Corona is over in Japan too! Or so it seems. Already a while ago, the Japanese government has decided to downgrade COVID-19 to the same level as influenza on their “infectious disease prevention law” tiers, essentially ending most of the restrictions they could place on people in the last years.

woman wearing a surgical mask

This includes not having to wear masks everywhere anymore. In Kyoto, peer pressure is especially high, so I still see many people wearing masks even outdoors, but to be fair, most of them are older citizens.

However, it really hit me that “Corona is over” when I visited the library the other day. No more plastic sheets on the counters separating the employees and the patrons!

I couldn’t be happier! I have been tired of all the anti-Corona measures for a long time already, and while I still bring masks along just in case, I am happy to phase them out, just like the rest of the country does.

Summer is Coming

It seems as if I can finally store away my winter sweaters. Despite a few setbacks, it is now warm enough for t-shirts, even in my office. As I’ve mentioned, my office is the coldest room in the house, today, it was 4 degrees cooler than my bedroom directly upstairs. Upstairs is generally warmer, being under the roof and all, and you can really feel the change in temperature when you’re walking up and down the stairs.

Pumpkin also notices the change in weather, he doesn’t want to sleep in my bed anymore. He still likes to be in the bedroom at night, but he now chooses to sleep next to the bed. As long as I know where he is, I don’t mind, after all, he is a typical cat and during the night always morphs towards the middle of the bed somehow.

There’s not much news otherwise, besides me being busy. My visa is up for renewal again, I have sent all the documents to my lawyer, but we’re waiting for a last tax receipt to arrive. A friend of mine is in the country somewhere and is contemplating visiting Kyoto too, possibly next week. And there’s an upcoming Bati-Holic concert at the end of the month that I’m very much looking forward to!


Just a short heads-up that I’m fine, just busy.

Yesterday, I was out almost all day, for no less than three press-previews of a large exhibition that started today. It’s really fun to get to see exhibitions before they are open, plus a guided tour and plenty of other information. Sometimes, there are other goodies too…

But at the same time, it means that I’ll have to move other work around, and then I’m extra busy on the days leading up to and after such an event. But overall, it’s worth it!

The Lion, the Witch and the … What?

Last week, I mentioned that there is no good place in my new bedroom for a Western-style wardrobe. When some of my friends came over a while ago for a very belated house-warming, I told them the same thing, to which one of my Japanese friends responded with the following:

When he was a child, he read the Narnia books. There, the whole adventure starts when the kids step through an old wardrobe. My friend said that he couldn’t understand the concept of “wardrobe” at all. And indeed, Japanese people – at that time at least – didn’t use wardrobes like we know them.

Several different Tansu

Instead, there was the tansu, a traditional chest with drawers – but obviously, it’s a bit hard to “step through” to the other side. Then, there are oshi-ire, built-in closets that are found in almost every traditional room. But they have a shelf halfway up as well, and are used chiefly for storing futons during daytime – also not very convenient for a quick “stepping through”, although it would be conceivable for a small child to do it.

Anyway, this then led to my question: How did you store things that are usually put on hangers, like suits? Answer: Neatly folded inside the box they came in, inside a tansu or oshi-ire. Just like kimono, hakama, and other traditional garments. All of them require a special way of folding before they are wrapped in paper and stored for the next time.

Thinking about this, I found it interesting how our own cultural experiences shape the understanding – or lack thereof – of other cultures, and that from a young age, apparently. Even though I read stories from all over the world as a child, I can’t remember any grave misunderstandings like the above. I wonder if it never happened (maybe there were always plenty of illustrations at hand) or if my mind just filled in the blanks with familiar shapes, clothes, sounds… It’s probably the latter, but I’m not sure if this is a good thing.

Hanami 2023

What a day! An Austrian friend of mine visited Kyoto just in time for this year’s hanami. We did a lot of walking together, only partially avoiding the crowds (and on a Wednesday, too!)

