Sleepless in Kyoto

I’m pretty tired these days and don’t have much energy… Thankfully, it’s not as hot anymore as it was a few weeks ago, but while the day temperatures have dropped a few degrees, the night temperatures have not. And the comparatively small difference between day and night makes sleeping really difficult at the moment. The last few days, I’ve been waking up several times in the night just to turn on the fan for half an hour or so, which helps just enough to fall asleep again.

Today, the weather was awfully windy and couldn’t decide whether to rain or not. There was a brief shower in the afternoon, but not enough to cool the city down. As usual in Japan’s summer, any kind of rain just makes the place more humid. However, it seems that the coming week will be more cloudy and thus, less hot, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep!

Thanks, Shinzo!

It’s almost scary to realise that we’ve been living with Corona / Covid19 for about half a year now! And sadly, things are not getting much better yet. It seems that some countries stand at the beginning of a second wave, and it’s just been discovered that there’s no long lasting immunity against the virus either. Yes, it seems indeed that this one is here to stay…

Japanese currencyFor now, governments in many states give financial aid to businesses and sometimes even to private citizens to ease the burden. For my company, I am eligible for financial aid since my income for May 2020 has dropped by more than 50% compared to May 2019. My accountant is currently busy with the paperwork, although it seems that there are not that many documents necessary in the first place.

And for me as a private person, I already received the 100,000 yen that Shinzo Abe has promised for everybody living in Japan. And I’m already spending it, too. There are a few things I need, but nothing really substantial: A pair of light summer slippers that I can wear on the bicycle (meaning: no sandals). A new backpack since the one I’m using right now is two years old already and won’t last forever.

And I also bought a very nice and extra warm duvet for winter, stuffed with real sheep’s wool. I’ve been looking at this one since last winter, but couldn’t make up my mind to buy it. Now that that shop has a grand sale because they will close soon for renovations, I finally bought it last week – for 30% off and with the government’s money to boot. Hey, thanks, Shinzo! 

Other than this, I have no big spending plans. Except… well, Shinzo’s money won’t cover all of that… You see, I’m looking into something really big right now. It’s too early for details, but I’ll keep you posted, promised!

Heatwave

Sorry for not posting last night, I was flat out exhausted. We’re in the third week of a heatwave here and although there is a certain breeze that makes things more bearable, especially in the afternoon, it’s still not easy to get motivated.

Yesterday I had to flee my apartment because it got so hot, and I cooled down in my favourite cafe. Sadly, they don’t have wifi there, which makes being productive rather difficult. How much we rely on the internet these days!

Today, I have three appointments in the afternoon, I hope I can make them all… It seems that next week will be a bit cooler, which is to be expected. I hope my motivation follows suit – it does help if you can sleep through the night! We’ll see.

Tea Ceremony

Every year in August, Kodai-ji Temple holds a special Cool Night Yukata Tea Ceremony in the weekends and this year, I convinced a friend of mine to go together with me.

Of course, we both had to wear Yukata for the occasion, mainly because it is nice, but also because we wanted to get the 500 yen discount that was offered for people wearing yukata. Of course, if you’re wearing traditional Japanese clothing at a traditional Japanese event, you need to go all the way: When making the reservation, we were informed that we needed to wear tabi, white Japanese socks with separate big toe. This is actually standard since it is rude to enter a room (in particular one with tatami) barefoot.

So, one day before the tea ceremony, I went to a special tabi shop on Sanjo dori to buy me some traditional footwear. And: I failed. Problem is that tabi are made of relatively stiff cotton that is not flexible at all, so they are closed at the inside of the ankle with some sort of buttons, for lack of a better word. And, while my feet are the rather standard Japanese size  of 24.5 cm, my ankles are not…

Anyway, the next day in the evening I showed up at my friend’s place with the yukata she gave to me a few years back, a whole pile of assorted accessories including obi and geta and a pair of white socks to put on at the tea ceremony proper. I had hoped that my friend would be able to help me putting on the obi – which alone takes me 30 minutes every time – but it turned out that she hasn’t got a clue how to do this since she only wears a very simplified version that doesn’t require wrapping a piece of cloth the length of an anaconda around your waist… At least she could hold some of the pieces in place while I squirmed into them, her extra pair of hands did help.

Kodaiji in the nightWhen we arrived at Kodai-ji, it turned out to be a very small tea ceremony with only seven people in total. The setting was less formal that I had expected (and dressed for), we were sitting on little chairs on a low table instead of kneeling on the floor in seiza. The room was beautifully decorated according to the theme – glass – and all the tea utensils down to the tea scoop were made from glass (except the tea kettle, of course).

Since I had been at tea ceremonies before, I roughly knew what to do – there’s a lot of bowing involved – but once again, I completely missed the preparation of the tea. In tea ceremonies for larger groups, the main host is entertaining the guests by smalltalk or explaining the tea utensils or the art used in the tokonoma. Meanwhile, another person actually makes the tea for the top one or two guests, and all the other guests get their tea served from behind the scenes.

