Kyoto’s Finest

Two weeks ago, on the way to town, I had a little accident. I usually cycle along the river, and there was an old man walking smack in the middle of the path. It was narrow there because of uncompleted road works and I didn’t know whether to pass him left or right, so I pulled the brakes. Unfortunately, the gravel left on the path from said road works made me slip and fall.

The result: bloody abrasions on my right knee and elbow. Before doing anything else, I would have to wash off the dirt and the blood. But where? I looked at the river but finally decided to go to the nearby subway station at City Hall to clean myself and assess the damage.

There, in the women’s toilet, a friendly lady asked if she could help, but I told her that I was just fine, thank you. She did not believe me, apparently, because a few minutes after she had left, two station staff came to look for the – literally – “bloody foreigner”.

Suddenly, I felt nauseous and that’s when the guys put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me to the station office, a thankfully short, but still humiliating experience with plenty of passengers staring at me. In the office, they patched me up with gauze, bandages, and tape. All the staff were very helpful and friendly and made just the right amount of fuss about my wellbeing before sending me on my way again.

I am happy to report that my wounds were very shallow and have since completely healed. I can only recommend Kyoto’s finest – and hope that we won’t meet again any time soon…

New Rules

The other day, I had to go to the hospital for my quarterly checkup and medication refills. This means that first, I have to get a bloodtest before I can see the doctor a few days later. While I have a fixed appointment for the doctor’s visit, the bloodtest is simply walk-in, which means that it is impossible to predict how long it will take overall. The longest it took was close to two hours if I remember correctly.

However, last week, everything was said and done in 20 minutes, from the time I walked into the building to the moment I walked out again with a hole in my arm and the bill in my pocket. Never before, in all the 6 years I’ve been going there for the procedure have I been that fast!

So, when I saw the doctor three days later, I mentioned it. And he explained that the hospital is now giving out medication for long-term patients whose conditions are stable without them having to come to the hospital. All they need is to fill in a form, fax it to the hospital, and they receive the prescription and can go to their pharmacy without seeing a doctor.

Great. Why do I always hear of these things when it is too late already? This would have saved me 3000 yen this month. Anyway, I have one of these forms now, but I guess by the time my next appointment rolls around in September, the measure will have been scrapped again. We’re not going to live with the Corona crisis for another three months. Right?

Back to Normal

So, here we are, on the other end of the Corona pandemic, and things are getting back to normal. How I know this? I’m getting advertisements in the mail again, beyond take out menus I mean.

Also, just last Friday, I received the two face masks that Shinzo Abe promised, what, 2 months ago? They are of surprisingly good quality, the fabric looks thick and sturdy and it’s in 2 layers. The only downside is that they are a bit small, only about 75% of the width of a usual facemask. But we may not be needing them soon anymore.

Maybe I should quickly recap what I was doing the last seven weeks instead of working full time:

  • Since the lockdown was not strictly enforced, I visited a few new places in Kyoto: Tenryu-ji (I mentioned that), Mibu-dera (not worth it), and Kenkun shrine (very cute). And I did that Haunted House thing which turned out surprisingly fun.
  • I finished some long-overdue sewing projects, like a new noren for my living room, new mousepad and pillow cases and I made a new cover for an old notebook. Besides that, I fixed some clothing too.
  • I did some smaller repairs in the apartment, including cleaning it thoroughly and sorting through paperwork, the latter did no produce as smaller a pile as I had expected, but I did throw something away, which is always difficult for me for some reason.
  • Speaking of paperwork, I finished one short story in English and I wrote another quick one in German on a whim for a writing contest in Austria (results after the summer.) It’s unlikely that I’m going to win anything, but it was a nice exercise in “keeping my mind off things”.
  • I did do some work-related stuff too, like updating the 2017 archives over on What’s up in Kyoto (except for June because that’s a mess and I’m not sure how to deal with it), and I’m also all but ready to launch a new website for my overall business (since the event calendar is just a part of it). And of course the daily facebook posts of the Kyoto places to visit instead of the usual events and constantly updating what is closed/cancelled, which took a whole lot of time and was very frustrating.

