avoid the crowds. However, I made the mistake to visit Otoyo Jinja, a usually very quiet little shrine just off the Philosopher’s Path, which happens to be Kyoto’s Rat shrine. Why is that important? Because it’s the year of the Rat, and you’d want to start it off on the right foot (and with the right deity), of course. Apparently, many, many other people had the same idea and I ended up waiting in line for 2.5 hours, just to go and do my first prayer… I don’t think I’ll be doing that ever again, but just in case, I have the proper omamori charm to prove my dedication! (Note the little tail. And the whiskers!)

Speaking of dedication, of course I have a number of New Year’s resolutions, but I will write about them on Thursday.


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.


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!


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!

Takoyaki Bar

takoyaki ready to eatLast night, friends of mine came over for dinner – we went out to a noodle place – and afterwards, we tried out a new bar just around the corner of my place. It’s part bar, part takoyaki place, run by two friendly guys. We didn’t eat there, so I can’t say how good the takoyaki are, but the sake I had was plentiful and excellent… Definitely a place to go back to – especially since it’s non-smoking, which is rare in bars here.

It was nice to see my friend again. In fact, we lived together in the old house near Yoshida shrine. This time, she came with her twin brother to show him around her old haunts. It was nice to catch up, and she renewed her invitation for me to visit her in France.

More friends to come… I am happy to go out a bit and try new places with them. With or without huge glasses of sake. 😉


I’ll be going out tonight with a friend of mine to see Bati-Holic, a Taiko Drum Rock Band. I have no idea what to expect, but I do like Taiko in general, so it can’t be too bad.

Depending on when I’ll be back, I’ll post a quick update later.

I’m back! It was… hard to describe. And great fun. And what I expected. And something totally different too. And did I already say I had great fun?

So yes, “Taiko Drum Rock” describes it perfectly. The basis of all their songs is in the taiko drums, three of the five members were always drumming away. Then there are an electric shamisen and a gottan to provide the “rock” part, plus a lead singer that was very much hard rock.

The atmosphere was relaxed in a very small club, and most of the visitors must have been fans for a long time already. I was surprised at the age spectrum, from a young kid that was probably one of the band member’s son to an elderly couple rocking away in the background, and everything in between.

I think I’m becoming a fan already! If you want to know what Bati-holic is all about, check out their website (in English and Japanese!) with lots of videos:

New Consumption Tax

With the beginning of October 2019, Japan has raised the consumption tax from 8% to 10%. Compared to the 20% I’m used to from Austria, this seems rather puny, but then again, it’s another hike from the only 5% it was back in 2014.

It seems that consumption taxes are a rather touchy issue in Japan, with the first consumption tax ever being introduced only in 1989 (and with a rate of 3% only). Not even 10 years later, in 1997, the new government raised the tax to 5%, and only in April 2014, the tax had been raised to 8%. That is a doubling of taxes in only 5 1/2 years, quite a hike indeed!

Of course this didn’t go smoothly at all, even in a country where conformity and obedience to the higher-ups in the hierarchy is practically mandatory. And especially elderly people often have only a tiny pension, and it can be very hard for them to make ends meet. Whether the government had them in mind when it come up with a number of (rather interesting) exceptions to the 10% rule, I do not know.

new taxes in Japan

However, “items necessary for daily living” are still taxed at 8%. As you can see above, that food and drink as bought at a supermarket or delivered, but not alcohol or dining out, which are taxed at 10%. This can lead to interesting situations like at the Starbucks, where the barista must now ask you whether your coffee is indeed “to go”, so they can apply the correct amount of tax. On the other hand, they are not to bother customers who consume their coffee indoors after all.

Fun fact: newspapers are also considered “necessary for daily living”. Books are not, sadly…

Anyway, for me, that is, the company, this change in taxes does not make a difference. My services still incur 10% taxes, and for foreign customers, there’s no tax at all. I still have to change all my invoice templates to reflect the new amount, but since they are printed only when I need them, it’s not a big deal.

Typhoon #19

Last weekend, this year’s typhoon #19 (called Hagibis) passed through Japan’s west coast. It caused great damage in and north of Tokyo, and a massive amount of floodings and landslides everywhere on its path, in particular in Nagano province. Hagibis was one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit Japan, and it caused the deaths of at least 55 people, with a few still missing.

Thankfully, Kyoto was not affected, at least not in my area. The typhoon passed through on Saturday afternoon, with lots of rain in the morning and strong gales of wind in the afternoon. Just before nightfall, everything was over.

And at that time, there was an interesting phenomenon, something I have never seen before: a bright yellow sky, with the sunset usually on the mountain visible on the right. If you know what could cause this interesting color, please do let me know!

A yellow sky after typhoon #19 in 2019.