Gas Check

Yesterday afternoon I had a visit from the gas company; they wanted to check my gas equipment. I have a gas heater for hot water in my kitchen, and also the kitchen stove is using gas.

The service man checked the heater for damaged parts and when he turned on the hot water, he used a mirror to look outside and check if the exhaust fan is working. He also checked the gas faucet that connects to my stove, and advised me to move the stove a bit away from the back wall because there is a rubber tube connection that might get burned otherwise.

In the end, he also said that if I ever smelled gas the very first thing to do was to open the windows. I have a gas detector in one corner of the kitchen and showed it to him. Apparently it’s a rather old model and I could get it replaced with a rental one for 350 YEN/month. I declined because it’s not my apartment, and old doesn’t automatically mean not working.

The whole check was over in 10 minutes or so, but I have learnt something interesting: In one corner of each of my rooms, there is a little terminal, for what I didn’t find out until yesterday: It’s extra gas supply! So, in the winter, you can use a gas heater and connect it there rather than using liquid gas which I find very unsafe to be honest.

I’m not using gas heaters and I have no plans of doing so. Ever so often, there are accidents where people are poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO). I would need some sort of heating in my bedroom where I sleep on the floor – and CO is heavier than air… Just to be on the safe side, I’ll pass on any kinds of gas heaters and keep using my electric one, even though this is much more expensive than using gas. Yes, I have said that I want to stay in Japan until I die, and I’m still planning to do so, but there’s no need to hasten the arrival of that day…

Venues

On Thursday afternoon, I usually meet with my English students. For the last few years, we had our class in the “gourmet court” at my shopping center, a large open space in the basement surrounded by a number of small fast food places. The atmosphere is not very stylish, but it is one of the few public places indoors where people can meet and chat without being forced to consume. And there is free water too.

But, as you know, the shopping center is currently being enlarged and renovated, and many of the shops have closed already. In the basement floor, the food court was closed 2 weeks ago, the drug store will follow on Sunday, and even the supermarket will close for two weeks during November. The grand opening of the new shopping center will be in December, no doubt just in time for Christmas and New Year’s shopping sprees.

Anyway, until then we will have to find a new place to meet. Cafes are nice, but you can’t just sit there without drinking anything; outside is not an option, neither are libraries. And while I’d love to visit the Tamayuran more often, every week is a bit much… We’ll figure something out.

Today, we went to Jissoin, a little temple in Iwakura, the northern part of Kyoto. Jissoin is famous for the paintings on its sliding doors and for one room where the wooden floor is so highly polished that the maples of the garden outside are reflected in it. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, and the garden with the momiji is not accessible, so I’ll link you to the website of the temple with nice pictures during the seasons:

http://www.jissoin.com/information/

Another highlight of this visit were two large maps from 19th century China. One of them was a beautiful star map, but because each culture tends to find their own pictures in the constellations, it is hard even for astronomers to make sense of them. I think I was able to see the Big Dipper though.

And then there was the big map of China from 1825 painted in blue ink (indigo?), an impressive piece of workmanship, mounted onto a large folding screen. Now that I can compare it with a modern map, I am amazed at how accurate it is. The big wall is in the north (depicted in brown), you can make out the Korean Peninsula and the Indochinese Peninsula… Again, no pictures allowed, but if you have time, you have two more days to see the map for yourself.

Hawk Show

Last Saturday, I took the day off to go to Arashiyama in the western part of Kyoto. It once was a kind of country retreat for the city’s aristocrats, and even though distances have shrunk thanks to modern travel, it still takes me more than an hour to get there. That means, I don’t really like to go there – unless there is something very special going on.

HawkLike a hawk show. The Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture is holding a special exhibition at the moment with paintings of birds. And to make things interesting beyond the usual talk of art experts, they invited a falconer to come and show us his hawks.

First, there was a talk, of course. In Japan, falconry is called takagiri and it goes back as a sport for the nobles to the 4th century, when it was introduced from Korea. Tokugawa Ieyasu was particularly fond of hawking and put together a string of laws to govern its use during the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration, however, takagiri was mostly discontinued, and today it is practised by a private clubs.

When a hawk is hatched, it takes about two months until it reaches the size of an adult. At this point, the training begins, first with very short sessions of 5 minutes a day, increasing to 10 minutes, 15 minutes… up to 4 hours of training a day. Interestingly, female hawks are larger than male ones, and they are easier to train for some reason. Hawks are flown daily and there is no retirement for them; they have a life span of 20 – 30 years.

