Stepping Out

I had a wonderful and rather busy weekend, now that we can finally go out again!

On Saturday, I was invited to visit a haunted house in the middle of Kyoto. I thought it would be fun and indeed, it exceeded my expectations! The theme was “abandoned school”, apparently that’s very popular in Japan, and a whole basement was turned into a dark labyrinth with black curtains and old lockers. There were mannequins and lots of severed heads with long black hair waving after them, and a coffin with a skeleton as the center piece.

Of course, if you go in there as an adult, you think: Oh well, how scary can it possibly be? But when you’re down there in the dark with nothing but a tiny flash light in your hands, navigating the corridors that get more and more narrow…. and then something comes at you from the darkness… It was scary indeed, and I needed a few minutes afterwards to normalise my heartbeat. Very simple methods, and very well done!

Sunday I spent working on a short story for an Austrian writing contest I wanted to enter. First prize would be 1000 EUR, but it’s very unlikely that I’m getting even close to winning this. I haven’t written anything in German for years, and it doesn’t have the right oomph to it if you get what I mean. Besides, I have the impression that they are looking for something more literary… Anyway, I had fun writing it, kept me sane in the last weeks.

And yesterday, I went all the way to Arashiyama in the western outskirts of Kyoto. In general, I don’t like going there at all because it is one of the most crowded tourist spots in Kyoto. Now, however…

I was there just before 10 in the morning, and I went to Tenryu-ji first. This temple is part of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage, but to be very honest, I’m not entirely sure why. I loved the dragon painting on the ceiling of the main hall, but it’s a modern one, around 25 years old only. The abbot’s quarters I didn’t find very exiting either. The gardens were nice though, and I spent time exploring all of it. They must be fantastic during the koyo, and there is an enormous weeping cherry at the center of it that is surely beautiful too.

Afterwards, I visited the Saga Arashiyama Museum for Arts and Culture again. They have an exhibition comparing works of Maruyama Okyo and his student Nagasawa Rosetsu, both painters of the Edo period. The museum is not very large, but the pieces on display are exquisit. I especially liked a Rosetsu painting, where he shows a single cicada on a bamboo; the insect has so much detail, you have the impression it might take off any moment.

Kyoto's Bamboo Forest, completely empty. Finally, before I went home, I took a stroll in the famous bamboo forest. As I said before, I dread going there because it is so crowded all the time, but this time, it was practically empty. I’m sharing one of the photos I took there, this was around noon time! I’m not sure if I should wish for tourism to pick up again (for business reasons) or to stay like this for a while (for my personal pleasure).

Speaking of pleasure: I will probably start posting here “full time” next month again. I hope that I will finally have something to tell you again, and more motivation to write about it too. Until then!

Neue Lage: 20 Tage

Well, 19 days left of the state of emergency if we’re crossing off today already.

I’m sorry, I have no idea what to tell you. I’m sitting at home except for twice a week when I go shopping and that’s that. I’m spending lots of time talking to myself, but that doesn’t provide many new insights or talking points, really.

Outside the situation seems the same. Many restaurants and larger shops are closed while the smaller ones stay open.When I went for my physiotherapy yesterday, all the therapists were wearing plastic shields additionally to the face masks and gloves they had donned 3 weeks ago already. It makes for a rather surreal feeling, I’m lying on my back, getting my leg massaged while the therapist stares at me from behind that plastic shield, like looking at a guinnea pig. Given that I’m not sure whether the therapy helps – I have pain-free days and others where I can barely walk – I would say the feeling is quite accurate.

I keep doing little things around the house and for work. I even created a special “Big Corona-Quarantine To-Do List” and I am actually getting things done. I’m mighty proud of myself. Other than that, I’m counting the days. Mostly because I hope my general outlook will improve again. Hopefully.

Extension

Just as expected, Japan’s government has extended the national state of emergency until the end of May. That’s what we know for now; there will be a review of the situation around May 15. It seems that there are discussions about opening some public venues sooner, like museums and libraries etc. if measures for disinfection and social distancing can be maintained. We’ll see.

For now, things are very quiet still, but then again, it’s Golden Week now anyway. Many temples are closed, but smaller shrines work as usual. Last week I visited Kenkun Shrine, a modern one (merely 150 years old) on top of Funaokayama, which is a small local park and fun to visit in itself.

Other than that, I’m staying home more or less, and I’m trying to do some long-open projects both for work and in my private life that I never got done. I am also cooking a lot now, and with a little trick (do the dishes while your food is cooking), my kitchen has never been so clean.

My friend from recent bath-salts fame has sent me another little package: Matcha cookies and waffles from a seller in Uji, where the most famous Japanese green tea comes from. So yes, I’d say I’m doing just fine. Not better, but definitely not worse. For now.

3 types of matcha cookies

Relief (?)

Eight more days to go here – if everything goes according to plan. I can tell you that although I’m an introvert, not going out for anything more than shopping is becoming difficult. I guess I’m just not the kind of person I’d like to spend a lot of time with…

Also, even though I’m not the most active of all people, I notice that this forced inactivity is taking its toll, physically. It’s all that sitting in front of the laptop that’s not doing me any good. My hip is more painful than ever and I’m now walking with a noticeable limp. Even though my physiotherapist – I saw her this morning – says things may get even worse, I think she is dissatisfied with my progress.

