schematic of a toothWhat is wrong with Japanese dentists? I have been living here for five years, and I’m already on my third dentist. and now it seems I need a fourth! I am not complaining about the work they are doing, it’s not as if I could judge that anyway. My teeth are functional, and they do not hurt, so I guess they are fine from a technical professional point of view.

The problem is that they appear to have serious troubles with ethical behaviour towards their patients. Let’s examine the evidence provided by my three dentists:

The first one I went to went with me into the tiny X-ray room, and while putting the lead apron on me said: “You are a beautiful woman”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those #metoo crazed women who scream sexual harassment at every corner and would now need 15 years of therapy to get over this incident. I like men, and I like receiving compliments. However, I don’t like getting them in an inappropriate situation like this, where I am not free to respond in any way I might wish to. I let dentist #1 fix the broken tooth and did not return.

The second one I went to – an expensive private doctor – loved his “treatment plans”. You would go there with a problem, and after having a close look at it he would come up with a written, English (!) treatment plan that you had to sign before he would start the procedure. Nothing wrong with that – if you have the possibility to decline. Which there wasn’t. Because once he had handed you your personalised treatment plan with your name on it plus a pen, the doctor would leave you in charge of his assistant, who barely spoke English and couldn’t really answer any follow-up questions. I signed one treatment plan, but did not let me bully into agreeing to another one.

When I found the third one, he seemed to be quite alright, and I have gone there for several procedures. The only annoying thing was that everything took at least three visits, but that’s a minor thing. The last time I went, I had another broken tooth requiring an inlay. I also told him that I had lost a filling a while ago and that I wanted this one fixed too. he looked at it and said it was an easy “drill & fill” job. First of all, I had to more or less force him to it on y third visit instead of having to come again. And what I got was this: A new filling replacing the lost one. Plus a replacement for the filling of a neighboring tooth that had nothing wrong with it other than being made of a type of metal he does not approve of. I did not ask for that. I was not asked about it, either.

So: What is wrong with Japanese dentists?

I believe these three instances are serious ethical issues: sexual harassment, bullying, unwanted procedures. Has “informed consent” not trickled through to Japan just yet? I cannot go to a dentist – or any other doctor for that matter – whom I cannot trust to put MY interests first, after all, this is MY body. How come these people can keep working in the long run? Am I the only patient with these experiences? Am I the only one to complain?

Japanese New Year Traditions

This is my sixth new year in Japan, and although I have been embracing Japanese New Year’s traditions, I am still learning something new!

As in the previous years, I have bought a small zodiac animal to display in my apartment. This year is the year of the boar (elsewhere it’s the pig, but the Japanese go more rough on this one), and I am surprised at how cute my little ceramic boar actually looks!

I did not go on hatsumode yet, some people say it’s fine up to January 7th. But I will visit Kitano Tenmangu tomorrow and write my first kanji of the year there. People do it as a symbol to what they want to achieve in the coming year. I have settled on the rather vague word “success”, but with overarching success I think I’ll be just fine.

One new thing I have learnt this year has to do with osechi ryori, the traditional Japanese New Year’s meal to be eaten right on January 1st. I had done that already (always store-bought of course, making it yourself is quite a hassle), but this year I have eaten it with the proper chopsticks too! I was always wondering about all the packs of special chopsticks that were on sale throughout December, and I had correctly identified as having something to do with New Year. However, I thought they were something like party chopsticks, but, of course, it is something more serious.

The chopsticks I mean are different from the standard ones. Standard Japanese chopsticks taper to one end, but the New Year’s edition tapers on both. The idea is that when you eat your osechi, that on the second tapered end your ancestors and the gods will eat together with you. It sounds a bit weird, but since the New Year is the largest celebration in Japan with strong religious undertones (literally everyone visits a shrine these days), it does make sense. Buddhist teaching says that your ancestors are watching over you, and in some households there is a Buddhist altar on which at least a bit of rice is offered to the family ancestors every day.

