Winding Down

Pumpkin looking cute in his kitty bed in my office.

Another year (almost) over! One year and three weeks in which I’ve been living here, and Pumpkin celebrated his “Gotcha Day” just last week. So, it’s our second Christmas together in the new house, and I’m hoping that many more will follow!

Looking back, there were no more big changes for me this year (they all happened in 2021 already). So, 2022 was more a year of tranquillity and settling in to the new normal. I guess there will be smaller ongoing improvements to the house and my life (hopefully), but I don’t expect any massive upheavals in the near future.

The benefits of middle age. Or should I call it “the boredom”?

In any case, I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll have wonderful holidays too – and I’ll see you again next year!

Cold Winter

Kyoto got pretty cold in the last few days, and Pumpkin and I are making adjustments. Since the end of November, I’ve been sleeping in the slightly smaller living room I’ve showed you recently because it’s easier to heat even if I don’t use the air-conditioner that’s there. In the summer, I have discovered that the two large rooms upstairs have amado shutters. And although they are pretty thin and made from metal, I’m closing them now when it gets dark outside. I have no idea if this is actually making a difference, and I shall investigate. In any case, the neighbours all close their amado as well. It may be for privacy reasons only, though.

Pumpkin does cause a slight problem with respect to keeping the bedroom warm during the night: Pumpkin wants in. And out. So I have to keep the door open a little, so he can eat or use the toilet, and with the rest of the house cold and unheated as well, there’s not much I can do to make the bedroom warmer. Last year, a friend of mine suggested using a sleeping bag on those icy nights, and honestly, I am considering it.

During the day, it’s not much better; the other day it was 6 degrees when I got up. It takes all day to heat up my office (9 square meters only) to around 20 degrees, and when this is done, it’s time for bed… Pumpkin doesn’t mind much, he is sleeping all day in the kitty bed that I placed in my office shelf. I lined it with an electric heating mat, and on top of him there’s a blanket as well. Sometimes I wish there was somebody to take care of me that way…

Bad Decisions

Sorry for not writing on Sunday, a single decision on Thursday laid me flat for the weekend… But let’s start at the beginning:

On Thursday afternoon, I visited a concert at Yasaka Shrine (Bati-Holic again, yay!) with a friend of mine (who enjoyed the concert quite a bit too). As it is this time of the year, I afterwards went to the Takashimaya to buy Oseibo. Even though it’s relatively early to do that, I had to wait for 90 minutes to do the actual ordering. So, down to the basement’s food court I went during the wait for some special shopping.

If you’ve never been to a Japanese department store food court, the first trip there can be quite overwhelming. A whole floor with dozens, if not well over a hundred tiny little outlets to buy edibles. From local seafood to imported cheese, tiny chocolates to cakes in several tiers, cold bento and hot chicken wings, teas, coffees, alcohol… Whatever you could possibly want, you’ll find it there.

And I found there some chocolates and Korean-style pancakes with seafood. I love those chichimi as they are called in Japan as it reminds me of good times in Korea. They came complete with sauce, and were the perfect dinner after half a day out.

Unfortunately, they had been prepared kimchi. I love kimchi, but my body couldn’t be less enthusiastic about it… After some preliminary rumbles throughout Friday, I finally spent the night on the porcelain throne. And Saturday, too. By Sunday, I was completely exhausted.

Of course, this is all my fault, I should have known better than to eat kimchi – and fried one to boot – but of course, now I’m way behind schedule on my work commitments. And this week is especially busy. Oh well, can’t be helped. I hope I can catch up again by the weekend. I have plans for next week…

Online Orders

Sorry for not writing on Sunday, I was out three days in a row. Friday and Saturday, I visited the Kyoto Modern Architecture Festival where more than 30 buildings, mostly from the Meiji and Taisho period, were open to the public as a whole or showed special, otherwise closed rooms. And on Sunday, I took a friend of mine to Arashiyama to see the momiji. Sadly, it was the only rainy day in weeks, and we got pretty soaked and cold. We finished the day in a Chinese restaurant in town, and by the time I came home, I was exhausted…

It took me a day or two to get my mojo back, and in the meanwhile, I didn’t want to do any serious cooking. So, as I have done a few times before, I ordered pizza at the PIZZA-LA, a countrywide chain claiming to be the “Japanese Standard”. While they have an English menu, their order form is all Japanese, and it took me several times to understand which boxes I need to tick (and, to be honest, I still use Google Translate for some of the words…)

I order once a month now (the mozzarella – asparagus – bacon pizza is my favourite), and they have recently added a “P” size (for pair, presumably? It says it’s for 1.5 people) that is now the smallest size. When I tried their pizza for the first time, I was surprised how good it was. Obviously, it’s still take out from a chain “restaurant”, so we’re not talking culinary heights here, but I can definitely recommend it if you’re in Japan and need a quick pizza fix.


