Paper Addiction

Hi, my name is Iris, and I’m a paper addict. Yes, you hear that right: I love paper and the things that are made from them.

Mainly books, of course. There is nothing more wonderful than the smell of a freshly printed book or magazine or even newspaper. My favourite book smell is emanated by the Springer LNCS (Lecture notes on Computer Science) series, right when the books come out of the plastic wrapping from shipping. The smooth, glossy pages are wonderful, but the smell…

I have met many nerds and their vast libraries, and pretty much all of us are very protective of our books. Every time I see somebody dog-earing a book or, even worse, marking in it, I have to exercise great restraint not to become homicidal… But that’s a topic for another time. Because here, I want to talk about paper, and my love for paper goes beyond books.

I love letter paper and can hardly pass by postcards in the museums I am visiting (even though I’m not writing many of either these days). And I love notebooks. Notebooks of all sizes, of all prices, from the lovely paperblanks to standard notebooks for school, whether squared or lined or blank.

And the nice thing about Japan is that the Japanese seem to share my enthusiasm for paper. Many people still have paper diaries, even though pretty much everybody carries a smartphone these days. Bookstores are always full with people of all ages, and so are libraries. And there are many stationary shops selling notebooks, and: They come in all colors. I love making colorful statements too, so I couldn’t resist (and yes, I did try) getting the whole septcouleur notebook collection:

Septcouleur Japanese Notebooks

Lovely, aren’t they? Even though they only come lined, whereas I prefer squared paper (the mathematician in me, I guess), but they’re still great. Now I just need to give myself permission to actually use them.

Because, the interesting thing is, that while I still do a lot of “real” writing on paper, most of it is not meant to be kept, so I use scrap paper or the back of old flyers for example. I do hope I can break this habit somehow so I can use my new notebooks – maybe I should just start writing more interesting stuff? (I actually did already, but more on that one later ;-))


Sorry for not writing (again), I have been extremely busy the last week (again). And then on top of that, there were a number of appointments I had as well…

logo of kyotogramOne of them was a party in Osaka. Do you remember Kyotogram – the facebook page I wrote for? The department moved back to Osaka about 9 months ago, and now, the department head is quitting his job. He already has a new one in Nagoya – working for Legoland Japan. He seems to be very excited about the new challenge, and challenge indeed it is – whereas Lego is a huge brand in Europe, it is not well-known in Japan. So, as the managing director for “everything digital”, he will be first and foremost responsible to raise the awareness of Lego in Japan.

With the department head gone, the whole department is disintegrating. One of the programmers has already left, “Junior” will leave next month as well to become a copywriter in an advertisement company. Then there is my friend, whom I have met a few weeks back because she wanted to talk about going self-employed (Don’t do it!). Only a single one of the department is not planning on leaving (or so he claims), and he will be responsible to push the single thing that came out of the Kyoto adventure forward.

It’s a pity to see things falling apart. Even I am sorry about this, how hard must this be for the head of the department? I feel for him and hope that he’ll have more long-term success up in Nagoya. Good luck, shitsucho!


Japanese police logoLast Sunday afternoon, while I was busy working, it rang on my door. When I opened, I got worried: There was a policeman with a small file in his hands and an inquisitive look on his face.

It was pretty harmless though, because once he had made sure that I was indeed the person living here, he explained why he had come. Once a year, the local Koban – a very small type of police station with only a handful of officers – sends out their officers into their neighborhood to visit every household. There, they make a list of the people who live there and then ask for a contact person in case of emergency.

The idea is that if you had an accident for example, and you would need assistance (going to a hospital), the police would call that contact person for you so you don’t have to face things on your own. For most people, this is a family member, like a spouse or parent. Since I have no family in Japan, I gave the name and number of a friend of mine. The officer assured me that this information would be kept only at the local koban, and not entered into an online database or even into a computer. Just the paper, ma’am (Japanese LOVE paperwork).

Since then, I have asked a couple of friends whether this is usual, and they said yes, this was normal all over Japan. It is one way of showing concern for the citizens, and also a way for the officers in the Koban to know their neighborhood.

I think this is a smart idea, especially for people who live alone or have no family nearby. When you have an accident at home, your neighbors probably know whom to call, but if you’re collapsing on a trip somewhere, then at there is that knowledge that there is a phone number somewhere at a safe place. Always good to know that you’re not completely alone. 


As you all know – because I have complained about it often enough – there is a construction site next door, where the shopping mall is enlarged considerably. Every time I pass by, I marvel at the efficiency of the work crew and how quickly they are getting things done. By now they are starting to erect the steel frame, and they are very fast in doing so. I took the photo below last week, and they have already put up a new section.

One of the guys guarding the gates knows me already and we chat every now and then when I try to get a closer look. He said that the new mall is supposed to open in December this year, and by the looks of it, they are going to achieve this.

I wish I could be just as fast and efficient as they are. Guess I need to work on that a bit more…

Construction Site next door

Work-Life Balance

I’m very sorry for skipping posts again… I was terribly busy the last two weeks, working for 10 hours and more each and every day, so I’m afraid I had to drop a ball or two. But the big deadline was yesterday and now I have a little more time to breathe – in fact, I even took today off – so I hope I can get back to writing here on my usual schedule.

cogwheelsApparently, my absence raised concerns with some of you, because in the weekend I received an email from a friend of mine who essentially said she was hoping I was just busy and otherwise alright. And then she popped the question: “I was wondering if you have a strategy as to how to balance work and life…”

And I thought: Hey, YOU have that cushy 9-to-5 job with weekends off, mandatory holidays and a fixed paycheck at the end of each month, and you’re asking ME about life-work balance? I am literally spending 90% of my waking hours in front of my laptop and didn’t have a day off in 3 weeks and I am your go-to person for this question? You must be kidding me!

But then she went on to say that she’s taking her work home in the form of worries of the “will this turn out okay” variety, and that is indeed an issue I have struggled with myself, in particular during my time in academia. The point is that I am rather perfectionist, and I have troubles getting things done to the standards I set myself, so often it was a problem of “why even bother doing this if you can’t do it right anyway”. And during my time off, I felt guilty for not doing my job properly, so I felt I didn’t deserve that time off. Interestingly, now that I am essentially self-employed, I find it much more easy to satisfy a client and work to their deadline (and standards) rather than doing the same for my own projects, even though they are more important in the long run.

So, I talked about this to a therapist, and the answer was essentially that I put myself under too much pressure to perform at work and that I may have deficits in my private life when it comes to spare time activities, friends, etc. He also said “Sometimes the psyche sabotages because she wants to satisfy her own needs.” 

The answer was spot on. I’m an introvert, which makes it very easy to neglect the human interaction part (“I don’t really need people anyway.”) I thought about this for a while and then implemented a no-computer-day once a week. I could do anything, just lay in bed reading, or cleaning the apartment or going to a museum, or seeing friends, just as long as it didn’t involve the computer.

The important part here was not what I was doing, but to give myself permission not to work and not to worry about it because tomorrow will be early enough. I think this was the main part that helped me relaxing about work and not obsessing about it constantly. The result was that I am now more focused at work so I can get much more done and at the same time, I fully enjoy myself on my days off.

I hope this is useful to my friend, it’s a bit hard to describe what I did, but I have eased up considerably about work. I do what needs to be done, and then I move on and shut down my brain. By now, I can even handle using the computer on my days off, and even though I have been very busy for the last month, I don’t feel as emotionally drained as before. Good luck with it!


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: