Back 2 Normal

Thanks for your kind messages: I’m almost back to normal, only a few sniffles remain and a persistent cough that mostly manifests in the mornings and scares Pumpkin out underneath the covers. My hot water has reappeared too, just as surprisingly as it was gone. Probably it wasn’t frozen pipes, but just a frozen valve in the water heater itself (which is outside). The first hot shower after a few days of washing my hair in a bucket felt like a treat!

There were a few other treats in the last 3 weeks I should be reporting on. First, the Bati-Holic concert on the 14th, which was probably the reason why I got that nasty cold to begin with: I was pretty sweaty after the concert and then bicycled home; even though it was a fairly warm night, it was probably not the best of my ideas…

Second, the Tuesday after, my friend from Tokyo invited me to a kabuki performance in Osaka. It turned out not to be “real” kabuki, but a mix of kabuki and noh theater together with taiko drums. The first half was a bit disappointing – I had seen “Hagoromo” several times before – but the second half with a famous lion dance performance – one father and two son lions – made it all up to me. Performers were Bando Tamasaburo, a kabuki actor famous for his onnagata female roles, and the taiko group Kodo, which I’ve seen before in joint performances like this. It was a great afternoon, even though I got violently sick on the way home and in the end had to cancel our plans to see the Andy Warhol exhibition on the next day.

Last week I was up and running again (mostly) and I visited Daigo-ji temple for work on Thursday. I took some lovely pictures of the snowy temple, and if you don’t mind me repeating myself (or rather: this month’s highlight on What’s up in Kyoto), I’ll write about Daigo-ji next Sunday.

And finally, because I finished all my work and then some relatively early on Monday, I treated myself to another Bati-Holic concert… Sadly, there were not many people, but it was fun anyway. Interestingly, the guys seem to know me already. When I entered, I bumped into one of the members on the way to the dressing room, and he said “Hey, nice to see you again, thanks for coming!” It’s not as if they only have three fans or something, so I find it almost embarrassing when something like this happens…

Anyway, this time, the group was complete, no Corona-necessitated substitutes this time, so my signatures are now complete as well. So happy!

Goodness, I sound like such a fangirl…

Heavy Snow

This is what my street looked like this morning:

It started snowing yesterday in the late afternoon, and I even took a walk around the block last night, when it was still snowing. It must have stopped in the night already, that’s why we only have 15 to 20 cm, but for Kyoto, this is very unusual. Looking at the news, there has been snow and cold temperatures all over Japan, and most people in the cities are not used to dealing with it.

For example, trains were stranded everywhere, and there was an article telling of people shut in a train for 5 hours just outside of Kyoto’s Yamashina station while personnel tried to free the switches from snow. I also read that some convenience stores and smaller food shops had to close because they had been sold out – the article implied a run on the shops. I’m wondering: WHY? Sure, I get it, probably a lot of the supplies scheduled to come in last night were stuck somewhere; but you don’t need to go shopping every day to survive. It was very quiet up here, I think the post man didn’t come at all, so I didn’t see any of the usual kamikaze drivers (people who park their car outside and don’t bother cleaning off all the snow before driving), but there must have been plenty in town.

I did have a problem of my own: No hot water. There was plenty of cold water, and the gas was working as usual – but they didn’t combine to produce hot water. I am guessing that the hot water pipes are frozen shut, and since the temperatures hovered around 0 degrees all day up here, they didn’t thaw yet. This night is forecast to be very cold again (-4 degrees), but it seems that the next days at least should be warmer. So far, I haven’t called anybody, but it seems that the pipes, while frozen, are still intact. If something changes one way or the other, I will have to do something about it. But that’s a problem for tomorrow.

I’m back!

Happy New Year again! Probably, by now we’ve all settled back into our workday routines. I sure have…

It was a very nice and relaxing holiday. I even tried to stay offline for a good part of it – so in case you haven’t heard back from me regarding any year’s end/start wishes, that’s the reason why. I was fairly busy doing things around the house, small projects that I had wanted to do for a long time, but that always fell by the wayside. Things like “clean the bicycle” and “tidy living room downstairs” and “clear office cable spaghetti”. From my list of 21 items, I did 12 completely and started 2 more only in the last 2 weeks. I’m pretty satisfied.

The biggest project was certainly to fix the shoji in my bedroom, and while this is a relatively easy thing to do, I ran out of paper on the last frame and needed to shop for more. But it’s done finally, and it’s amazing how clean the room looks now, even though nothing has changed but the colour of the shoji paper. I will talk about how to fix shoji in a separate post.

For the first time since living in Japan, I bought an ofuda, a lucky charm for the house, see the photo. It is supposed to go onto the kamidama, a special, slightly elevated place for the gods. Older houses have one in the kitchen, but my house doesn’t have one. No big deal, there are other places. The reason why the photo looks a bit washed out is because the ofuda is covered with thin paper, and I have been told to leave the paper on, probably so it doesn’t get dirty in the year it should stay in the house.