So yes, I have started working again “full time” since yesterday, but I’ll have to take tomorrow off already because I have two doctor’s appointments, need to get my bicycle fixed and I need to see my hairdresser, desperately. Things are off to a good start, no?

Stepping Out

I had a wonderful and rather busy weekend, now that we can finally go out again!

On Saturday, I was invited to visit a haunted house in the middle of Kyoto. I thought it would be fun and indeed, it exceeded my expectations! The theme was “abandoned school”, apparently that’s very popular in Japan, and a whole basement was turned into a dark labyrinth with black curtains and old lockers. There were mannequins and lots of severed heads with long black hair waving after them, and a coffin with a skeleton as the center piece.

Of course, if you go in there as an adult, you think: Oh well, how scary can it possibly be? But when you’re down there in the dark with nothing but a tiny flash light in your hands, navigating the corridors that get more and more narrow…. and then something comes at you from the darkness… It was scary indeed, and I needed a few minutes afterwards to normalise my heartbeat. Very simple methods, and very well done!

Sunday I spent working on a short story for an Austrian writing contest I wanted to enter. First prize would be 1000 EUR, but it’s very unlikely that I’m getting even close to winning this. I haven’t written anything in German for years, and it doesn’t have the right oomph to it if you get what I mean. Besides, I have the impression that they are looking for something more literary… Anyway, I had fun writing it, kept me sane in the last weeks.

And yesterday, I went all the way to Arashiyama in the western outskirts of Kyoto. In general, I don’t like going there at all because it is one of the most crowded tourist spots in Kyoto. Now, however…

I was there just before 10 in the morning, and I went to Tenryu-ji first. This temple is part of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage, but to be very honest, I’m not entirely sure why. I loved the dragon painting on the ceiling of the main hall, but it’s a modern one, around 25 years old only. The abbot’s quarters I didn’t find very exiting either. The gardens were nice though, and I spent time exploring all of it. They must be fantastic during the koyo, and there is an enormous weeping cherry at the center of it that is surely beautiful too.

Afterwards, I visited the Saga Arashiyama Museum for Arts and Culture again. They have an exhibition comparing works of Maruyama Okyo and his student Nagasawa Rosetsu, both painters of the Edo period. The museum is not very large, but the pieces on display are exquisit. I especially liked a Rosetsu painting, where he shows a single cicada on a bamboo; the insect has so much detail, you have the impression it might take off any moment.

Kyoto's Bamboo Forest, completely empty. Finally, before I went home, I took a stroll in the famous bamboo forest. As I said before, I dread going there because it is so crowded all the time, but this time, it was practically empty. I’m sharing one of the photos I took there, this was around noon time! I’m not sure if I should wish for tourism to pick up again (for business reasons) or to stay like this for a while (for my personal pleasure).

Speaking of pleasure: I will probably start posting here “full time” next month again. I hope that I will finally have something to tell you again, and more motivation to write about it too. Until then!

Neue Lage: 20 Tage

Well, 19 days left of the state of emergency if we’re crossing off today already.

I’m sorry, I have no idea what to tell you. I’m sitting at home except for twice a week when I go shopping and that’s that. I’m spending lots of time talking to myself, but that doesn’t provide many new insights or talking points, really.

Outside the situation seems the same. Many restaurants and larger shops are closed while the smaller ones stay open.When I went for my physiotherapy yesterday, all the therapists were wearing plastic shields additionally to the face masks and gloves they had donned 3 weeks ago already. It makes for a rather surreal feeling, I’m lying on my back, getting my leg massaged while the therapist stares at me from behind that plastic shield, like looking at a guinnea pig. Given that I’m not sure whether the therapy helps – I have pain-free days and others where I can barely walk – I would say the feeling is quite accurate.

