Adjustments

This afternoon, I met with the architect who’s going to help me renovating my house. He went through every room and checked the inside/outsides carefully – as much as he could access it. He did confirm that the structure is mostly sound, so that’s one worry less.

We then talked at length about what I am envisioning for the house, for now. After he had listened appreciatively and even made a few suggestions I hadn’t thought of, he dropped the bomb: Given my (very limited) budget, we probably won’t get everything done at this stage of the renovations. And definitely not in the time frame that I wanted…

So yes, plans will have to be adjusted. Sacrifices will have to be made. But I’m still optimistic. What else can I do.

Speaking of adjustments, for now, I will need to adjust to daily noise again. After a break of roughly 5 months, the construction site outside my apartment has opened up again. The work is scheduled to take about a year, and they are estimating to run 10-15 trucks daily in the beginning, ramping up to 40 a day or so at the height of the construction.

I really hope my own remodeling can be sped up – I already know that I can’t handle all that noise again, and they barely started…

Made Official

Just today, I received the documents for the property registration. That means that now Kyoto City too knows that the house is mine. I am quite surprised about the speed with which this happened – only seven days after the purchase. In Austria, this procedure alone can take months to complete. Most of the time, people are already living in their new home before the official registration is completed!

As I mentioned, this will still take a bit more time for me because of the renovations. Yesterday, I went to the house to take measurements and spend some time there, daydreaming… I mean: planning things. While I am eager to start the renovations and get moving, first I need to figure out what I actually want with the rooms. There’s not much point in hiring somebody to “fix my house” if I can’t explain what I want to have done.

Some things will also need a bit more attention than I thought at first. There are veritable holes in some walls! And where the hell do all those cables come from/lead to? But overall, I’m very happy about it. So much so, that I already left my scent mark in the form of a roll of toilet paper. Not that I can use the toilet because the water’s not turned on again, but still. Baby steps!

Mine

So, this is the “really big thing” I was talking about beginning of September. And since yesterday, it’s officially mine.

A bit of background: I’ve been looking for a house on and off for about a year now. I’ve seen around 15 houses in various stages of (dis)repair, from recently renovated to barely holding together. Finding something decent is even harder if you have specific wants, like sunlight, coupled with a limited budget. So, I’m very happy this house came on the market at just the right time.

Although, technically, it was never “on the market”, at least it wasn’t widely advertised as for sale. Back in early August, my friend Junko and I were visiting another property of a real estate agent when he mentioned “oh, this one’s just in”; it didn’t even have a price tag yet. It took a bit of back and forth on the price on his end, and a bit of back and forth on “do I or don’t I” on my end, but it’s all over and done with now.

A few details: The house is 53 years old, and around 90 square meters big on two floors. It’s a bit farther away from the city centre than I originally wanted (even farther than my place now), but it makes up for the extra travel time: It lies in the Higashiyama mountains in a very quiet neighbourhood, and it is open to the south side, so the living space is very sunny.

As you can see from the photos below, it does need some renovations before I can move in; it was empty for about a year. But these are mostly cosmetic changes, the underlying structure is very good. Essentially, I am thinking of remodelling the first floor to Western style with an office, kitchen and living room; while leaving the second floor and its tatami rooms mostly intact. Don’t worry, I’m going to post more details about the renovations, you’ll probably get sick of them soon…

I am not sure when I’ll be able to move; end of October seems overly optimistic, but then again, I’m not planning on a complete overhaul of the new place, and Japanese companies are super efficient. Wish me luck!

View from the entrance. To the right is the office, then the staircase, and then the living room. Straight ahead lies the kitchen. To the left is the tiny bathroom/toilet block.
Designated office space; overlooking the street in front of the house. According to Junko, this room was used for guests and probably had big cushy chairs in it – at the 4 white tiles, probably? Right now, it’s pretty dark and depressing, a typical 70s home as I grew up in.
Living Room downstairs. Except for the stain on the tatami, it’s in pretty good shape. This photo was shot with flash, so it’s not quite as bright in reality, even though it faces south.
Kitchen. Bright and sunny, but ancient. The furniture is all metal. Well, it’ll fit with the washing machine – there’s no space for that in the bathroom.
Upstairs living room with a balcony – you just have to climb through the windows… It needs new tatami and a lick of paint on the walls, but other than that, I want to keep it as it is.
Bedroom, with view over the street in the north. I don’t know why the wallpaper is peeling, but this is the only thing wrong with it. It’ll also need new tatami because I’ll be sleeping on the floor.

Corona Updates

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finished last Sunday, what everybody thought would happen, actually happened: Japan is on the way into its 5th Covid19 wave… Checking this page, you will see that at the moment, we’re having just shy of 150.000 active cases, almost double than in the last wave. This is certainly because of the Olympic Games, with 50.000 people coming into the country just for that, but of course, if you have a look a bit further down, Japan has ramped up the testing too in the last few weeks.

