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?

Small World

Today, I had to take the bus to my weekly appointment in the city. On the way home, an old man sat next to me and started to chat, as they are always eager to do. He spoke quietly, but in a very good English, and after a bit of back-and-forth, he said that he had lived in California for four years.

It turned out that this man was a scientist, whose research was about the physiological influence of zero gravity. I could hear how proud he was to tell me that one time, he had sent his rats into space for 18 days and see what would happen to them. And, in passing, he mentioned a colleague of his, who just a few days ago was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Small World indeed…

Too Cold

I haven’t complained about the weather in a while, have I? It’s too cold. Way too cold. In September, we should have temperatures in the high twenties, we are about 5 degrees below that. It’s been raining too often, especially in the night, and although tomorrow should be a nice and sunny day, the next typhoon (# 24 this year) will arrive in the weekend already.

raindrops on a windowUnfortunately, weather like this makes me depressed, which is not good at all. During summer, I started to go out once a day in the evening to escape my stuffy apartment; I would just walk along the river, cross at the second bridge and return home. But now, with all the rain I have all but stopped doing that because it’s no fun walking in the rain at the mud path along the river. I really hope this is not a sign of a terribly cold winter. Two months to find out…

More on Jebi

Jebi, this season’s 21st typhoon has moved on, and I am fine – thank you to all my friends who have inquired the last two days. However, the damage in Kyoto (and the rest of Japan) is bigger than I had expected by just looking out of my own window.

I went to town today for a meeting, and along the river, many of the cherries there have lost at least small branches, and two were toppled altogether. Those are old trees, one of the uprooted ones had a girth of at least one metre! More trees were uprooted along the Imperial Palace, and this caused huge traffic disruptions in the city. Nijo castle has lost a number of its beautiful ornaments and will be closed for the time being. A big drama happened in Hirano shrine, which is famous for its cherry trees: Many of the trees were destroyed, together with one of the buildings that was a designated national treasure. All of its pillars broke in the storm, and the heavy roof now sits directly on the floor of the collapsed building.

Hirano Jinja - photo copyright of Kyoto Shimbun

Hirano Shrine – photo copyright of Kyoto Shimbun

Things were especially bad in Arashiyama, the western part of Kyoto city. There, many buildings are nearby the mountains, and the area is prone to floodings and landslides even without any typhoons. The famous Togetsukyo bridge lost its handrail for about half of its length, and there was a blackout on Tuesday evening because a number of electricity poles fell down. I hope nothing much has happened to Nonomiya Shrine – it will be the What’s up in Kyoto highlight for next month…

Outside of Kyoto, I think that Osaka and Kobe got hit worst. Kansai airport is still flooded, and I am sure you have seen the tanker that crashed into the bridge connecting the airport with the mainland. The repairs at the airport are estimated to take two to three weeks, but officials are confident that at least domestic flights will begin earlier. I don’t know how long it will take to repair the bridge though, and people are talking about rerouting international flights to Kobe or Itami (the old airport of Osaka/Kyoto).

However, repairs and cleanup have already begun. Even the bicycle path next to the river has been freed of branches, although they have just been moved aside. Homeowners also get ready to fix things, for example the building opposite of mine seems to have sustained some damage to its roof. So, things are being fixed (temporarily, I hope) in the typical Japanese manner: by duct-taping a large plastic tarp over the hole…

fixing the roof with ducttape

Jebi: Typhoon #21

Not even two weeks after the last one (actually: the last two) we’re having another typhoon! Jebi, typhoon #21 of this season has made landfall on Japan at around noon, and it is the strongest one to hit Japan since 1993. It will move directly over Kansai – Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto – one of the most densely populated areas in Japan.

There have been severe weather warnings, some places were even called to evacuate, and apparently, Kansai airport (which is situated on an island in Osaka Bay) is already flooded. Many places came prepared though, railway lines were closed this morning already, and many shops – even big department stores – were not even opened, as were Kyoto Zoo, Nijo Castle, the Film Studio Park, and other big tourist venues in Kyoto.