Osechi Ryori with the correct chopsticksSo, this year, I bought a pack of special osechi chopsticks and ate my modest (but still expensive) osechi meal with it. Everything in there has a special meaning, but the only one I can remember is the meaning of the black beans on the top left: They are meant to be lucky and also indicate industry and hard work. To be brutally honest, as far as Japanese cuisine goes, osechi ryori is not a highlight when it comes to taste (decoration can be quite different), but at the same time, it is a nice tradition and I’m all for it!

It was so funny: when I bought the little box above, the cashier in the supermarket asked if I indeed ate osechi. “Of course”, I said, and when I showed her my special chopsticks, she nodded approvingly. As if foreigners can’t eat osechi! Natto, on the other hand…


Auld Lang Syne

I came home a bit late tonight because I had my final bonenkai celebration today with the last of my English students. He took me out to a very nice sushi restaurant in Pontocho, one of the entertainment and Geisha districts of Kyoto. The food was excellent, as was the sake, and we had fun together – and with the waiter/cook who prepared our sushi.

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. After dinner, I went to the Maruzen, a very large book store that is open until 9 pm. While I was browsing the books (I did buy one at the end), all of a sudden, music began to play. It was 20:50, 10 minutes before closing time, and there was an announcement that the book store would close and would people be so kind as to leave.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all, I think it’s a nice way to make this announcement, and when I asked the cashier, she said this was standard in all Japan. The fun (standard) thing is the song: They played Auld Lang Syne.

If you don’t know that song, it’s usually sung just on midnight at New Year’s Eve, and it’s about how old friends should never be forgotten etc. It surely is suitable for the occasion of closing shop (after all, you do want the customers to come back), but still, it does seem a bit funny. Here is a youtube video of the song, sung in best Scottish, in case you want to try it yourself next Monday night.


Sorry for yet another silence… I hope you didn’t get too worried!

Just in case you’re wondering: No, I didn’t move anywhere (and have no plans to, sadly), but the goinggaijin website moved to a new hosting provider. That was part of the reason for my absence, things turned out to be a bit more complicated than I thought… Anyway, now everything should be back and running properly, now even with a secure site, yay!

Other than this, last week I was very busy with work (even a bit more than usual these days), but it seems that for now, I have satisfied all my external clients and can focus on my own work for What’s up in Kyoto. Lots of events to add, a new highlight for January to write etc. Still, I am yearning for a day or two off, the last days where I didn’t do anything work-related were 4 weeks ago… I have all intentions to take at least Sunday and Monday off, even though I’m not religious, it’s nice to have a few quiet days during this time of the year.

Besides being busy at work, it’s the end of the year, so there are lots of bonenkai (end of year parties) that I have to go to. On Wednesday there was a lunch with two of my English students in a very nice French restaurant. The fish was excellent, as was the wine, and this may be a place worth returning to – in a time when it is not fully booked, that is.

Yesterday I finally went to the German Christmas Market in Osaka. This seems to develop into a yearly tradition, and although it’s far from real Christmas feeling, it is still a welcome opportunity to have real Glühwein, cookies, and Leberkäse…This year I even bought gingerbread, even though it comes as the heart-shaped fair variety that we don’t eat during Christmas. I almost didn’t meet the friend that I wanted to go there with, but thankfully it was not too crowded, so we could find each other on the Christmas market a bit later after all.

Tomorrow there will be our soroban bonenkai in the evening, after our normal soroban class for foreigners. For the first time, I will be in charge of the class because my sensei will have to teach elsewhere for a new movie project. He will prepare everything, so hopefully, things will turn out all right.

And next week, I have no further meetings except one, where I will go to one more final bonenkai-type of evening with another one of my English students. He promised to take me out to a quite famous sushi restaurant, a real one, not just running sushi as usual. I am curious about the place, and maybe, I will even be able to go there on my own, if they have an English menu, that is.

