Ancestors

I have another one of my “pick up” stories for you today: Craving some katsudon, I went to lunch to one of my favourite “fast food” places nearby. Usually, I do some writing while I’m waiting for the food to arrive. However, I had spent all morning at the doctor’s (long story for next week) where I expected a long wait, so I had a book with me and started reading. When the food came, I plopped it next to me on the bench.

Cue the two ladies sitting at the table next to me, taking an interest in the book – quite a tome – and, as happened so often before, they were chatting me up. The usual questions ensue: Where are you from? How long have you been here? What are you doing? What’s your name? I answered all their questions and to the final one, I returned: “And what’s your name?”

I was surprised at the answer, it was a name I had never heard before, and I said as much. The older one of the two women proceeded to tell me how all three of her nieces had been Saio-dai (imperial princess) at the famous Aoi matsuri a number of years back. This is an honor usually bestowed only on very old (and wealthy) families of Kyoto, and again, I said as much.

Toyotomi HideyoshiTo which the old lady proceeded to tell me that in her family they had head priests of Matsunoo Shrine and various other shrines and temples; that others had been important producers of Kiyomizu ceramics near Gojo street. And then she mentioned, rather casually, that one of her ancestors, some 400 years ago, had been the personal physician of Toyotomi Hidenaga, the younger half-brother of Hideyoshi. An ancient Kyoto family indeed!

Oh, the book I am reading now? A novel about the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi…

Snow!

It snowed today! As I was hoping, February is getting colder, and although it is still not as cold this year as it could be, I am glad I still only use a single room in my apartment.

When I woke up this morning, I found a light dust of snow covering my view in only the second snowy day… okay: morning this winter. The photo below is from 10 days ago, when it was snowing all morning. Unfortunately, the ground is way to warm, so the snow doesn’t stay for long. In fact, today everything was gone by the time I had to leave at 10:00. There was still some snow at the Daimonji mountain nearby in the afternoon, but I’m sure it will be gone by tomorrow.

Anyway, here is my obligatory snow picture for this winter.

Snowy view February 2020

4 Tenor Madness

Just like everybody else, I have this love/hate relationship with my job. Yes, even though I do what I want by being self-employed, I still have to do things I don’t like so much. And then, of course, there are the perks…

live spot rag logoThis month, the What’s up in Kyoto highlight is the Live Spot Rag, a small club at Kiyamachi with live music almost daily. There seems to be a slant towards jazz, but I have seen other bands and soloists in their programme as well. Besides sponsoring two free tickets for a Jazz concert in the last week of February (you can still win them if you’re interested), the manager also invited me to a concert.

And she suggested the “4 Tenor Madness”, a jazz concert with 4 saxophone players, which I saw yesterday. This is only the second time I have been to such a small concert, where the musicians know half of the audience and you can chat with them afterwards. And I don’t know anything about jazz, and was never and still am not into going out on my own much because introvert and such.

But it was fun. The Rag is very small, and I guess if there are really all 100 seats taken, it’s getting very cozy. But the food is nice and the drinks too, and the place is non-smoking (at least during the performance), which is always a bonus. As I know nothing about jazz, I could only make out a handful of the tunes (“Cantaloupe” was the encore, for those of you in the know), so I can’t say how much of the concert was actually “real” songs and how much of it was improvised.

Besides 3 old hands, there was a young sax player as well, and although I have been told before that I’m tone-deaf, I noticed at times that she was less experienced than the guys.

But yes, I had fun. Unfortunately, there were not many people in the audience – not surprising for a rainy Wednesday night I suppose – so I didn’t chat to anyone. Well, maybe next time.

Sending Opportunities

About a year back or so, Meiji Chocolate had a special wrapping for all their chocolate bars. They called it “My Sweet Request” and I made a point of collecting all 12 wrappings for the HiMilk chocolate that I usually eat.

Apparently, it was a success, because this year again, we got special wrappings for dark, milk and high milk chocolates. This year the theme can be translated as “Send this and an opportunity is born…” And yes, I did indeed sacrificed myself to find out what that means and what it says inside each of the wrappers. Here is a picture of all 12 of them, and below I’ll post the hidden messages. Have fun finding out where they belong!