However, we have agreed that cycling is good for me, so in the afternoon I went out to take a few photos for tomorrow’s facebook post. I went along the river and there were many people with small kids, but I wouldn’t call it busy. Streets are still very quiet, but then again, I was in a rather residential area to begin with.

Many shops are closed, but toilet paper is back! And while I still didn’t get any of the face masks prime minister Abe has promised to send me, I could buy some at the hospital where I have my therapy. Or rather: I was forced to buy some because without a mask they wouldn’t have let me in at all this morning.

Other states deal with the crisis in different ways. In Austria, the lockdown will end on May 1st, but people will still have to keep their distance in public. On the other hand, a friend who’s in Hawaii at the moment tells me that the government there has extended the lockdown until the end of May…

Anyway, no matter where you live and try to get through all this, a bit of comic relief is always a good idea. You probably know these videos already, but since they are so hilarious, I’ll share them here regardless:

Soothing

Hello again from the social distance! 😉

I went out again today for shopping. My shopping center next door has closed all those parts that are not selling food and all the restaurants are closed as well. That leaves the basement floor, where at the cashiers there are lines tracked with green tape telling you the appropriate distance in which to line up. The cashiers also have to wear thick blue gloves like those that are usually used in food production. Besides that, things seem normal. There’s even some toilet paper again.

Unfortunately, Kyoto’s libraries are closed too until May 6 at least. This measure I don’t really understand. Sure, it’s best if people don’t go there to sit and read, but on the other hand, picking up books that were ordered online should not pose too much a risk for the staff? I was planning to read another one of Eiji Yoshikawa’s historical tomes (about Miyamoto Musashi), but I will have to postpone it.

A friend of mine was so kind to send me a whole stash of bath salts in different flavours. She said it’s important to relax and take it easy… I guess that’s exactly what I’m going to do now!

13 packs of bath salts

State of Emergency II

Yesterday, the Japanese government has finally stepped up and extended the state of emergency to the whole country until at least May 6. The number of Corona infections have been increasing steadily, in particular in “open” prefectures, mostly because of people travelling there.

woman wearing a surgical maskWhat does that mean for me? I am not sure, honestly. There is no official curfew, people are simply “asked” to stay at home. More and more places are closing for the time being, even some temples have closed for visitors. As it seems now, even the two main parades of Gion Matsuri have been cancelled, and those are in July! But then again, they attracted more than 120,000 visitors last year, so it’s probably a good idea.

I went to town yesterday to get my sewing machine fixed (giving me something to do in my isolation) and the difference to the Kyoto I know is striking. Bus and subway are deserted, the streets are very quiet, and the few people who do go out all wear face masks. Even I did, if only out of respect for those I meet. All kinds of stores are closed, from the big department stores to tiny ones, while at others it’s business as usual. This “we do what we think is right” feels rather haphazard.

Social distancing is obvious everywhere too: People spread out on the subway, except for that one creepy old guy I saw who absolutely HAD to seat himself between the two young girls instead of choosing any of the free seats elsewhere. My bank has removed the cushy sofas in their waiting area and replaced them with chairs set wide apart, but the staff still work very closely to one another. The Starbucks in the shopping mall near my home has removed half of their chairs and tables to create more space for their customers, and the mall itself closes now 2 hours early like many other venues.

With society so on edge at the moment, many people with small businesses like myself are suffering greatly and often have to go without any income at all. At least the Japanese government is considering aid for the citizens. For example, it has already been decided that every household will receive two (reusable) facemasks. I will keep you posted about that one.

And now, there are discussions about giving each and every citizen 100,000 yen in cash as financial aid, which is definitely a nice idea. However, I am not a citizen, so I will probably not see any of that money, even though my business has all but shut down, to put it politely.(*) Still, I am kind of optimistic: “This too shall pass!”

(*) If you’d like to help, please consider visiting the What’s up in Kyoto facebook page and liking the page and sharing the posts. It seems a little thing, but the more people I can reach, the better. Thanks!

Corona Catches Kyoto

Sorry for being quiet, I’m fine, please don’t worry about me, but right now, everything is going downhill here, and pretty quickly too…

woman wearing a surgical maskLast Friday, the Kyoto city mayor as well as the Kyoto prefecture governor have urged the national government to include Kyoto prefecture into the state of emergency declaration. As of now, nothing has happened… It seems to be a typical Japanese response: If we ignore it, maybe it’ll go away!? Meanwhile, four more prefectures have declared their own state of emergency, which is not ordered by the national government, among them Gifu and Aichi (Nagoya). Kyoto’s governor is not ready to do that at this point, so we’re still in limbo. At the moment, there are 210 Corona infections in Kyoto prefecture as a whole.