I keep doing little things around the house and for work. I even created a special “Big Corona-Quarantine To-Do List” and I am actually getting things done. I’m mighty proud of myself. Other than that, I’m counting the days. Mostly because I hope my general outlook will improve again. Hopefully.

Extension

Just as expected, Japan’s government has extended the national state of emergency until the end of May. That’s what we know for now; there will be a review of the situation around May 15. It seems that there are discussions about opening some public venues sooner, like museums and libraries etc. if measures for disinfection and social distancing can be maintained. We’ll see.

For now, things are very quiet still, but then again, it’s Golden Week now anyway. Many temples are closed, but smaller shrines work as usual. Last week I visited Kenkun Shrine, a modern one (merely 150 years old) on top of Funaokayama, which is a small local park and fun to visit in itself.

Other than that, I’m staying home more or less, and I’m trying to do some long-open projects both for work and in my private life that I never got done. I am also cooking a lot now, and with a little trick (do the dishes while your food is cooking), my kitchen has never been so clean.

My friend from recent bath-salts fame has sent me another little package: Matcha cookies and waffles from a seller in Uji, where the most famous Japanese green tea comes from. So yes, I’d say I’m doing just fine. Not better, but definitely not worse. For now.

3 types of matcha cookies

Relief (?)

Eight more days to go here – if everything goes according to plan. I can tell you that although I’m an introvert, not going out for anything more than shopping is becoming difficult. I guess I’m just not the kind of person I’d like to spend a lot of time with…

Also, even though I’m not the most active of all people, I notice that this forced inactivity is taking its toll, physically. It’s all that sitting in front of the laptop that’s not doing me any good. My hip is more painful than ever and I’m now walking with a noticeable limp. Even though my physiotherapist – I saw her this morning – says things may get even worse, I think she is dissatisfied with my progress.

However, we have agreed that cycling is good for me, so in the afternoon I went out to take a few photos for tomorrow’s facebook post. I went along the river and there were many people with small kids, but I wouldn’t call it busy. Streets are still very quiet, but then again, I was in a rather residential area to begin with.

Many shops are closed, but toilet paper is back! And while I still didn’t get any of the face masks prime minister Abe has promised to send me, I could buy some at the hospital where I have my therapy. Or rather: I was forced to buy some because without a mask they wouldn’t have let me in at all this morning.

Other states deal with the crisis in different ways. In Austria, the lockdown will end on May 1st, but people will still have to keep their distance in public. On the other hand, a friend who’s in Hawaii at the moment tells me that the government there has extended the lockdown until the end of May…

Anyway, no matter where you live and try to get through all this, a bit of comic relief is always a good idea. You probably know these videos already, but since they are so hilarious, I’ll share them here regardless:

Soothing

Hello again from the social distance! 😉

I went out again today for shopping. My shopping center next door has closed all those parts that are not selling food and all the restaurants are closed as well. That leaves the basement floor, where at the cashiers there are lines tracked with green tape telling you the appropriate distance in which to line up. The cashiers also have to wear thick blue gloves like those that are usually used in food production. Besides that, things seem normal. There’s even some toilet paper again.

Unfortunately, Kyoto’s libraries are closed too until May 6 at least. This measure I don’t really understand. Sure, it’s best if people don’t go there to sit and read, but on the other hand, picking up books that were ordered online should not pose too much a risk for the staff? I was planning to read another one of Eiji Yoshikawa’s historical tomes (about Miyamoto Musashi), but I will have to postpone it.

A friend of mine was so kind to send me a whole stash of bath salts in different flavours. She said it’s important to relax and take it easy… I guess that’s exactly what I’m going to do now!

13 packs of bath salts

State of Emergency II

Yesterday, the Japanese government has finally stepped up and extended the state of emergency to the whole country until at least May 6. The number of Corona infections have been increasing steadily, in particular in “open” prefectures, mostly because of people travelling there.

woman wearing a surgical maskWhat does that mean for me? I am not sure, honestly. There is no official curfew, people are simply “asked” to stay at home. More and more places are closing for the time being, even some temples have closed for visitors. As it seems now, even the two main parades of Gion Matsuri have been cancelled, and those are in July! But then again, they attracted more than 120,000 visitors last year, so it’s probably a good idea.