12 Meiji Himilk Chocolate Bars "Opportunities"

  • To whom is your red thread connected?
  • Did you know there is an island full of rabbits? I want to go see them!
  • I want to be cured… I want to be cured… Don’t you want to be cured a lot?
  • There is an aquarium where you can watch penguins’ walk. Didn’t you walk too far?
  • Tennis, table tennis, golf, basketball, baseball… You can do all of them with your partner.
  • You can do it all on a steep rollercoaster! Take me along!
  • Would you like to go to a place where you sometimes can drink a lot?
  • Why do you want to go to the aquarium so suddenly? Oh, I want to go…
  • The heart of two flamingos is a proof of love. Don’t you think it’s romantic?
  • Do you like surprise presents? Oh, just listen!
  • I was interested in birdwatching. Please tell me your favourite bird.
  • Hey, hey! Is there a red thread?

Precautions

The latest Corona virus from China and its consequences have reached Japan, and 45 people have been infected in Japan to date. While the Japanese people are not prone to panic, you can see that something is wrong if you know where to look: More people than usual are wearing face masks in public. Even though production is at its limit, the masks are so much in demand that they are pretty much sold out. My very own Izumiya drug store has imposed a limit on the purchase of face masks: Only 2 packs per customer per purchase.

woman wearing  a surgical maskAs I said above, it’s not that the Japanese are prone to panic, but in this case, many Chinese living in Japan buy those masks to send them to their relatives in China. And that’s on top of the donations from the Japanese government and even sister cities, and the official purchases directly at the producers.

Personally, I still don’t wear these masks and I don’t see myself donning one any time soon. But then again, I don’t use public transport much and avoid the inner city of Kyoto whenever I can. So much so, that I only heard through a friend about the news report showing the “empty” streets of Kyoto. Hmm… maybe it’s time to visit my favourite places again, now that they are not overflowing with (Chinese) tourists?

On Funerals

In the last weeks, two of my friends have lost pets. One of my friends took in a sick kitten from the Tamayuran and gave her a joyful final week. The other lost her beloved Pekinese dog of 12 years to cancer. It’s always painful when a pet dies, they are a part of the family and often best friends on top of that.

In my family, we have always had cats and it was hard to lose them, especially when I was a child. Since we then had a very large garden next to a big forest, our dead cats were buried somewhere on our property. Not that this is officially allowed in Austria, mind you, but I guess many people in the countryside do that nevertheless.

In Japan, customs are a bit different, obviously. What happens is that there are special crematoriums where you can bring your dead pet and you will receive an urn in the end. Then you can choose to keep the urn in your home or bury it in your garden if you have one, and there are even special pet cemeteries.

Mondrian painting of red amaryllisBoth of my friends made a point to explain that the funeral of a pet is very similar to the funeral of a human loved one. One of them showed me photos of her dead dog covered with fresh flowers before the cremation, and afterwards the urn wrapped in cloth next to a photo, some toys and dog food. This is exactly what happens in a Buddhist funeral, and once the urn is placed in the tomb, the descendants will place flowers, food, and water or alcohol on the tomb at special days like Obon.

What I found extremely interesting is that the urn for the dog did not seem much smaller than the urn was that contained the remains of my grandmother. In Japan, cremation for humans is not usually complete. There are bones left that are picked out by the relatives to be placed in the urn, one of the main parts of a funeral. Apparently, also for pets you receive bones and ashes, although you don’t pick them out, and you can choose which you prefer.

I’m sorry for the morbidity here, but I do find these things interesting. Probably part of my Austrian heritage?

Global Warming

Earth Day FlagI don’t know about you, but here in Kyoto we are having an extremely warm and dry winter so far. Temperatures are like in the middle of December, especially when it is sunny, and even when I am going home on my bicycle in the evenings, my extra thick gloves feel almost a bit too thick. And although I am getting cold easily, I am not using my space heater that often this year; yesterday I didn’t need it at all.

I am even wondering if I should already unconsolidate my home, that is, move my futon back to my proper bedroom instead of sleeping in the living room where it is warmer. But then again, winter is not over yet, and who knows when the winds from Siberia will turn and blow towards Japan.

This year, there is no snow at all in or around Kyoto, only a single time have I seen snowy caps on the mountains north of Kyoto. Note that I’m not complaining about the weather – it does save me a significant amount of money for heating – but it must slowly be obvious even to the biggest deniers that global warming is real and that we need to do something about it. And yes, I am using “global warming” because I find “climate change” misleading and not strong enough to describe the problem at hand. There.

Anyway, I am looking forward to setsubun next Monday. There are fun events at almost all shrines and temples, and I want to go to a new place this year. Setsubun in February is usually around the coldest time of the year, so I am looking forward to not freezing to death while I’m waiting for my lucky beans this year.

Humans, please!