Kyoto has been under a state of quasi-emergency where the government “calls” on restaurants and bars to close before 8 p.m. and stop serving alcohol. I think they are terrified to place us under a real state of emergency again; Kyoto city has already lost millions because of a lack of tourists since last year. And the number of cases has been steadily rising. Whenever I checked before, we’ve had about 10% of the cases in Osaka, but now we’re standing at roughly 20%. In absolute numbers we have less than 3000 active cases; in a city with 1.5 million inhabitants it’s not really worrying – if the testing were up to scratch…

In any case, I have finally received an invitation to my first shot; next Saturday’s the day. As I suspected, the call center is quite efficient and things run slowly but smoothly. However, I did have a problem with one of the forms I’m supposed to bring with me. It’s a checklist of medical conditions and how you’re feeling etc. and of course, it’s entirely in Japanese. While there is a website about the vaccinations, it uses mostly machine translation, and that obviously doesn’t work on forms that are uploaded as images or pdf files… And because I couldn’t be sure that anybody at the vaccination site would speak enough English to translate for me, I contacted the call center, where they have interpreters for several languages.

I thought they might have a translated form somewhere (the website suggested as much), but nothing like that. Instead, I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with an interpreter who did a live translation of all the 15 questions for me. She was very good and efficient, but I was a bit embarassed to cause so much trouble and take so much of her time. Anyway, the form is filled in now, I have all my other ducks in a row and if nothing serious happens, I’ll get my shot on Saturday. Just three more days! I’m actually quite happy about it.

Yoiyama 2021

Today is the third day before the saki parade of Gion Matsuri on July 17. It’s the day of the yoi-yoi-yoiyama, when the yamaboko floats have been finished and the inner city is closed for cars during the evening. So far the theory, but for the second year in a row, Gion Matsuri has been limited severely, thanks to COVID-19.

Most of the events that draw large crowds have been cancelled, including the two parades on July 17 and 24, and of course, the yoiyama parties as well. However, this year, 12 of the yamaboko for the first parade will be built (or already have been), and 6 yamaboko of the second parade. There will be the usual sale of chimaki charms, tenugui towels and other souvenirs there, at least during the day from around 10:00 – 19:00.

Usually, my friends and I visit Gion Matsuri together sometime during yoiyama, in the afternoon. We’ll be having lunch tomorrow and see where we’ll take it from there. I have been invited during the second yoiyama next week to visit the Ofunehoko. I worked there at the booth for two years before, but I”m not up to standing for 5 hours this year because of my hip problem. However, I will say hello to my friends who are there, and I have been promised that I may enter the Ofunehoko this year again, which is a special treat because it’s not open to the public because it’s too small a space.

I will report on this year’s yoiyama(s) next week.

Vaccination Fast Lane

As you may know, the Covid19 vaccinations are going really, really slow in Japan. At the end of last week, I finally received my invitation package for my own vaccination. It includes a general information leaflet, an extra information sheet about the vaccine that will be used (the Pfizer/Biontech one), a general health questionnaire that I’ll have to fill out and bring along, and the actual vaccination ticket with my name on it.

Since I don’t have a GP I see for my random little ailments, I had to make an appointment at one of Kyoto’s mass vaccination sites. Or rather, I spoke to somebody in the Kyoto city call center who took all my data and entered it into the big scheduling database. She promised that I’ll receive a call with the actual appointment time, but she couldn’t tell me when this would happen. Or how long I would have to wait for said appointment.

However, I do know already that I’m in the higher priority group. That’s because my BMI says I’m obese. To be fair, my pant sizes do too… This means, I might be lucky to get an appointment for my first shot in July already. Still, all I can do right now is wait for that phone call. Given my experience with the Japanese government, things will be oh so slow… But once you’re in the machine, everything will go smoothly and super efficient!

Studying Cute

Wouldn’t you have guessed – our state of emergency has been extended once more, this time until June 20. I hope this is the last time for the forseeable future. The number of active cases are decreasing, Osaka has the highest in all Japan with currently some 9500, Kyoto has 10% of that. The government is stil stubbornly holding on to the Olympics, even though many people are against it. It’s nice that the IOC is planning to get all the athletes vaccinated, but what about their whole entourage – the trainers, managers, masseurs, staff, all the journalists? If we’re getting a fifth wave in September, I hope the IOC will be kind enough to provide Japan with vaccines too…

Anyway, I don’t want to bitch too much. The weather is picking up, and it is pleasantly warm without being humid. It’s nice to take a short bicycle trip right now, and there are a few places I’d like to go and see soon. Also, despite the extended lockdown, many museums are opening up again this week, so there’s something else to do if I feel the need to get out of the house.

Speaking of something to do: I have decided to put more energy into my Kanji studying. This takes a lot of time and effort, and although I’m pretty good at pattern matching, the more difficult Chinese characters bring me to my limits… Enter the Kanji Drill workbooks. Isn’t this cute:

These are for kids in elementary school, and each workbook covers the Kanji of one grade. The above is for first grade with the 80 most basic Kanji. I know most of them already, but I still have troubles writing some of them, which is an interesting problem that plagues many Japanese as well, thanks to computers and smartphones.