We went along Philosopher’s Path, passed Eikando on our way to Nanzen-ji, then took a somewhat hidden path from the aqueduct to Keage Incline (one of my favourite places for many reasons). After a short break for lunch at the steps in front of the Kyocera Museum, we walked past Shoren-in and Chion-in and through the crowds at Maruyama Park. Onwards, upwards, and towards Kiyomizudera, we stopped at the Sannenzaka Museum for their current exhibition on Edo/Meiji metalworks. Afterwards, we were both exhausted and decided to call it a day, even though my friend initially wanted to see the evening lightup at Kiyomizudera.

It was a glorious, sunny day with lots of people everywhere, both Japanese and foreign tourists. The rest of the week looks promising as well, and I already have my first (thankfully mild) sunburn of the year. I’ll add a photo tomorrow, for now, I’m off to bed.

First Sakura!

Sorry for not writing on Sunday, I went all the way to the other, western, end of town and back – on the bicycle… We were having some great sunny days lately, and it’s warm and pleasant all around, the perfect spring weather. Rainy days are still cold and nights, too, but Pumpkin now sleeps on top of the duvet during the night, so it’s warm enough for him at least.

Anyway, while I was out and about, I was looking for signs of cherry blossoms. It’s a bit too early, yet there are blooming trees here and there. This one caught my eye, for example:

I took several photos from the street, when the lady of the house appeared and invited me inside! She said that this so-called benishidare zakura – weeping cherry – is a very early bloomer every year, and I could see how proud she was of it. And rightfully so!

So Cool!

As I mentioned, I gave myself a 10 mm buzz cut about a month ago. And just the time I save every morning by not having to style it or wait until it’s dry has me convinced that I’ll keep it this way for a long, long time…

So far, reactions were split across the gender divide.

Men don’t seem so care, really, although I did notice some stares from across rooms and even streets. Only my doctor, whom I’ve been seeing for 10 years now every three months, seemed to be genuinely shocked. First thing he said at our last appointment was, “so… you got a haircut…” to proceed to the practicalities of the how and to finally end at the why – and if the cliché of women changing their lives with a haircut is true. I told him to pay attention if his wife ever shows up with something drastic like this; the next thing she may want to change may be him… He also asked the best question of them all with “Isn’t it cold?” (It’s indeed a bit chilly on the bicycle.)

Women on the other hand are almost vicariously excited about it, in particular younger ones. I’ve heard “that’s so cool!” several times now, and just today, I got compared to Annie Lennox. Of course, Annie is even now, at almost 70, so much more beautiful than I’ve ever been and ever will be. No contest. And now, I have her “Little Bird” fluttering around in my head…

Taiko Class

Two weeks ago, I was invited to a Japanese drum class to review it for What’s up in Kyoto (I love my job!) Japanese drums are generally called wadaiko, but there are many different sizes that all have specific names. I’ll do a bit more research on this – looks like a weekend post on drums is coming up! But let’s talk about the lesson.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings somewhere between excitement and apprehension. I have zero musical talent and couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended on it, and after I had to quit the recorder (flute) in primary school, all I’ve been playing were LPs and later CDs. So, there was a base level of embarrassment to begin with, which grew exponentially when I entered the classroom and saw that it was set up for a single student only. Yay.

Thankfully, we started easy: raise the drumsticks high and just drop them onto the drum. Tap the edge of the drum. Play loudly and then very quietly. Interestingly, the stance to play wadaiko with slightly bent knees and straight back reminded me of the basic stance in Aikido. I wonder if this is because the strength for playing should not come from the arms and shoulders, but from the hara, the centre of the body (just like in Aikido).

In any case, the class moved to basic rhythms and, finally, to a real song (is it a “song” if it’s just rhythm? Serious question) with a beginning, middle and end. My teacher and I played together and took turns with improvisations in the third part, and although I wasn’t very good at those, it was fun to watch him play.

