Suspect

I regularly receive pamphlets from my local koban. A koban is a local police station, usually located in a tiny building somewhere in the neighborhood and staffed with a handful of police officers.

Their main purpose is to provide assistance to the locals, like answering to emergency calls, going on the beat, or being the local lost-and-found. Personally, I have once been there when I moved into my apartment to ask directions to a number of places, and even though they don’t speak English (what do I expect), they were very friendly and helpful.

As I said, I receive regular newsletters from my local Koban, covering various topics that may or may not be interesting. They talk about fire safety for example, and one lengthy issue talked about how to safely ride a bicycle without running anyone down. That particular pamphlet did not tell old people to look at the traffic before stepping onto the street, but maybe there will be another issue to come…

mug shot from my local police kobanIn the latest pamphlet, which I received a few days ago, there was this mug shot of a suspect in a murder case. The Japanese murder rate is very low, the country ranks 212 among 215 countries (to compare: Austria is 208 and the US is 94), so there is no need to feel unsafe here. However, what I found funny about the mug shot is that it looks like any other Japanese guy and I would find it very, very difficult to recognise the man (okay, maybe not the one on the left picture without the nose…) And I am wondering: Is this simply because the picture is not good enough for me to make a connection? Or is it that I am too much European and not integrated in the country enough, where all Japanese still look the same to me?

Anyway, if you come across that guy, call the number in the picture. They say that even insignificant information will be valuable.

Kyotographie

Sorry for not posting last weekend – but I was busy. The weather is slowly getting warmer and is more conducive to going out again. And right now, Kyoto hosts the international photography exhibition Kyotographie. This year is the 5th time, and the motto is LOVE. In 18 venues all over town photos are shown that have some sort of connection to the theme (sometimes it’s a vague one, but still).

Together with a friend, I went last Sunday to see some of the exhibitions that seemed most interesting to both of us. Her favourite was an exhibition of a group called “Toiletpaper”. Their photos are loud, colorful, and a bit weird. I think pop art is the best word to describe it.

exhibition of "Toiletpaper"

Original photo by “Toiletpaper”, photographed again by Miss Uda.

My favourite were some 70 photos of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave, projected onto a huge screen in a dark room, to amplify the cave feeling. At first I thought it was all about the limestone stalactites and such – until I noticed the paintings of lions, buffalos, horses… The cave, situated in Southern France, has paintings and other traces of human habitation dating back 35.000 years. It was discovered only in 1994, and promptly closed to the public for conservation. The paintings are magnificent, and the way these photos are displayed just heightens the feeling.

So, if you are in town these days, have a look – some of the venues are free of charge. Kyotographie will last until May 14th, I am sure there’s something for every taste.

Kyo Chaffle

Green tea is a wonderful discovery/invention. In Japan, some 90.000 tons of tea leaves are harvested each year. Most of this tea is consumed either as “raw” green tea or fermented or roasted (as black tea or hojicha, respectively). An interesting Japanese invention is matcha, green tea leaves that are finely ground to a powder and which can be used to make the famously bitter tea for tea ceremony, or as an ingredient for cooking.

Additionally, in Japan you can buy matcha flavoured anything: From candy to kitkat and chocolates, to ice-cream (with and without anko) for example. And all sorts of cakes and cookies.

Kyochaffle with packageA personal favourite of mine from the latter department are cookies called Kyo Chaffle. Those are thin, round cookies with an intensely green color and an even more intense taste. Their “mouthfeel” if you want so is like that of brownies: On the inside they have a slightly sticky consistency, while they are dry on the outside. They are very delicious indeed and are nice as a snack in between – provided you can manage to stop after a single one…

Going Out

Ever since I started my company, I have been teaching English to two retired ladies in their early 60s. Most of the times we just meet in the shopping mall nearby my place (because it has free parking), but sometimes we go out and do something special.

Like today. A common friend of ours is an artist. He makes shin-hanga woodblock prints, and this week he has an exhibition of his prints of spring flowers. Most of his pieces are flowers, actually, and he has a very distinctive style, not really naive, but not realistic either. I had seen much of his work – so I thought – and I was surprised that I could find something totally new to me. The picture below consists of four single prints, close-ups of seasonal flowers, from spring at the left to winter at the right. The coloring is interesting – the warm colors for spring and winter, and the coldest blue for summer.