I went to town yesterday to get my sewing machine fixed (giving me something to do in my isolation) and the difference to the Kyoto I know is striking. Bus and subway are deserted, the streets are very quiet, and the few people who do go out all wear face masks. Even I did, if only out of respect for those I meet. All kinds of stores are closed, from the big department stores to tiny ones, while at others it’s business as usual. This “we do what we think is right” feels rather haphazard.

Social distancing is obvious everywhere too: People spread out on the subway, except for that one creepy old guy I saw who absolutely HAD to seat himself between the two young girls instead of choosing any of the free seats elsewhere. My bank has removed the cushy sofas in their waiting area and replaced them with chairs set wide apart, but the staff still work very closely to one another. The Starbucks in the shopping mall near my home has removed half of their chairs and tables to create more space for their customers, and the mall itself closes now 2 hours early like many other venues.

With society so on edge at the moment, many people with small businesses like myself are suffering greatly and often have to go without any income at all. At least the Japanese government is considering aid for the citizens. For example, it has already been decided that every household will receive two (reusable) facemasks. I will keep you posted about that one.

And now, there are discussions about giving each and every citizen 100,000 yen in cash as financial aid, which is definitely a nice idea. However, I am not a citizen, so I will probably not see any of that money, even though my business has all but shut down, to put it politely.(*) Still, I am kind of optimistic: “This too shall pass!”

(*) If you’d like to help, please consider visiting the What’s up in Kyoto facebook page and liking the page and sharing the posts. It seems a little thing, but the more people I can reach, the better. Thanks!

Corona Catches Kyoto

Sorry for being quiet, I’m fine, please don’t worry about me, but right now, everything is going downhill here, and pretty quickly too…

woman wearing a surgical maskLast Friday, the Kyoto city mayor as well as the Kyoto prefecture governor have urged the national government to include Kyoto prefecture into the state of emergency declaration. As of now, nothing has happened… It seems to be a typical Japanese response: If we ignore it, maybe it’ll go away!? Meanwhile, four more prefectures have declared their own state of emergency, which is not ordered by the national government, among them Gifu and Aichi (Nagoya). Kyoto’s governor is not ready to do that at this point, so we’re still in limbo. At the moment, there are 210 Corona infections in Kyoto prefecture as a whole.

Thus, the mayor of Kyoto has strongly urged people to stay at home and not go out unless absolutely necessary. Essentially all events have been cancelled, all four big department stores and most museums are closed, and even hotels will be shutting down in the next days. The Kyoto bus and subway systems had 70% fewer passengers last Sunday than usual and will shut down a number of lines that are geared towards tourists. I have seen photos of Shijo street taken last Sunday, where it’s essentially empty – Shijo dori between Yasaka shrine and Horikawa dori is one of the busiest shopping streets in Kyoto, usually.

So yeah… my business has essentially shut down too. Although some smaller events are still taking place, it’s a bit hard to tell people to go out at the moment… So, I have decided to ditch my usual daily event tips on facebook and take people on a “virtual tour” through Kyoto while everything is shut down. If you want to come along every day at 8, have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/whatsupinkyoto/

Other than this, I have given myself permission to take it extremely easy with respect to work. I have plenty of smaller things to do that keep falling by the wayside (both for work and privately), but honestly, it’s been hard to keep my motivation up the last weeks already. And it’s not going to get better… At least the prospect of writing for the “virtual tour” excites me, so that’s good.

Other than that… I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with the blog here. Surely, you already have enough about people whining about Corona, so I don’t need to add to this. Maybe I should be taking it easy here too? I’m not sure… We’ll see how much writing motivation I can muster each day.