So far for my plans for the rest of the year. Let’s see how things pan out.


Last Saturday, I took some time out to visit the 3rd Kyoto Student’s Art Auction. I came across it through What’s up in Kyoto, and because there was one piece of art I really liked, and because everything was in English and Japanese, I decided to give it a try.

On Friday I went to see the exhibition of all 25 pieces made by 12 or 13 students from Kyoto’s Art Universities, and while my favourite looked even better in real life, there were two others that impressed me, so I filled out the form to register as a bidder, and then returned on Saturday afternoon.

This was my first auction, so I had no idea what to expect. I came early, was given documents along with my paddle and then was shown into the auction hall. There was a table with drinks (champagne, sake, and some non-alcoholic ones) and snacks (cheese, crackers and chocolates), and in the back the art was put up. The students were already there and ready to chat with the people who had come – including me, and it was great fun talking to them.

When the auction finally started, I was surprised at the formality of it. Everything started off with a short talk by the mayor of Kyoto and the rector of one of the universities. The auctioneer then took over, starting with a joke about how he had considered donning a suit, but how this would be unthinkable for an auctioneer in Japan, and he ended up wearing kimono and hakama (just like the mayor) as usual. We then got a short introduction on how to show our paddles, where the bidding would start (10.000 yen) and how much it would increase per bid (5.000 yen), how to pay, etc.

Upon finishing, he looked straight at me – the only foreigner in the room, clearly distinguishable by the red turtleneck sweater from all the guys in black suits – and asked: “Do you need English assistance?” As if I needed help embarrassing myself in public… Anyway, he said he would call in English and Japanese the pieces for which I was bidding so that was a good compromise.

When the bidding came to my favourite piece, it seemed that it was the favourite piece of many people. The very first moment, bids were up to 35.000 yen – and I had to pass, that was over my budget already. Besides, the person who finally bought it for 50.000 yen gave the impression that he would get it for any price. I bid for another one as well, but had to bow out there too, but the third piece I liked was mine – and for the minimum bid of 10.000 yen too!

After paying – and making everybody nervous with my foreign-ness – I could take it home immediately. I have already chosen where to hang it in my office, but I will leave it as a Christmas present for me. My first piece of “real” art. What do you think about it?

"Vortex" by Ismael Franco Alvarez

It’s called “Vortex”, and was made by Ismael Franco Alvarez with ink and pen on Maruman paper. It is very well done, when you try to follow any of the lines, the picture does suck you in – like into a vortex… Ismael is from Mexico and studies Japanese painting at Kyoto Saga University of Arts.

For more of his works, check out his instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/ismairu/

Mourning Cards

As I mentioned before, I had to write mochuu hagaki mourning cards this year instead of nengajo New Year’s cards because of my grandmother’s death. My friend told me exactly what to write and when to send them, so I was only left with finding cards onto which to print the text.

Usually, the Japanese standard postcards for various occasions have already printed fields for the seven-digit post code, and usually this is in red. For mourning cards, this must be in black because red is a color that stands for happiness and is thus inappropriate. I was not happy with the cards I could buy, so I decided to design my own, but it proved quite difficult to find postcards with black post code guides. Actually, it proved impossible… So, I ended up buying plain cards in the right size, and I was told that they would work in a standard printer. Once I was ready to print the cards however, it turned out the paper was just a little bit too thick, so I had to give them an extra push to go through the printer…

mochuu hagaki Mourning card

I sent them off last Sunday, on a “Buddha Day” to give the right impression. At the post office, I paid for standard postage, and the lady at the counter had already picked the stamps when she realised that these were mourning cards. She said, “oh, we need different stamps” and instead brought some with a nice chrysanthemum design instead. There are indeed rules for everything in Japan – and I am very happy people are watching out for me everywhere!

Anyway, I thought I’d show you the design for my cards. I had it approved by my friend beforehand, and I already received compliments about the “perfect wording” of the thing.