Most of the training is based on incentives with food. Unfortunately, I did not quite understand what exactly they are fed, but the falconer stated that it’s not as simple as going to the supermarket and buying meat there. An interesting tidbit is that Japanese falconers fly their birds from the left hand, while in China the right hand is used. Part of it is that most people are right-handed, but part of it is that in Japan, the samurai still needed to be able to draw a sword…

After the talk, we were treated to a hawk show. There were two hawks present, and one of them was flown indoors between two people. After one or two how-to’s, visitors were invited to try themselves (with the help of a falconer, of course). Finally, we went outside for a more authentic experience. This time only the falconers worked with the birds though, but we saw how a hawk would hunt for a flying object, and it is amazing how fast these animals really are.

Hawk Show

Playdate

Last week my friend and I once more went to the Tamayuran Cafe to see the cats and little Yoshida Kyoichiro in particular. He has grown quite a bit in the last month, and although he is still very small for his age (he’s about 3 months old now), he has developed into a very sweet and playful kitten.

While we were having drinks, we had Kyoichiro play on our table for more than an hour, and although I prefer somewhat older cats because they are generally easier to care for, I cannot deny that I’m totally in love with him.

At the end of our playdate-threesome, he fell asleep in my arms, and although you can’t see it here, I’m just as happy as he is!

Yoshida Kyoichiro the kitten

Summer Greetings

shochu mimaiThe week or two before Obon is considered the height of summer in Japan, and it’s definitely hot enough for it! Although Obon is not a public holiday, many shops and companies, especially the smaller ones, are closed for at least a few days leading up to August 16.

One of the traditional “must dos” during these days is to send shochu-mimai, summer greetings. Just like the kanchu-mimai in winter, these are simple postcards with a suitable motif to wish people good health to get through it all. In Japan, the hot summer days have traditionally been of greater concern than the cold winter days.

Speaking of tradition: These mimai once were actual visits to people in the hottest (or coldest) time of the year, but if you couldn’t visit somebody, it was acceptable to send greeting cards instead. A related custom is the sending of ochugen summer gifts to family and business partners, but this is not as wide-spread nowadays as the still ubiquitous oseibo year-end presents.

a summer greeting cardMaybe because of modern air-conditioning that is taking the edge off the heat, the sending of shochu mimai has declined. I am not sending any myself, but I have received some from friends. Just like the nengajo that are sent for New Year’s Day, these seasonal greeting cards are often handmade by the more artistically inclined people – like my friends. The cat really doesn’t need much explanation for anyone who knows me, and the demon’s face is popular at summery lantern festivals like the Aomori Nebuta Festival.

Eruption

When people hear about a natural disaster happening in Japan, they most often assume that it’s another earthquake. And with an earthquake happening almost every day, they are mostly guessing correctly. What is often forgotten however, is that Japan is also the home of many volcanoes, and most of them are just dormant and can erupt again at any time.

This is just what happened late yesterday night, when Mt. Asama erupted and sent a pillar of smoke some 1800 metres into the sky. Mt. Asama is 2568 metres high and one of the most active volcanoes in Japan; the last eruption was 10 years ago. Since the volcano is on the borders of Gunma and Nagano prefecture, it is a popular hiking spot, but the region is not very densely populated.

Still, the government has forbidden access to the volcano as a whole, and is trying to evacuate all hikers that are in the area. Judging from the youtube video below, taken today, the situation has cooled down a little.

See also this interesting article at Kyodo News, which is relatively level-headed and includes a great map of the many other (and so far quiet) volcanoes in the area and a link to the Japan Meteorological Agency and their volcanic warning page just below the map.

Inspirational

I’m back from my “holiday” that I spent at home – and at a number of cafes just to get out of my apartment for a few hours in the hottest part of the afternoons at least. I was relatively lazy last week (up to 38 degrees didn’t help) but I read a few books, did some apartment maintenance (aka ironing and cleaning), and spent too much time on youtube.

I also got busy looking at color schemes for future website improvement and I now have a new list of “things I’d like to do for What’s up in Kyoto“. As if I needed a new and improved – and significantly longer – list there…

An interesting highlight was meeting a friend of mine and catching up with her. The last time we met was several weeks ago at a small cafe where neither of us had been before, and where they happened to look for part-time staff. Now my friend is working there! She spends maybe half the year abroad, so she needed something flexible, job-wise. Interestingly, she was considering another, more corporate job as a translator as well at the time, but chose the cafe after all. She said she had never worked in a restaurant before and wanted to make that experience and try it out.