I’m exhausted! I was out all day, first had a meeting with a potential client, then headed to an exhibition preview. This one was especially interesting, paintings by Okoku Konoshima, a rediscovered painter of the Meiji through early Showa periods. He is best known for his life-like animal paintings, but this exhibition focuses on his landscapes. He travelled extensively throughout Japan, and after a long period of sketching, he turned to landscape paintings in a traditional style, which he modernized and made his very own.

While the exhibition itself was lovely and already showed a number of large folding screens, the highlight was a special opening of Nanyoin, one of the subtemples of Nanzen-ji. All the fusuma paintings in its abbot quarters were painted by Konoshima, and each room has a special theme that is often revealed only at second glance. I will write a bit more about Konoshima and his art this weekend. For now, just the garden of Nanyoin. Pity you can’t hear the waterfall in the background.

My Art Week

Sorry for not writing last week, I was pretty busy with work – and with art exhibitions.

On Thursday, instead of English class, we went to one of my student’s exhibition of water colors. She is taking lessons from a teacher who focuses on flowers, and this was a joint exhibition of all his students’ and his own art work. I was impressed with how realistic the paintings were. At times like these, I wish I could do anything even close to that…

Saturday, a friend from Tokyo visited for this year’s Art Kyoto, where invited galleries exhibit the (latest) works of their artists. My friend came down specifically to see Clifton Karhu, but there was some miscommunication since it was his son’s work that was shown. However, we were not disappointed. There was a great mix of internationally renowned artists and rather new ones, and we found interesting pieces in either group.

The only thing neither of us really got into was the purely digital art. Some of these pieces had attractive colors, but I wouldn’t want to put something that is always moving into my living room or office, where it would be a constant drain on my attention (not to mention increase my energy bill). And let’s not get started on NFTs…

On Sunday, my friend and I went to a contrast program in Daitoku-ji temple: strictly gardens, baby. But before I even arrived, my friend got lured into a kintsugi gallery. Kintsugi is the art of fixing broken ceramics with lacquer and gold, and my friend has been learning kintsugi for a while now. Anyway, we spent about an hour talking to the kintsugi master in his gallery. He is also the head of a nonprofit to try and revive traditional crafts that are the basis for other crafts. Think of making brushes or tools, harvesting lacquer, producing gold dust… It was very interesting, and I’ll try to find out more about this. I shall report my findings here.

Historic Research

Yesterday, there was a talk about “Kyoto’s festivals and events in October” to which I was invited. At first, I was reluctant to go – this is complex stuff with advanced vocabulary – but it turned out alright, thanks to the many photos and a bit of background knowledge I had gathered over the years. I was able to understand the gist of the talk, and it was fun, too.

Directly afterwards was another talk, and since there was no break, I felt it was rude just to leave, so I was a bit annoyed at first that I was forced to stay. With the handout we all got at the beginning consisting mostly of text, I didn’t expect to understand anything.

However, this talk turned out to be extremely interesting. When you look at a map of Kyoto, you may notice that Oike, Horikawa and Gojo dori around the city center are significantly wider than any of the other streets in Kyoto. The reason for this is that they were artificially widened during WWII, when people were worried about air-raids and resulting large-scale fires. At the time, Kyoto still had mainly wooden buildings, especially in the old part of town in the center. So, the above mentioned streets were broadened – Oike dori from some 20 to now 50 meters – and together with Kamogawa river, they still create a rectangle around what was then the most populated part of Kyoto.

Looking down Oike dori towards Karasuma dori
Oike dori during Gion Matsuri.

This is especially obvious at the crossing of Oike – Horikawa streets, where these two huge roads dwindle into nothing towards the north and west, in the case of Oike dori immediately behind the crossing. And on photos of Gojo dori in that area, you can clearly see that the northern side still has a number of old, wooden houses, while the southern side consists of mostly new(ish) apartment buildings. Also, according to the talk yesterday, what is now the pavement on the north side was once the entirety of Gojo street.

I had indeed noticed the abrupt ending of the broad Oike dori at Horikawa before, but never questioned the why. I mean, it’s Japan, don’t they do all sorts of weird stuff? Knowing the reason behind this makes it even more fascinating. And a bit sad too. Who knows how many ancient machiya were destroyed at the time…

Anyway, both talks were given by members of the Kyoto Historical Research Society, a loose organisation of local history buffs. Obviously, I was lucky to understand what was going on yesterday, this won’t be the case in general. However, I hope there will be more of these talks about festivals, they are fairly easy to understand, and as a bonus, help me with my job.