As you can see, I am on the way to become a perfect Japanese myself. As long as my friends are helping me, that is…


Back again!

Hello there, remember me? 😉

Yes, I’m back, I’m back and healthy again, even though I still sound a bit scratchy, but that’s small details. As I said, I was not extremely sick, just “under the weather”, quite literally, but the weather has cleared up now. Thanks to all of you who have inquired about my wellbeing!

As I said, there were many things to do in the last couple of weeks, both for work and more private endeavours. For example, I went to a sake tasting in order to write about it, I visited some temple gardens I had never seen before (for future weekend posts here), and there was a free Noh performance I couldn’t pass up either (I hope I didn’t annoy people too much with my coughing). Also, I had to design mourning cards, write Christmas cards and buy New Year’s presents for my lawyer and accountant.

My standard workload has been crazy too. I am still writing about smartphones and there are texts about hotels as well, hotels that I could never afford, of course. Then I had visit the shrine and do the writeup for What’s up in Kyoto’s December highlight (for which I got the final ok only today), and decide about the new monthly highlights for next year (it will be something cute!). On top of that, I have been asked to make an audio version of a textbook in psychology, which I couldn’t work on for the last two weeks thanks to me sounding like a mountain ogre, so I need to catch up with this as well, and quickly too.

And all this on top of me being sick. I hope you can see why I had to drop a ball or two for a while. It’s gotten much cooler now, and although the days can be very nice and warm still, the nights are quite cold. Already in the beginning of November, I took the box with my winter clothing out of storage, but I didn’t have time (or energy) to make the final swap of summer/winter clothes, so I am literally clothing myself out of a box right now.

And, to add insult to injury, I must buy a new bicycle. The back wheel is bent beyond repair, and just today on my way to town, I lost my dynamo because a piece of plastic broke. Getting the bicycle repaired would be (almost) as expensive as buying a new one, so I have decided to ride the old one over winter (I promised to be very careful and not to ride too fast) and start spring with a nice and shiny bike. Or do you think I should make myself a Christmas present and buy the bicycle then? Actually, they have a very nice one at the shop there – in orange!

Eventful Week

Wow! I have just had the most eventful (and stressful) week in a long time! All week I’ve been out every day going somewhere, something I usually don’t do because it stresses me out, but this week was so much to do and see that I just had to go out of my shell a bit more.

It started last Saturday when I went to see Kyogen at Shinsen-en, a small temple near Nijo Castle. Shinsen Kyogen were started in 1903, and there are 30 different pantomimes, each taking about 50 minutes. I saw two of them on Saturday. One was about a thief being punished, the second one about a spider monster being caught somewhere in the woods. Especially the second one was very dynamic with spectacular fight scenes – imagine my surprise when the black spider jumped from the stage at first floor, and the two samurai with their drawn swords right after them!

7 kinds of sakeOn Monday I went to Fushimi Momoyama in southern Kyoto to a sake tasting. It was a three-hour event where in total I tasted 10 different types of sake, the first sip solo, the second sip paired with food. It was more a lesson than a tasting, and it was so good, I feel quite confident of being able to go to a shop and buying not just any sake, but choosing one that I like. I was invited to a private tour because the company doing it wants to increase their online presence; I promised to write about them both on What’s Up In Kyoto, and on this blog as well, so stay tuned!

I had two work meetings on Tuesday, so nothing special, but yesterday I went to Kibune in northern Kyoto to see the Hitaki-sai Festival at Kifune Shrine, one of my favourites. During the Hitaki-sai, wooden prayer sticks gathered over the last year are ritually burned as supplication to the gods, and the ceremony was very interesting and fun – in the end, visitors were invited to throw sticks into the fire as well. Kibune town was badly hit during typhoon Jebi in September, on the road to it, many trees were uprooted, and my favourite house in somewhat European style is gone – I heard it was hit by fallen trees, but nobody got injured.