As for me, I am home and I won’t go out until this is over. The wind here is so strong that it pushes water through tiny gaps in the seals of my windows. The trees outside my building are mauled by the wind, and there are leaves everywhere on my balcony. I have removed the few things I had on there, but the heavy aircondition unit has been pushed all the way to the edge. Just some ten minutes ago I received a phone call from a friend who advised me to get some water in a bucket in case electricity is disrupted – something I hadn’t thought of myself. Obviously.

Okay, I’ll hunker down for the time being. I hope things will not get too bad. If you want further updates on the Jebi situation, head over to twitter and follow the special Jebi typhoon #21 hashtag: #台風21号 https://twitter.com/hashtag/台風21号

Update at 8:30 pm:
It’s over here in Kyoto. The worst wind and rain was at around 3 pm, but it seems that all in all, the typhoon passed Kyoto by in the west. By now everything is quiet again. I took a quick walk along the river to Demachiyanagi, there are lots of leaves and big branches on the ground, but that seems to be all. I did read that some people were injured at Kyoto station, where a tile of the glass ceiling fell down.

It seems to have been much worse in Kobe and Osaka: 2 people dead, many injured, some 600.000 households (temporary) without electricity. A large tanker was pushed into the bridge connecting Kansai airport with Osaka. The bridge is heavily damaged, one section got pushed out of alignment by a whole two lanes! The railroad there seems damaged too. It will take ages until this is repaired – if you’re going to/from Kansai airport any time soon, there will be enormous delays!


I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but I am still interested in buying a house, eventually. A house with a garden, that is, because that’s how I grew up and that’s how I think people should live.

So, I am checking all the advertisements for housing that are put into my mailbox very carefully. And this is what I got last week or so:

2 million apartmentNot a house, an apartment with not even 90 square meters. (And they may be counting the balcony with that.) It has only two independent rooms, but the living room and dining room (the LD in the picture) is a whooping 40 square metres or thereabouts. I looked up the area in which this apartment is, and yes, it is a very nice and quiet one – opposite of the building is a row of temples with lush green gardens in summer (and many tourists as well I guess).

All in all not too bad, except for the price: 2 million. Not Japanese Yen – we’re talking about 2 million EUR, more or less, including all the fees and taxes and whatnot. And I’m wondering: WHO ON EARTH does have so much money? For an apartment that is 10 years old and shows the typical Japanese “long and thin” layout. Well, at least, here, all the rooms have a window, even though the second one could have been made larger by moving the toilet further down… It seems that Japanese apartments are all the same – not suitable for (western style) habitation.

Going Out

Last Thursday, one of my English students took me out to one of his favourite restaurants in town. It was a relatively large restaurant in inner city, with three storeys of different sized rooms, and we took a small private compartment on the first floor. The restaurant (sorry, I forgot its name and didn’t take a business card either) boasts 100 different dishes, from the very simple kara age fried chicken available at food stalls at every festival to the most elaborate Japanese dishes.

We – or rather, my student, because I have no idea about Japanese food – chose a la carte and ate a seven course meal, together with a large bottle of (cold) sake. I wrote down the name of every dish, so I could remember it, and below I am sharing a few pictures. We did eat faster than I could take photos, sorry ’bout that.

We started out with sashimi, of course, and hari hari salad, a kind of vegetable. sashimi and harihari saladThen we had kara age, fried chicken, and, popular among the Japanese, beef in red wine sauce together with fried potatoes and onions (which were very tasty). kara age and red wine beefMy student also ordered tomorokoshi, fried corn, he said it reminded him of his grandmother who made this dish very often just for him. The most exciting dish, however, was tai no kabuto, sea bream’s head (literally: tai’s helmet). I love fish in general, and tai is one of the dishes that are served on very special occasions when people have reason to celebrate. That’s why this fish is sometimes jokingly called omedettai (omedetto means congratulations). tai no kabuto - tai's helmetAs the final dish, we had ochazuke with salmon. Ochazuke is simply rice with green tea, and if you are served this soup by somebody in Kyoto, it is a more or less covert way of telling you to get up and leave. Obviously, the meaning is different if you order it yourself in a restaurant, but it is still supposed to be the last dish of the evening. ochazukeI had a lovely evening, my student is very knowledgeable about Japanese history, and we had a lot of fun together. I really hope we can do this again soon, he certainly did promise…