It must be the garden. Or just the fact that I’m now living on ground floor. I’m getting much more visitors of the crawly, unwanted kind than ever.

I suspect there is a whole cockroach colony living behind my kitchen cabinets. Besides putting up traps and keeping the kitchen as clean as possible, there is not much I can do about them. Pumpkin is used to have his nibbles over night (especially in summer, he ate mostly then). So, essentially, I’m feeding not just him, but the cockroaches too. Let me know if you have ideas.

Ants are also attracted to Pumpkin’s food dish, but they are relatively easy to get rid of. A bit of insect spray on their path, and they won’t return. For the most part, they stay in the garden anyway.

I have no idea how the spiders enter the house, though. Attracted to the light, they magically appear in the evenings. The little jumping spiders, no bigger than 2 cm, are cute, and I try to catch them in a tissue and put them outside. But there are others…

One night, I found a brown hunting spider the size of my palm perched on the inside (!) of the fly screen in the toilet. I carefully closed the window, and after a couple of days, it was gone – outside, hopefully. A few days later, when I went to bed, there was an even larger spider sitting on the door to the library. Pumpkin scared it off – or maybe it was my screeching? It was enormous, leg span around 20 cm, the size of my spread hand, and as it escaped over the tatami, it resembled the “Thing” from the Addams Family. I could even hear its footsteps.

So, instead of going to bed, I picked up the insect spray from the kitchen, then huddled on the top end of my futon, waiting. Three hours later, the spider re-emerged and nonchalantly placed itself on the wall less than a meter from my head. It eyed me with curiosity (obviously planning on how to eat all that.) I still shudder thinking about what happened next, so let’s just say my insect spray and I prevailed in the end. Let’s hope it didn’t install its family inside the house.

But not all the visitors are bad. I’ve seen geckos climbing fly screens and windows to hunt. The little fella here has greeted Pumpkin and me on our morning walk in the garden for the last couple of days. I wouldn’t mind if they were to bring their families!

Typhoon Aftermath

This season’s typhoon #14, “Nanmadol” has cleared Japan yesterday. It wreaked havoc as it crossed first through Kyushu from south to northwest and then when it returned from the west through northern Honshu. At the latitude of Kyoto city, it was far enough out on the Japan sea to only cause a bit of rain in the night to Tuesday. Looking at all the damage it has done in the rest of Japan, we were very lucky.

It could have been much worse. In August, we had a number of very heavy rainstorms. One of them caused more than 90 mm of rain in a single hour in northern Kyoto city, and at some point people there were even asked to evacuate. Note that Kyoto’s Kita-ku district reaches far into the countryside, so I’m not sure where exactly that was.

Given that I live fairly far uphill now, my area isn’t prone to flooding, at least according to the local hazard map I received when buying the house. However, during those rainstorms, the little stream at the back of my house swelled to a raging torrent, and what is usually not more than 10 cm of clear brook turned into a brown soup that filled half of the bed provided for it.

It took several days for the waters to recede, and the loud noise coming from the otherwise so quiet stream surprised me quite a bit. At that time, I finally understood why the agent mentioned it several times at the time of the sale.

But now, the only consequence of the typhoon is that the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees over night. Although we still have 23 degrees during the day, and the temperatures should rise again soon, it feels pretty cold right now. So much so, that last night, for the first time since this spring, Pumpkin wanted to sleep under my blanket. I guess we’re officially in autumn now.

Two-Holiday Week

It’s a super short work week, with only 3 days in the office!

Today is Keiro-no-hi, “Respect for the Aged” Day, where Japan honours the elderly. And there are plenty of them. For the first time, there are more than 90,000 over-100-year olds, all of which receive a congratulatory letter and a silver cup from the government. Or rather, a sake cup made from nickel alloy with silver plating, as the real silver would be too expensive. This year, 80,161 women are over 100 years old, with only 10,365 men reaching such an old age. The oldest woman is 115, the oldest man 111 years old, definitely something to strive for.

I was planning to visit a museum today, but we’re all sitting tight because of typhoon # 14 “Nanmadol”, which is coming up the western coast of Japan. There is even an extreme weather warning in place, and when I woke up in the morning, my neighbours had all their shutters closed. So far, however, the day was quite humid but with not much rain. Maybe tomorrow?

And on Friday will be Shubun-no-hi, the autumnal equinox, with another day off. The typhoon should have passed by then, so I’ll just move today’s plans to Friday.