And today, I spend in Ohara, a small town north on Kyoto, with one of my English students. We do these trips occasionally, and I asked her to come along to see the Ohara-me festival. Ohara-me were women in special dresses, who would walk all the way to Kyoto carrying firewood or sometimes flowers in baskets on their heads in order to sell them in town. Unfortunately, although the festival is said to be held for two weeks, we couldn’t find any sign of it – probably the big things happen only in the weekends?Garden of Sanzenin TempleIn any case, we did make good use of the time we spent in Ohara, because we went to Sanzen-in Temple, a huge Zen temple where in the olden days, retired emperors would go to and live. At the moment, it is a little bit too early for the momiji, even though some of the maples had already colored leaves. Of course, there are many shops lining the little lane to the temple, and on the way back, we made it our goal to visit every single one of them! I did buy a few presents for friends, so it was a very successful day indeed!

As you can see, I’ve had a very successful week – and it’s not over yet! Tomorrow I’ll visit a friend of mine, and on Sunday, there is the “Tengu Festival” at a temple far out in the mountains of Arashiyama. I’m not sure about that one because the week was very tiring and I do have to get some work done as well, but I am very, very tempted indeed…

Painted Fan

Folding fans are a popular summer accessory in Japan, for both men and women. There are literally hundreds of designs that may even depend on the exact time of the year you are using them… For a long time, these sensu have been a target of individual artistic expression, and many renowned ukiyo-e artists have not been above making designs for both sensu and uchiwa (non-folding fans).

So, even though I have no artistic fibre in my body, I went with two of my English students to a little sensu studio where we could paint our own fans with water colors. I was a bit reluctant at first, but they got me when they said “it’s a machiya, probably 100 years old…”

So, we went to the shop/atelier and sat down on a long table on the floor where everything had been prepared for us already. First, we had to choose the color of the paper (already in appropriate shape, then the design. You could either make your own design, or choose from dozens of already painted fans to trace over to your own paper and then color in according to the model. One of my students had come up with her own design (which is probably easy after 40 years of doing watercolors), my other student chose to copy a given design.

my friends paintingAnd then, we painted. For quite a long time because my students made a design that would cover both sides of the finished fan. I only had a simple design on a single side, so I was finished quite quickly (and then had lots of opportunity to be shown around the house ;-)) In the end, we had to choose the wood for the fan from three options. The shop would take it from there, fold our paintings properly and then insert the wooden part of the fan into the paper.

That was 4 weeks ago. Finally, last weekend, I received the result of my labour in a very beautiful package (and smelling a bit like incense), and actually, now that I see the final result, it is not as bad as I thought (you don’t have to agree, that’s fine!)

my handpainted fanI really don’t know how the shop did it, but the wood is indeed inside the paper, so it seems they have spliced the painted paper somehow to insert the spokes of the fan. Interesting, I did not think this would be possible. Anyway, I did have a fun afternoon, and even though the result looks like a child’s drawing, I am satisfied since it does represent my home back in Austria.

Noh Costumes

All the way back in March, I visited an event called “Noh Translation”, an introduction into the ancient Japanese theatre form Noh. I wrote about it then, and tonight was another one of these events called “Discover Noh”. This time, the focus was on Noh costumes, in particular the ones worn at the play Hagoromo, which is a lovely little fairytale. Discover Noh flyerThe same three Noh actors were taking part again, and it was really interesting to learn in detail about the costumes, the significance of their patterns and their lifetime (about 50 years). We then saw an actor getting dressed – with the assistance of three people – and in the end, there was a short performance of the last bit of Hagoromo.

I am very busy these days, but I made a point to have this evening off to go to this event. I really enjoy Noh and would love to see more of these events, because it hardly ever happens that you can chat with a Noh actor about his job (and they are all very enthusiastic about it!) Maybe, I’ll talk a bit more about this at a later time, but I just came home and I’m quite tired and I have more work to do tomorrow, so…Good night!