Woodprints: Seasonal FlowersAfter visiting his exhibition, we went to a nearby cafe. We wanted to go to the cafe “Independant” in the basement of an old, Western style house that was built in 1928 and is still used today. Unfortunately, that cafe is closed in the afternoon for someStaricase to the Cafe Independant reason, but we could at least go downstairs and admire the lovely mosaic staircase. The basement itself is a single room with very high ceilings, heavy pillars, and typical vault architecture – it is definitely worth going there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in another cafe on the second floor of the same building, eating chocolate cake and iced creme brulee and drinking tea and coffee. We were chatting about this and that – just like old ladies like me enjoy doing. I had a great afternoon!

Nail House

You have heard of nail houses or holdouts, right? Those are houses or rather the property on which it stands that did not become a part of a larger development (a shopping centre, public building, etc) because the owners refused to sell. Nail houses is a relatively new term for these properties, many of them are in China and there are plenty of photos online.

Recently, there is a lot of building going on in Kyoto. Lots of beautiful old buildings, many with large gardens, are torn down to make room for a brand-new mansion – I positively hate them! Often, a number of houses in a neighborhood are bought up by a developer to be able to build even bigger mansions… When you are walking down the roads in Kyoto in 20 years or so, all you will see are mansions and parking lots, with a few convenience stores strewn in between, I swear. The old buildings that will be left at that time will feel like a zoo because nobody will live in them anymore, they will be just cafes and souvenir shops…

Anyway, I wanted to write about a nail house near the old place where I lived. The owner refused to sell to one of those huge mansion developers, and now her house is surrounded on three sides by the mansion, the fourth side is facing the road. While I commend her guts to stand up to the guys with the big money, I have to say I wouldn’t want to live like that…

But then I realised that there is an even more prominent nail house in Kyoto. It is smack on one of the busiest corners in inner city, at Shijo-Kawaramachi, and it is this:

Kyoto Takashimaya Building, 2006The big building is the Kyoto Takashimaya, one of the largest department store chains in Japan. It was founded in Kyoto in 1831 and moved to this prominent spot in 1948. And at that point already, the owner of the little house on the corner refused to sell to the big developers, and you can see what happened then: Just like what would happen nowadays. You see, in Japan, it’s all about tradition… 😉

Reporting

When I was about 15 years old, I wanted to become a journalist. Since I liked writing and listened to music virtually all day, I thought music journalist would be a good match for me. Obviously my life didn’t quite turn out that way, but still, about 25 years later, I had my first journalistic adventure today.

Sponsored by Kyotogram (thank you!) I went to the Kyo-ryori exhibition that is held today and tomorrow at the Miyako Messe. The theme is Kyoto cooking, that is: kaiseki: expensive dishes with nothing but the best and freshest ingredients, styled to absolute perfection. It is the haute cuisine of Japan, and prices for dinner start at 15.000 YEN for the cheapest meals, drinks not included.

Since it is December, many exhibits were centered around O-sechi ryori, the meals you eat on the three holidays of New Year’s. Kaiseki already means exquisite styling of the food, but in O-sechi, the bar is yet raised a bit higher. The main ingredient of both kaiseki and O-sechi is fish and seafood of all kinds, and I think I saw only a single dish with meat.

Besides the food exhibits, there were sellers of food related items like expensive ceramics, kitchen utensils, etc. as well as tea, sake, and beer. There was also a place where you could take part in a (simplified) tea ceremony and a food court where you could order some lunch, standard Japanese fare though. There was also extra entertainment: The portioning of a whole tunafish (I came to late for this one to get decent pictures, but I had seen it once before), an extremely interesting demonstration of the ritual cutting of fish without touching it (something religious I guess, I’ll have to look it up), and a maiko dance performance (can’t go without that in Kyoto).

I did not have time yet to sift through all the pictures I took, but here are two of the most striking ones: a seafood rooster for New Year since next year is the year of the Rooster, and below: a fugu phoenix… Mind you: this is not plastic, this is real fish! How can anybody eat this!

A rooster made of seafood. A phoenix made of fugu sashimi.

Hakusasonso

Kyoto has lots of beautiful Japanese gardens, and there’s only so much time to visit them all. Last week, in the peak of the momiji season, I took time out to visit Hakusasonso, a private garden near Ginkakuji temple. I had passed by there many times before, but now I finally went in.

Teahouse in HakusasonsoThe Hakusasonso is the former residence of Kansetsu Hashimoto, a nihonga painter of the Taisho and early Showa period. He bought the site in 1913 when it was nothing more than rice paddies. Until his death in 1945, he worked on the 7400 square metres that make up the gardens now and most of it – including the buildings – are unchanged. Today, the garden is still in possession of the Hashimoto family.

Buddhist temple in Hakusasonso.There are five old buildings in the garden, two small tea houses, one private Buddhist temple, and the old residence that is now used as an expensive kaiseki restaurant. The most interesting building is called zonkoro, it is essentially one very large hall that Hashimoto used as his studio. All four walls have large glass windows, and you can see almost all of the garden from the studio.