In my newly renovated supermarket, a change has taken place: Semi-automated cashiers are now everywhere. I don’t mean self-checkouts (there are maybe 5 of these), but cashiers where there is a real human ringing up your purchases, and when done send you off to pay at a machine nearby. It does annoy me, a little at least. I always chat to the cashiers, and I have my favourite lady over at the roast chicken stand too. But now, there is barely any time to talk to the cashiers anymore. Not that they got much human interaction before anyway.

And in the uniqlo I go to in town, they have done the same. And it’s even worse, because there are only two manned cash registers (where they still don’t handle your money anymore, but at least they pack your things for you) and another 10 that are self-checkout. Fun fact is that there are tons and tons of staff everywhere, so it’s not as if they are trying to save money, really, not unless staff with permission to handle money are paid better.

I have to admit that the lines in my supermarket are moving much faster now, obviously. Not just because the cashier can ring up the next customer while you pay, but also because there are four or five machines where you can pay for each cashier. I don’t want to test it, but I guess not even during rush hour in the weekends would you ever have to wait to pay. Efficient, definitely. Humane, not so much.

I wonder where this is going. I do understand that Japan is facing a severe labour shortage and they need to start early to do something against it. But going all the way robotic, I’m not sure… Is this hotel below just the prototype of where we’re heading? And do we really want that?

https://www.hennnahotelmaihamatokyobay.com/en-gb

I’m Back!

Happy New Year again! I had two wonderful weeks (mostly) off in which I did a lot of fun things. I went to several exhibitions, did just enough maintenance around the house to feel very adult and accomplished, and finally, I had enough time to do relaxing things.

For Christmas, I bought myself a cake (a Japanese tradition) and I had potato salad and sausages for dinner on Christmas Eve (a family tradition). Presents were plentiful, and not all bought by myself! While I bought a long-needed pillow and a new pyjama, my friends surprised me with chocolates and special Christmas tea and a number of Christmas cards. Even though I’m not religious, Christmas is something very personal for me, and I try not to go out on December 24 and 25. I have celebrated Christmas with others before, but it doesn’t feel right to me; every family has their own traditions and I felt like the 5th wheel… Better to stay home and make my own tradition!

As for the exhibitions, I went to the Insho Domoto Museum to see the “Best of Insho”, where a number of his most famous works are on display. Among them are sliding doors that he painted for a temple. I really like Insho Domoto’s works, especially the abstract paintings he created when already past 70 years old. As many larger exhibitions in Japan, this one comes in two parts, and I am planning to go and see the second half of it as well.

I also went to see the Nitten, a yearly exhibition of the Japan Art Academy and its members. It tours through Japan and comes to Kyoto in December/January, where about half of the exhibits are from artists from Kyoto and Shiga provinces. There are five categories in the Nitten: Japanese painting, Western painting, calligraphy, sculpture and applied arts/crafts. I still don’t get calligraphy, but I really like the applied arts and crafts section. There are some stunning pieces each year, and to me, it’s the highlight of the Nitten. Unfortunately, I am always disappointed by the sculptures. Many of them are slightly larger-than-life nude (female) figures, but to me, they seem very static and lifeless.

omamori charm in the shape of a ratFinally, for New Year, I waited for my Hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine in the New Year) until January 3rd, hoping to avoid the crowds. However, I made the mistake to visit Otoyo Jinja, a usually very quiet little shrine just off the Philosopher’s Path, which happens to be Kyoto’s Rat shrine. Why is that important? Because it’s the year of the Rat, and you’d want to start it off on the right foot (and with the right deity), of course. Apparently, many, many other people had the same idea and I ended up waiting in line for 2.5 hours, just to go and do my first prayer… I don’t think I’ll be doing that ever again, but just in case, I have the proper omamori charm to prove my dedication! (Note the little tail. And the whiskers!)

Speaking of dedication, of course I have a number of New Year’s resolutions, but I will write about them on Thursday.

Bonenkai

It’s December – time for Christmas cards (all sent already!) and presents (some bought) and nengajo (working on these) and bonenkai year-end parties. I have two this year, one next weekend from my soroban class and the other one for Writers in Kyoto was last Sunday.

We met in an Irish Pub and besides the usual food and drink (Fish’n’Chips! Cider! Baileys!) we provided our own entertainment. Of all the members present, 12 had prepared to read from their works (of course) or made brand new poetry or stories. One of the members played shakuhachi (probably a good idea to ask him when I want to start classes officially) and another one played saxophone.

It was a nice and relaxing meeting and some of the people I had already met back in June during the launch of our anthology. I’m looking forward to next year and I hope I’ll have more time to go to events and meetups.

In case you’re a bit more curious about the bonenkai, I’ve been asked to write a report for our website, see the link above. I hope I’ll have it ready in a day or two.