We had talked before how I came to Japan and how I left everything behind, and that if it didn’t work out, I could always do something else. So, she knew about my journey to Kyoto. And then she suddenly said: “You inspired me to try something completely new as well!”

I am amazed and humbled and a bit embarrassed to inspire people to do anything. Probably because there are many days when I don’t feel particularly inspired myself.

Week Off

Yesterday morning, when checking my schedule for this week, I noticed that I don’t have a single work-related appointment this week. Even my Japanese teacher has called a holiday. This hasn’t happened since New Year! So, I decided to take the week off. I’m not going anywhere, and there are still a few things I need to do (because it’s the end of the month), but I have decided to take it extremely slowly this week.

It helps that it’s very hot as well right now. Summer has arrived with about 36 degrees for the rest of the week, so it’s not as if this is a good time to work anyway. I have a few personal projects I’d like to push forward and I’d like to go out with friends. Today I already visited one of my favourite cafes where I did some serious flirting with the cute waiter (who casully asked me to show him on google maps where in Austria I was from, and even more casually mentioned that he was married to the owner of the cafe. Talk about sending mixed signals?) And on Thursday I will be visiting the Tamayuran again to see off Kyoichiro. I’m curious how much he’s grown.

I’m not sure if I’ll be posting the rest of the week (it’s nice to have a break from posting too every now and then), but you can definitely expect a new post next Tuesday. Have a great week too!

Summer!

It’s much later than usual, but finally today we had the first day of summer! It was sufficiently hot (36 degrees), humid (75%) and sunny (I even got a sunburn on my way to the city) to be called a decent summer day. And there was a nice shower in the late afternoon to cool everything down before the evening¬† – I’m calling this a perfect day!

And it started off well too. I went to one of the museums I’d like to feature as a What’s up in Kyoto monthly highlight soon, and everything went incredibly smoothly. I had my own tour guide even before I had explained why I was coming, everything went easily in English, and when I asked for an interview with the museum’s director I got an immediate “consider it done”. All I need now is to come up with a time and date. Perfect!

Afterwards, I went to a local gallery that has a large rack full of flyers and event advertisements. I only recently discovered the place because it’s a bit out of the way of my usual haunts, but these are the places where I can leave my own postcards for my website. So I went there, scoured the flyers for new ones, and then went to the office to ask if I could leave my own. “Sure,” the man in charge said. Usually, these places have a limit on the number of flyers or postcards they take, but when I pulled out my pack of about 50 cards, he said “oh, just give me all of them, it’s fine.” Perfect!

In the afternoon, I went with a friend of mine to Shimogamo Shrine where the yearly Mitarashi Festival is ongoing. You have to wade through the cold stream, light a candle on the way and place it before the shrine at the end of the pond. It was very nice and refreshing, just as planned. Perfect!

And afterwards, we went to my favourite chocolate place to buy just before they are closing down for their summer holidays in August. We even got 20% off because there are only a few days left and they want to get rid of as many chocolates as possible, obviously. Perfect!

So you see, my first day of summer this year couldn’t have been better. Let’s hope it’ll stay this way!

Ofunehoko

Yesterday, for the second year, I was working as a volunteer at the Ofunehoko, the last big float of the second Gion Matsuri Parade that is taking place on July 24th in the morning.

I felt a bit more confident this year, being there before and most of the things we had to do were the same. This year, the visitors to the second floor of the Ofunehoko house and the Ofunehoko itself had to take care of their own shoes, which was a great relief since this was a very stressful job last year. Also, every one of us could spend some time inside the Ofunehoko house, which meant: sitting down for a while! Even if it’s just sitting in seiza, taking the weight off the wooden geta and not having to stand for 6 hours straight is quite a relief.

Even though there were much fewer people this year (probably because of the bad weather), it was still fun to sell the chimaki and the upstairs tickets and the tenugui… Interestingly, most of the foreigners dropping by yesterday were Italians. Unfortunately, only a single one of my friends visited me, but it was the one who introduced me to the Miyakogusa group and made the whole thing possible in the first place. I felt quite honored that he would come and see me.

A chimaki from the OfunehokoAs a reward for our work, we all received a free chimaki upon leaving – the paper bag that goes with it is almost more interesting. A chimaki is a charm that is usually put up at the entrance door or in the genkan of a Japanese house to prevent evil from entering. Interestingly, there were even young Japanese people who asked about the meaning of the chimaki, which I found a bit odd – it seems such a fundamental thing here in Kyoto that I can’t believe this is not done everywhere else in Japan. I will investigate…