Thus, the mayor of Kyoto has strongly urged people to stay at home and not go out unless absolutely necessary. Essentially all events have been cancelled, all four big department stores and most museums are closed, and even hotels will be shutting down in the next days. The Kyoto bus and subway systems had 70% fewer passengers last Sunday than usual and will shut down a number of lines that are geared towards tourists. I have seen photos of Shijo street taken last Sunday, where it’s essentially empty – Shijo dori between Yasaka shrine and Horikawa dori is one of the busiest shopping streets in Kyoto, usually.

So yeah… my business has essentially shut down too. Although some smaller events are still taking place, it’s a bit hard to tell people to go out at the moment… So, I have decided to ditch my usual daily event tips on facebook and take people on a “virtual tour” through Kyoto while everything is shut down. If you want to come along every day at 8, have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/whatsupinkyoto/

Other than this, I have given myself permission to take it extremely easy with respect to work. I have plenty of smaller things to do that keep falling by the wayside (both for work and privately), but honestly, it’s been hard to keep my motivation up the last weeks already. And it’s not going to get better… At least the prospect of writing for the “virtual tour” excites me, so that’s good.

Other than that… I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with the blog here. Surely, you already have enough about people whining about Corona, so I don’t need to add to this. Maybe I should be taking it easy here too? I’m not sure… We’ll see how much writing motivation I can muster each day.

State of Emergency

Corona Virus and no end in sight… depending on the country you live in, of course. While Austria is set to slowly return to the “old normal” after Easter, other countries are upgrading their Antivirus measures. From today, the Japanese government has declared a state of emergency in six regions until the end of the Golden Week holidays: Tokyo and the surrounding regions of Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba, Fukuoka prefecture in Kyushu, as well as Osaka and the neighboring Hyogo prefecture. The last two are just south of Kyoto.

What that means is that the regional government can now “request” (meaning: demand) that people stay home as much as possible, that schools, shops, restaurants and other public venues close, and that companies “thoroughly implement infection control measures” whatever that means in detail. This rather drastic measure comes after a jump in the number of infected people, and if you ever went by train in Tokyo or Osaka, or even just watched a video about rush hour there, you understand why the government is getting more and more anxious about the whole thing.

Although Kyoto is less than an hour away from Osaka, the city/prefecture is not included in the state of emergency. But then again, schools and universities remain closed for the time being, many museums, especially the larger ones owned by city government, are closed (again), and lots of popular events like the lightups for hanami and even Aoi Matsuri in May have been cancelled.

While things are going more or less normal at my work, at the moment, I’m spending more time checking the status of old events in my calendar than actually adding new ones. Seeing all the bright red “cancelled” notices in the What’s up in Kyoto event calendar is rather depressing, honestly.

I guess Corona/Covid19 will remain topic #1 for quite a while. Best to stay vigilant, even though I know it’s hard and annoying. In case you need a reminder why all this is necessary, here is an excellent video about why and how Covid19 is different from the flu. Stay healthy!

Hanami 2020

It got pretty cold again last week, especially the evenings are rather chilly these days. Sadly, right now would be the best time to see the sakura… Yesterday it was pouring all day just like during the rainy season, so that was the end of the cherry blossoms nearby my home at least.

On top of that, the friend I wanted to do hanami with had to stay home and take care of her sick cat. Hime-chan was an elderly Siamese cat my friend had since autumn last year, and she had kidney problems from the very beginning, as many older cats have. Hime-chan passed away last night, but I am sure that my friend has given her many great months at the end of her life. 

pink cherry blossomsAnyway, I have hope to visit the Botanical Gardens a bit later in spring. Not all cherries bloom at the same time, and in the Botanical Gardens, especially along the Kamogawa river they have planted lots of late-blooming sakura. So, there may be an opportunity for a little hanami after all.

Yes…Noh

Just as promised in my last post, I went to the Yes…Noh event at Murin-an garden last week with a friend of mine. My friend was semi-happy about it, since she is not really into Noh, but she likes the garden, so this was a good compromise. And I had fun, even though the Noh was not quite as I expected.

yes...nohI thought that maybe we’ll see a few scenes with a fully dressed actor, but no, it was a su-utai performance. Here, the actor sings his role (or part of it) but there is no accompanying music, no costumes, no mask. The only accessory he has is his fan. This kind of performance feels very raw, and because of the venue it was very intimate too. The actor sat in one of the rooms of Murin-an and sang  while looking out into the garden. And for two more acts, he stood in the garden and performed there.

We got a short introduction to the play the songs were taken from, it was Yuya, suitable for the sakura season. The play was well-chosen, not just to fit the season, but it also is set nearby, at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera temple. Like many of the Noh plays based on the Heike Monogatari, it is said to have a true core. Anyway, here is a summary of Yuya:

Yuya is a concubine to Taira no Munemori, one of the most powerful men in the country. She receives word that her mother is sick and begs to return home. But Munemori refuses twice, he wants her to be present at a cherry blossom viewing. There, a little rain makes the cherry blossoms fall, Yuya composes a poem on the fly and Munemori finally relents and lets her go.

A lovely sentimental play for a lovely time of the year (even though Murin-an is not famous for its cherry blossoms…) And there’s more to come: Apparently, this is now a monthly feature event at Murin-an. I’m looking forward to more!