I found the sweets that were offered before the matcha a bit tasteless, but they looked like a heart placed behind glass to fit the theme. What I really like about tea ceremonies is that afterwards, you are invited to inspect the room and check out all the tea bowls and other utensils and the tokonoma as well. Sadly, I didn’t expect that it was allowed to take photos at that time, so I didn’t bring my camera…

Oh well. In any case I had fun and spent a nice evening at the temple, although it was very hot outside even after the sun went down. The yukata didn’t help with that either. One thing I still have to figure out is how my Japanese friend can look all cool and poised and relaxed at a hot night like this while I look like I’ve just emerged out of a steam bath and getting ready to burst into flame…  I shall investigate.

Ayu

From the time I was a child, I’ve always liked eating fish. This is interesting, since Austria has no access to the sea, and we chiefly subsist on pork and potatoes. As a child, fish was mainly those deep frozen/fried fish-stick kind of things, and when I was a bit older, we occasionally got fresh trout from a family member who had a fish rearing pond.

So, now that I’m in Japan, one would think that I’d eat a lot of fish. Well, yes I do… kinda. Sadly, I mainly stick to sushi and salmon. To be honest, although the fish and seafood section in my supermarket is huge, I am a bit intimidated – I mean, I have no idea how to cook this properly!

But of course, now I am an adult with lots of curiosity and said supermarket next door plus: enter the internet! I am proud to report tha I have already cooked myself spicy clams with spaghetti, and even though I probably got the wrong kind of clams (it was an Italian recipe) I was very happy with the outcome. My proudest moment, however, was when I tried the ayu.

Ayu, also called sweetfish, are small freshwater fish that are very popular in Japan and other parts of Asia. They are eaten throughout summer and are available at almost any matsuri where they are grilled over an open fire.

So when I saw the fish above, I was intrigued but also a bit worried. As you can see, this is a complete fish, bones and innards and all – do I have to do that cutting that stuff out myself? So I asked one of the staff at the supermarket, an elderly man. First of all, he explained that this was indeed an ayu (there are many kanji for this fish, none of which I can read: 鮎, 年魚, 香魚) and then he said that no, Japanese people eat the whole thing. Really.

After some deliberation, I thought, oh well, let’s try this. Thankfully, not having to cut off any pieces made cooking it very easy – I simply put it on the little fish grill of my gas stove. And because ayu are maybe 20 cm long at most, it took only around 10 minutes until it was done.

Overall verdict: The term “sweetfish” is accurate, the meat was tender and very delicious. I only used a bit of salt to cook it and put some lemon juice on it before eating. Full disclosure, I did not eat the whole fish after all, leaving the spine, head and innards, but it may be something I’m willing to try at a later point, of which there will definitely be many!   

Summer Joys

Yesterday, after my physio therapy session in the morning, I went down to Nijo Castle. The old residence of the Shoguns is on eof my favourite places in Kyoto and over summer, offer a special treat: Visitors are allowed to enter some of the rooms of the Ninomaru palace and see the famoous fusuma paintings of the Kano School close-up!

Of course I had to go and I was very excited when I went there – just to find out that the palace was closed for the day and only the gardens were accessible… Yes, it’s my job to know these things, but even I am not infallible… I didn’t enter after all, I like the palace gardens but I don’t consider them spectacular and worth a visit without seeing the palace. So much for my treat!

Although, to be fair, I did have another treat: Yesterday was doyo-ushi-no-hi, the day of the ox in midsummer, traditionally considered the hottest day in summer, even though this year the heat and especially the humidity is very bearable.

Tradition dictates that on this day of the ox you eat eel – unagi – and I am lucky enough to have a little Japanese restaurant nearby which was selling take-out unadon (a ricebowl topped with unagi) for lunch. Doesn’t look like much, but it was delicious, much better than the stuff I would have gotten at the supermarket!

In the evening I discovered that my trip to Nijo Castle had left me with a slight sunburn on my arms, which is the usual way for me to get tanned at all. So yes, the joys of summer… 😉

Tsuyu

raindrops on a windowIt’s tsuyu – rainy season – in Japan. It’s been raining almost every day for at least two weeks and everything is grey and annoying – and surprisingly cool. Usually, the rainy season is the beginning of the sweltering summer heat, but so far, it has been comparatively cool with maximum temperatures of around 30 degrees, and it is also comparatively dry. Summer will be coming soon though, two days ago I have heard the first cicadas singing.

The constant grey outlook from my window doesn’t really help with anything right now, and on top of that people are still cautious because of the Corona Virus. In Tokyo, the infections are rising, with more than 100 newly infected people daily for the last week. Most of these new cases seem to center around entertainment districts and thus affect younger people. It appears that Tokyo is heading for a second wave already, and they have just raised its alert for the novel coronavirus pandemic to the highest level of four. I am not sure what this means, but I hope that we don’t have to go into a stricter shutdown again. Not until I’ve bunkered enough chocolate, that is.

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?