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!


Tuesday mornings I have Japanese class. Aiso Sensei is a retired English teacher who takes time out of his busy retiree life to teach Japanese to foreigners. Of course, he would not really say so, instead he phrases it as “we are studying Japanese together”. Lately, we have been talking about complex sentence structures, and although the topic is a bit too advanced for me, I am having fun and do learn a lot of new vocabulary and expressions.

Today we were talking about the “use of adversative conjugations” or, to put it more simply: How to use the word BUT. It sounds easier than it is, and if you think about it, even in English there are different expressions for “but” like “though, although, still, nevertheless, yet, however” and probably a whole bunch more, all of which have a slightly different connotation. We were talking about the following five different Japanese “buts” today:

  • monono or tohaimonono (ものの,とはいうものの): and yet, but still, that said…
  • toittemo (といっても): tough… 
  • nimokakawarazu (にもかかわらず): in spite of…
  • nagara (ながら): though I admit…
  • karatoitte (からといって): just because…

The last two are easy: Though I admit that chocolate makes me fat, I will not stop eating it. and Just because I speak English doesn’t mean I’m American. The first two are much more difficult to distinguish, because after both there should be a phrase “contrary to expectation”, which does depend on the context and the speaker. For example, the sentence: Although I am sick, I will go to work has a connotation of because it’s not that bad, really when using toittemo; and it implies an I’m feeling terrible, but I’ll do it anyway with monono.

So far, so complicated… The fun thing about today’s lesson were the exercises at the end of the chapter: ten sentences for five expressions, so each one was correct exactly twice (the instructions said that much). Since my sensei and I are studying Japanese together, we did the exercises together – and we promptly ran into issues where my sensei wanted to use decidedly more toittemo‘s than was expected… It was quite fun to watch him go “I’m sure this is the right answer here, but we already had it twice, so… where did we put the other two exactly?” In the end we did manage to use each expression exactly twice though. But I do wonder: How am I supposed to ever learn Japanese if the natives have problems already?

10 exercises for "but"

Bathroom TV

Within three days, two of my English students have shared their evening routine with me. And it is surprisingly similar: “First I have dinner, then I go have a bath, where I watch TV, and then I’m off to bed.” And I’m going: What do you mean – have a bath AND watch TV?

Bathtub with TV in front

Photo: SunGlassB on wikimedia commons.

Apparently, there is a sizeable number of Japanese homes that has a television installed in their bathrooms, so that people can watch TV while having their evening bath. Of course, both of my friends live in apartments or houses that are newer than my place, but still – a bathroom TV? Remember that in Japan, you are supposed to have a cleansing shower before entering the bathtub – which is usually quite small with not even enough place to stretch your legs. And still, there are people who take enough time in the tub to watch TV.

I don’t understand this. Wouldn’t that be the one time of the day (especially after a hard day) when you would want to have some peace and quiet? I don’t even understand having a radio in the bathroom, but some people find it practical, especially in the morning. How many of you have a TV or radio installed in their bathroom?


Sorry for not writing in the weekend, I’m pretty swamped with work right now (more smartphone descriptions) and I need to watch my priorities…Things should be better next week, I hope!

Other businesses are swamped with work as well, in particular Kyoto’s builders have their hands full with repairing the damages from typhoon Jebi from September 4th. For example, Kurama in the northern part of Kyoto is still not accessible by railway, and I have heard that the temple in the mountains there has suffered severe damage. Here in town, things are ever so slowly improving. Only yesterday, the roof on the neighboring building that had been closed with a plastic tarp and a bit of duct tape has been fixed.

raindrops on a windowOther things that are less critical will have to wait. For example, in my building, there is something wrong with the drain pipe at the building entrance. The water does not drain through the pipe anymore, but it accumulates somewhere and finally seeps through the walls. This has been going on for a couple of months now, it is not related to Jebi. However, there are no builders to be had right now to fix the problem, even though I hope something will be done quickly. Just the thought of having to replace the whole roof there because there is more serious underlying damage annoys me. I have talked to several people in the house, and I have been assured that the property management is aware of the issue and has taken steps – even if that step means that we will have to wait until somebody is not busy elsewhere anymore. We’ll see how long it will take in the end.

Toni Toni

It was a wonderful day today, bright and sunny, just what I needed after a month of typhoon-induced rain! So I decided to take a bit of a time-out after my Japanese class and walk around the area a bit. And I went into the Toni Toni, the “Festival of the Ages Building” right next to Heian Shrine. It is a modern, steel reinforced concrete building with two storeys, but it looks like an old wooden house with white walls and dark wood beams and windows. It was built as a shopping mall and food court, and the location is well-chosen since there are barely any shops or restaurants in that area, and Heian Shrine is quite popular.

The building is brand new, it opened only last December, and I had been there two or three times before. But something felt out of place this time. There were hardly any customers around and some of the places I had noticed or shopped at before have already closed again, like the nice gyoza restaurant that would offer sake all day long… The whole feeling was rather sterile, unfortunately, and the prices for food were quite steep, which means that the rents for the shops must be outrageous.

I wonder how many people come to the place. Last time I was there, the guy from the gyoza shop complained that they would have to close already at 18:00, so no evening customers coming out of the theatre next door. And I know that many people visiting Heian Shrine come there with buses, I would guess that they have limited time for shopping, and definitely none for eating, even though takeout is possible.

And then again, maybe I just came at the wrong time. I was noon, where most bus tourists probably have lunch elsewhere. There are no big companies nearby whose employees would come for a quick bite. And there may be more tourists in the weekends too. Still, it appears that even in Kyoto, even in a very touristy spot like this, some things don’t work. Or at least: they will take quite some time to take off properly. Maybe things will be different by the time the 2020 Olympics come along?