The lesson took one hour, in which I had great fun thanks to the teacher who was very encouraging. Unfortunately, I felt quite conscious of my body throughout the class, partly because I was the only student as mentioned and thus felt under constant scrutiny, but also because I was facing a huge mirrored wall all the time… Overall, however, the fun definitely outweighed my body issues and I felt extremely energized after the class, so much so that I couldn’t sleep at all that night.

Things that surprised me: the drumsticks were very light; apparently, there are different weights and sizes, not just for smaller and larger drums (obviously), but heavier drumsticks make it less tiring to play for longer periods. Also, where the drum is hit makes a difference – dead centre sounds different from closer to the edge. Now that I had time to think about it, the reason is probably the added interference/overlay of the soundwaves near the edge, but that wasn’t clear to me at first. Finally, you need to hold the drumsticks quite tightly to avoid them bouncing and hitting the drum twice – no wonder I ended up with blisters on both my thumbs.

Before I tell you my final verdict, I must mention the teacher: it was Kuro-chan (real name Shugo Kurosaka), the blonde frontman of Bati-Holic. (Since I’ve fangirled about the band already.several.times, I’ll spare you today, but do check them out, they’re great!) We got to talk after a concert, and he mentioned that he’s teaching too, and I jumped on the occasion. He began learning taiko when he was 12, and when he entered university in Kyoto, he started a taiko club there (which still exists today!) He said he quickly found out that there was money in this, and since he wanted to do something music related anyway… The rest is history. Because he has so much experience teaching and also works with kids, he’s very patient, and we were both laughing a lot during the lesson, which speaks for his relaxed attitude.

Final verdict, or: Where is this going? Well, one of my goals in Project 50 by 50 is to “start a new hobby.” And because this whole music thing is so far out of my comfort zone, it may just be the right challenge – and I’m here for it. For various reasons, I can’t start right away, but I hope I can make it happen after summer at the latest. I’ll keep you posted.

Project 50 by 50

With my 48th birthday just around the corner, I have decided to make a few changes in/to my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with how my life turned out so far. When I was stuck all the way back in my deepest teenage angst & depression, I couldn’t have imagined any of this. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. So, I’ve done two things:

  1. I chopped off my hair.
    I’ve been wearing it short since living in Hong Kong in 2007, but now it’s a mere 10 mm long. Doing that felt extremely liberating, and once the deed was done, it energized me for the rest of the day.
    So far, the reactions were mostly surprise, but people were positive, and I’m feeling less stuck already. There really seems to be something to the old trope of “women who want a change, first change their hair”.
  2. Project 50 by 50: 50 goals to reach until my 50th birthday.
    This was inspired by somebody whom I admire and who made massive changes when turning 50. I already started last August by setting the first 20 goals; 15 more at the beginning of this year, and another 15 are due next year. (That’s deliberate, you never know how life turns out, and there may be new things to focus on.)
    I don’t want to go into details here since this is obviously a very personal project, but some of the goals are to go out more often and make friends, save enough money to renovate the rest of the house, take regular days offline, stop neglecting this blog…
    Overall it’s a quirky list ranging from the mundane to the almost esoteric, but all the goals are meant to improve my life in some way and/or to make me a better human (if only in my mind).

Already, I have been making progress on some of the goals, one of them being “study Japanese and take the JLPT every December”. I mentioned taking the test, and the results are in: I passed, with 160/180 points!

Now, this was the easiest test covering only the very basics, and had I failed this after all these years in Japan, it would’ve been very embarrassing. The next level will be more difficult, and it will already include keigo (respect language). I’m worried… Best to go and study more.

First Ume

This afternoon, I had to go to Arashiyama to take photos of next month’s highlight temple on the What’s up in Kyoto website. And here’s the first plum blossoms that I see this year:

And that after a day of on-and-off snowing in my (eastern) part of town, where, when I left, there was still snow on Mount Hiei. There was no snow anywhere in Arashiyama (in the western part of town), and in fact, it was a lovely day with sunshine and blue skies – and lots and lots of tourists at the usual haunts over there.

It was fun to go out, I sat at the river for a bit, too. I hope spring will come quickly this year.