Zonkoro StudioNot only did he paint, Hashimoto also designed the buildings and the garden himself. He collected stone lanterns, pagodas, and Buddha statues (many from China) and placed them throughout the garden. Especially lovely is the little hill where Buddha statues meditate underneath large bamboos.

Meditating Buddhas in Hakusasonso.At one end of the garden there is the museum, a modern, two storey building where Hashimoto’s works are displayed. From the second floor of the museum, one can overlook the whole garden, and with the borrowed landscape of Mount Daimonji in the back, the scenery is made perfect. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Nihonga was a special style of painting that combined Western painting methods and ideas with Japanese materials and aesthetics. Nowadays, most Japanese painters work in truly Western style, and the distinction to Nihonga has all but disappeared.

Monkey by Hashimoto Kansetsu

Open Day

Last Saturday I was woken up by loud music from a brass band. It originated from the neighbours – some sort of garbage facility. I didn’t think much about it, but when people started to give speeches, I just knew I had to take a look. And indeed, it turned out that they had an open day.

Well, it is not so much a garbage treatment facility – the place is way too small for this – but rather a garage for garbage trucks. And those were in fact the stars of that open day, which was mainly geared towards children. Kids were allowed to put on heavy gloves, throw garbage bags into the truck and push the button to make them disappear. There was also the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of a truck and have somebody take a picture of you. Yet another moment where I regret not being a small child any longer…

Kyoto city garbage truckIn any case, being the nerd I am, I found out that all over Kyoto, there are 7 such garages, with a total of 188 garbage trucks (mine only has 15), and each truck has a capacity of 2 tons. For a city like Kyoto with 1.5 million inhabitants, that does not sound like very much, but remember that those trucks are on the road almost every single day, with only very few holidays, for New Year, for example.

Back to the open day: Besides the trucks, there were little games set up for the kids where small prizes could be won, and there was a second hand clothing exchange. A few booths with small gifts and food were there as well, and a large stage with various acts. I did not stay very long, but I caught a cosplay performance by girls in brightly colored albeit a bit skimpy clothing. They did not look very enthusiastic though – probably there are better venues than a garbage truck garage? cosplay performance

Daimonji 2016

I’m feeling quite tired these days and not very motivated… Last week we suffered through a heat wave of 35+ degrees each day (and around 25 in the night), and although there was a nice breeze through my apartment in the first few days, the last weekend was pretty bad.

This is quite usual in the days before and on Obon, and today was the final event of Obon in Kyoto: the Daimonji, or officially the Gozan no Okuri-bi, the 5 mountains sending fire. I have written about it before, so I will not give any details this time. The nice thing about the daimonji festival is that I can watch it from my own balcony. I can see the large dai, as well as the ofune boat and the hidari dai from my south balcony. Today, I wanted to go to the nearby Kitayama bridge to see the myo-ho fires close up as well, but things don’t always go as we’d like them to.

The whole day was nice and hot but slightly overcast. That would not have been a problem, but about one hour before the start of the first fire it started raining. No, it started pouring down as from buckets. I got slightly worried, but still hoped for the best. At 8:00 pm, it was still pouring, I went out to my balcony to watch the first fire being lit, and there was nothing. Nothing at all. A few times I thought I could see something, but then I was not sure after all.

After a while, on the other side of Kyoto, the ofune boat fire was lit – and it was clearly visible through the pouring rain, as was the smaller hidari dai that was lit 5 minutes later. I have no idea what happened with the large dai, but I am sure could not have missed it, since it is so close and I have the perfect view from my balcony. I kept going outside every 10 minutes or so until now, but there is still nothing happening, and by now they will not start it anymore I am sure. I will ask my friend if he knows what happened, but for now, here’s a photo from this year’s ofune fire, which is my favourite, by the way.  ofune fire of the daimonji

Saki Parade

Today was the Saki Matsuri parade of Gion festival. A friend invited me to her home on Oike dori, where we could watch the parade from her balcony. It was a nice Gion matsuri party with food, drinks and air conditioning inside, because even though it was overcast and hazy, both temperature and humidity were quite high. I even made the effort to properly honour the occasion and wore a yukata, a Japanese summer kimono – but I’ll write about this experience some other time.

I have written before about Gion matsuri and the parades in quite some detail, so this year I’ll simply post a handful of photos from a different view-point. Enjoy!

Gion matsuri Saki parade - Naginata hoko and 4 moreSitting on the roof of a hokoLooking down Oike dori towards Karasuma doriKamakiri Yama - an alltime favouriteDancingthe final two floats in the parade