Other than that, the weather has been quite pleasant, especially compared to last year. Of course, Pumpkin is freezing anyway and sleeps under an extra blanket on a heating mat in my office… And there were a few colder days, but overall, it’s much warmer than it was last year. We’ve only had one day of – very little – snow so far and even though it is objectively cold, subjectively, it doesn’t “bite” that much. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Winding Down

Pumpkin looking cute in his kitty bed in my office.

Another year (almost) over! One year and three weeks in which I’ve been living here, and Pumpkin celebrated his “Gotcha Day” just last week. So, it’s our second Christmas together in the new house, and I’m hoping that many more will follow!

Looking back, there were no more big changes for me this year (they all happened in 2021 already). So, 2022 was more a year of tranquillity and settling in to the new normal. I guess there will be smaller ongoing improvements to the house and my life (hopefully), but I don’t expect any massive upheavals in the near future.

The benefits of middle age. Or should I call it “the boredom”?

In any case, I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll have wonderful holidays too – and I’ll see you again next year!

Cold Winter

Kyoto got pretty cold in the last few days, and Pumpkin and I are making adjustments. Since the end of November, I’ve been sleeping in the slightly smaller living room I’ve showed you recently because it’s easier to heat even if I don’t use the air-conditioner that’s there. In the summer, I have discovered that the two large rooms upstairs have amado shutters. And although they are pretty thin and made from metal, I’m closing them now when it gets dark outside. I have no idea if this is actually making a difference, and I shall investigate. In any case, the neighbours all close their amado as well. It may be for privacy reasons only, though.

Pumpkin does cause a slight problem with respect to keeping the bedroom warm during the night: Pumpkin wants in. And out. So I have to keep the door open a little, so he can eat or use the toilet, and with the rest of the house cold and unheated as well, there’s not much I can do to make the bedroom warmer. Last year, a friend of mine suggested using a sleeping bag on those icy nights, and honestly, I am considering it.

During the day, it’s not much better; the other day it was 6 degrees when I got up. It takes all day to heat up my office (9 square meters only) to around 20 degrees, and when this is done, it’s time for bed… Pumpkin doesn’t mind much, he is sleeping all day in the kitty bed that I placed in my office shelf. I lined it with an electric heating mat, and on top of him there’s a blanket as well. Sometimes I wish there was somebody to take care of me that way…

Bad Decisions

Sorry for not writing on Sunday, a single decision on Thursday laid me flat for the weekend… But let’s start at the beginning:

On Thursday afternoon, I visited a concert at Yasaka Shrine (Bati-Holic again, yay!) with a friend of mine (who enjoyed the concert quite a bit too). As it is this time of the year, I afterwards went to the Takashimaya to buy Oseibo. Even though it’s relatively early to do that, I had to wait for 90 minutes to do the actual ordering. So, down to the basement’s food court I went during the wait for some special shopping.

If you’ve never been to a Japanese department store food court, the first trip there can be quite overwhelming. A whole floor with dozens, if not well over a hundred tiny little outlets to buy edibles. From local seafood to imported cheese, tiny chocolates to cakes in several tiers, cold bento and hot chicken wings, teas, coffees, alcohol… Whatever you could possibly want, you’ll find it there.

And I found there some chocolates and Korean-style pancakes with seafood. I love those chichimi as they are called in Japan as it reminds me of good times in Korea. They came complete with sauce, and were the perfect dinner after half a day out.

Unfortunately, they had been prepared kimchi. I love kimchi, but my body couldn’t be less enthusiastic about it… After some preliminary rumbles throughout Friday, I finally spent the night on the porcelain throne. And Saturday, too. By Sunday, I was completely exhausted.

Of course, this is all my fault, I should have known better than to eat kimchi – and fried one to boot – but of course, now I’m way behind schedule on my work commitments. And this week is especially busy. Oh well, can’t be helped. I hope I can catch up again by the weekend. I have plans for next week…

Online Orders

Sorry for not writing on Sunday, I was out three days in a row. Friday and Saturday, I visited the Kyoto Modern Architecture Festival where more than 30 buildings, mostly from the Meiji and Taisho period, were open to the public as a whole or showed special, otherwise closed rooms. And on Sunday, I took a friend of mine to Arashiyama to see the momiji. Sadly, it was the only rainy day in weeks, and we got pretty soaked and cold. We finished the day in a Chinese restaurant in town, and by the time I came home, I was exhausted…

It took me a day or two to get my mojo back, and in the meanwhile, I didn’t want to do any serious cooking. So, as I have done a few times before, I ordered pizza at the PIZZA-LA, a countrywide chain claiming to be the “Japanese Standard”. While they have an English menu, their order form is all Japanese, and it took me several times to understand which boxes I need to tick (and, to be honest, I still use Google Translate for some of the words…)

I order once a month now (the mozzarella – asparagus – bacon pizza is my favourite), and they have recently added a “P” size (for pair, presumably? It says it’s for 1.5 people) that is now the smallest size. When I tried their pizza for the first time, I was surprised how good it was. Obviously, it’s still take out from a chain “restaurant”, so we’re not talking culinary heights here, but I can definitely recommend it if you’re in Japan and need a quick pizza fix.