These books are super cute with their characters and drawings, and they even come with stickers that your parents can award you on the bottom right hand side if you did the exercises well. I have only seen these books for elementary grades (6 years, covering 1026 Kanji). There should be similar books for secondary grade (another 6 years, 1110 Kanji), but let’s cross that bridge when I find it! It’s good to know that Japanese children get 12 years to learn the basic 2136 “Joyo Kanji”, so there’s no reason to feel bad that I’m not perfect yet.

Wish Fulfilment…

Last week, on this very blog, in a comment to one of you dear readers, I vented my frustration about our Corona measures. Essentially, I said: Oh, just shut everything down already! Well, what can I say.

In the latest episode of the perennial hit series “Careful What U Wish 4”, the government has done exactly that: Kyoto, together with the neighbouring prefectures Osaka and Hyogo, is under a new lockdown, pardon me: state of emergency. Beginning last Sunday and ending, hopefully, on May 11, restaurants, bars, shopping centers, museums… are closed. And Kyoto Zoo. With more people sick in Osaka than in Tokyo (which is under lockdown too), the measure is understandable. Besides, I dare not complain again…

Well, here goes my holiday. For the last couple of weeks I was thinking of going out of town for a couple of days around Golden Week (which starts tomorrow). I didn’t want to go too far anyway, down to Nara again perhaps, or over to Otsu, more a change of scenery than a holiday, really. It’s not going to happen now. But, I have all intentions to take time off from tomorrow through next week, so that’s at least something.

There are other good news too: Just yesterday, they finished the demolition next door. The ground is level, the machines are gone, and it’s quiet again, for the first time in months! I very much hope that they will take their sweet time with the surveying before they tear everything up again and start constructions. I am pretty confident though that nothing much will happen until the end of my “home holiday”.

Yeah, I’m good, for now. Let’s hope it lasts.

Putting up the Shutters

Every two weeks now I have been visiting the Kyoto Tourist Information Office on Kawaramachi/Sanjo to scout out events for What’s up in Kyoto. They have lots of flyers for traditional events, garden illuminations and museum exhibitions, and also pretty much all the booklets, newsletters and papers written for tourists coming to Kyoto. And for the hapless foreigner, they also offer services like restaurant bookings etc. I don’t remember when I first found them, it must have been years ago. The staff are super friendly, all speak English, and over the years, we got to know each other. But after today, I will probably never see them again…

Thanks to the COVID-19-induced travel restrictions, there haven’t been any foreign tourists for a year, and even national travel has dropped considerably during that time. Therefore, the city has decided to close this office, and everybody working there will be out of a job tomorrow morning.

I was shocked when they first told me. Of course, with Europe in the throes of the third wave and vaccinations only really proceeding in the US and Isreal, it’s unlikely that there will be many foreign tourists in Kyoto this year either, at the very earliest in autumn. But I thought there were enough Japanese tourists who would use the service, but apparently that’s not the case, not even now, during hanami. Still, I didn’t expect them to close, but on the other hand I cannot blame the city for cutting costs left and right.

Where will I get my event flyers in the future? Today, I was told that a small space with flyers remains open at Kawaramachi/Sanjo, just the office that lies behind will be closed. And there’s always the main office at Kyoto Station, even though it’s a bit out of the way and it takes me twice as long to get there… Oh well, I’ll figure something out!

As for the staff at Kawaramachi/Sanjo, I hope they’ll find new jobs soon. Thank you for all your help during the years! Sayonara!

I Want to Cry…

Our state of emergeny because of Covid19 has just been extended for another month until March 7. The measures will be the same as now: requests to the public to avoid nonessential outings, requests to restaurants to close by 20:00, requests to companies to allow their workers to work from home (70% of paid work) etc.

I feel like crying, even though I’m very introverted and don’t go out often anyway. When is this going to end? At least it’s possible that the state of emergency is lifted early, but with even members of parliament ignoring the measures, I have not much hope.

On the other hand, the government is planning to start vaccinations of health workers this month, and they have also announced that foreigners living in Japan will get the vaccine – eventually. With a population of 128 million people and me not in any of the groups at high risk, I doubt that I’m due anytime before autumn. On the other hand, once the Japanese organise something, they are very diligent in following through, so I’m happy to be surprised.

Interestingly, only now, a full year after Covid19 has entered the Japanese scene, the government is passing bills that will enable them to fine people who are non-compliant with the measures mentioned above. So far, there were no binding laws, only “requests” to people to play nice (and to be fair, most did). Now fines of up to 500.000 yen are possible for Corona-positive people who refuse to be hospitalised. And restaurants that don’t want to shutter at 20:00 can be fined 300.000 yen. 

I hope the new measures and the extension of the state of emergency will work and we will indeed go back to normal soon. My mental health is taking quite a hike downwards lately… I don’t want to go out at all to be honest, but I did force myself to take a walk at the river this afternoon to see the sun. And I will go and honor all my appointments too – anything to lift my spirits. At least it’s Valentine’s Day soon, so there are plenty of chocolates for sale everywhere right now…