Outing

I’m exhausted! I was out all day, first had a meeting with a potential client, then headed to an exhibition preview. This one was especially interesting, paintings by Okoku Konoshima, a rediscovered painter of the Meiji through early Showa periods. He is best known for his life-like animal paintings, but this exhibition focuses on his landscapes. He travelled extensively throughout Japan, and after a long period of sketching, he turned to landscape paintings in a traditional style, which he modernized and made his very own.

While the exhibition itself was lovely and already showed a number of large folding screens, the highlight was a special opening of Nanyoin, one of the subtemples of Nanzen-ji. All the fusuma paintings in its abbot quarters were painted by Konoshima, and each room has a special theme that is often revealed only at second glance. I will write a bit more about Konoshima and his art this weekend. For now, just the garden of Nanyoin. Pity you can’t hear the waterfall in the background.

My Art Week

Sorry for not writing last week, I was pretty busy with work – and with art exhibitions.

On Thursday, instead of English class, we went to one of my student’s exhibition of water colors. She is taking lessons from a teacher who focuses on flowers, and this was a joint exhibition of all his students’ and his own art work. I was impressed with how realistic the paintings were. At times like these, I wish I could do anything even close to that…

Saturday, a friend from Tokyo visited for this year’s Art Kyoto, where invited galleries exhibit the (latest) works of their artists. My friend came down specifically to see Clifton Karhu, but there was some miscommunication since it was his son’s work that was shown. However, we were not disappointed. There was a great mix of internationally renowned artists and rather new ones, and we found interesting pieces in either group.

The only thing neither of us really got into was the purely digital art. Some of these pieces had attractive colors, but I wouldn’t want to put something that is always moving into my living room or office, where it would be a constant drain on my attention (not to mention increase my energy bill). And let’s not get started on NFTs…

On Sunday, my friend and I went to a contrast program in Daitoku-ji temple: strictly gardens, baby. But before I even arrived, my friend got lured into a kintsugi gallery. Kintsugi is the art of fixing broken ceramics with lacquer and gold, and my friend has been learning kintsugi for a while now. Anyway, we spent about an hour talking to the kintsugi master in his gallery. He is also the head of a nonprofit to try and revive traditional crafts that are the basis for other crafts. Think of making brushes or tools, harvesting lacquer, producing gold dust… It was very interesting, and I’ll try to find out more about this. I shall report my findings here.

Historic Research

Yesterday, there was a talk about “Kyoto’s festivals and events in October” to which I was invited. At first, I was reluctant to go – this is complex stuff with advanced vocabulary – but it turned out alright, thanks to the many photos and a bit of background knowledge I had gathered over the years. I was able to understand the gist of the talk, and it was fun, too.

Directly afterwards was another talk, and since there was no break, I felt it was rude just to leave, so I was a bit annoyed at first that I was forced to stay. With the handout we all got at the beginning consisting mostly of text, I didn’t expect to understand anything.

However, this talk turned out to be extremely interesting. When you look at a map of Kyoto, you may notice that Oike, Horikawa and Gojo dori around the city center are significantly wider than any of the other streets in Kyoto. The reason for this is that they were artificially widened during WWII, when people were worried about air-raids and resulting large-scale fires. At the time, Kyoto still had mainly wooden buildings, especially in the old part of town in the center. So, the above mentioned streets were broadened – Oike dori from some 20 to now 50 meters – and together with Kamogawa river, they still create a rectangle around what was then the most populated part of Kyoto.

Looking down Oike dori towards Karasuma dori
Oike dori during Gion Matsuri.

This is especially obvious at the crossing of Oike – Horikawa streets, where these two huge roads dwindle into nothing towards the north and west, in the case of Oike dori immediately behind the crossing. And on photos of Gojo dori in that area, you can clearly see that the northern side still has a number of old, wooden houses, while the southern side consists of mostly new(ish) apartment buildings. Also, according to the talk yesterday, what is now the pavement on the north side was once the entirety of Gojo street.

I had indeed noticed the abrupt ending of the broad Oike dori at Horikawa before, but never questioned the why. I mean, it’s Japan, don’t they do all sorts of weird stuff? Knowing the reason behind this makes it even more fascinating. And a bit sad too. Who knows how many ancient machiya were destroyed at the time…

Anyway, both talks were given by members of the Kyoto Historical Research Society, a loose organisation of local history buffs. Obviously, I was lucky to understand what was going on yesterday, this won’t be the case in general. However, I hope there will be more of these talks about festivals, they are fairly easy to understand, and as a bonus, help me with my job.