Recognition

Last Sunday, I had a fun work-related experience that I just need to share! So, I went to my monthly soroban class for foreigners at the Int. Community House and sometimes there are new people other than the usual suspects. That’s because my teacher is taking part in a “cultural experience” that allows people to come and try a variety of Japanese traditions, like wearing a yukata, or learning about tea, or doing soroban.

This time, there were two students from Italy who are spending a month in Kyoto, and I asked how they knew about the soroban class and if it was because of the cultural experience thing.

What's up in Kyoto square logo“No, we found out about the class on the internet.”

“The internet is pretty big, you know…”

“Oh, there is this site, it’s called What’s up in Kyoto…”

*joyous squeal*

In that moment, I felt so good. Finally I could see that all that work has some benefit for somebody! And when she said that she loves the calendar because there are all those events where there are barely any tourists, and that she’s checking in “religiously”, I was over the moon. Totally.

So yes, it’s always nice to hear from a happy customer, especially from one you didn’t even know you had. More reasons to keep it up! I just found a few regular zazen classes that I entered into the calendar, and today I have written a small piece for the experiences page about sento and onsen that I’ll put online within the next days. And then, maybe and finally, I’ll get over my inertia and get the page on vegetarian/vegan restaurants up that I have been planning for ages already…

Kanji Island

I’m still engaged in studying Japanese, and slowly, oh so slowly I might be getting somewhere… Part of the problem is that while I’m getting better at understanding, speaking is still quite difficult. There are lots of interesting grammar constructs that I am learning, but it is not easy to get them from passive knowledge into active speaking… At least I am beginning to understand more, so that’s something.

I keep struggling with Kanji though, so I’m jumping at opportunities to learn those, the more painless, the better. Recently I found cute coloring sheets for Kanji, called “Treasure Island of Kanji”. It’s for elementary students and all the 1006 Kanji they learn during their six grades. Each sheet shows the appropriate shape of an island with squiggly “paths” drawn that actually contain all the needed Kanji. The idea is to find and paint the Kanji one by one in different colors, and in the end, every bit of path belongs to one and only one Kanji. Here’s the sheet for the first grade, containing 80 Kanji:

Treasure Island of Kanji

The difficulty lies in the fact that the lines have no real endings, and that Kanji may consist of several disconnected part. So you really have to know how the Kanji look like and what all their parts are. For example, in the lower left corner, I can see the Kanji for book, year, and eye very clearly, and there might be the ten Kanji in it, but I have no idea where the rest of the lines should go.

The biggest problem with this is that you really need to know the Kanji that are sought, and they are not given anywhere. So it’s a bit more difficult for non-Japanese who may study Kanji in a different order than elementary school kids.

It is a cute little game though, and the inventor, Yuji Baba, has made many more card games to study Kanji and other stuff. Check out his homepage. 

Some of those games are for sale on this page of the Okunakaruta Online Shop, but you’ll have to navigate the Japanese to begin with, and I’m not sure if they ship abroad at all.

Reinvited

I am so excited! Just yesterday, I received a phone call where I was once more invited to help out during Gion Matsuri! Just like last year, I will work at the Ofunehoko, the very last float in the second parade on July 24th. I will sell chimaki and tenugui and put people’s shoes away when they enter the building from which you can enter the hoko itself…

The boat shaped O-fune hoko ending the procession

It doesn’t sound like much, but I am really excited! Last year, I met a member of the Writers in Kyoto group which turned out very nice indeed (more about that in the weekend), so who knows whom I will be meeting this year…

Assistance please!

Just a very short call for help please:

Recently, I have set up a website analytics tool (matomo) for my work website What’s up in Kyoto. I have used matomo before when it was still called piwik, and I was very happy with their approach to privacy and everything.

However, with their change from piwik to matomo, something else must have changed too because the statistics for What’s up in Kyoto and all the other sites I’m monitoring have dropped considerably. It also seems I don’t get any referrals anymore from facebook or twitter or this page to the What’s up in Kyoto page, which is possible but not realistic.

What's up in Kyoto square logoI would greatly appreciate it if you who are reading this could visit my What’s up in Kyoto site either by clicking the link above or the image. It’s just to check if the referrals from this site are tracked or not.

Just so that you know, I am not able to see any of your personal information. I have set up matomo’s tracking for maximum privacy protection while still giving me useful data. For example, I only get part of your IP address up to country level. So, while I may see that you’re in Germany for example, I have no idea what city you are in. This is makes it practically impossible to find out who you really are – there are some 80 million people living in Germany 😉

Thanks for your help!

Going Pro

8 strokes of eternity

taken from www.japanvisitor.com

As I probably mentioned somewhere, for the last two years or so, I have been going to Japanese class once a week with a very nice and dedicated teacher. We have gone through several book by now, focusing on the detailed aspects of Japanese grammar, mostly. By now I can more or less survive the daily intricacies of life, ask for help if needed, and in extreme cases where I have time enough to prepare for I am still handing out written requests.

Still I feel that I’m not getting anywhere with my language skills. Part of it is certainly that I am not very good at studying. I do my homework mostly, but then there’s always something to do for work and by the time it’s evening I am too tired or whatnot. I am very good at making excuses!

However, it cannot go on like this. This is my 6th year in the country and I really need to get up to speed with the language. I want to live here, after all, and even more so: I want to work here. My friends are very helpful, but I cannot keep relying on them forever.

So, I have decided to make my Japanese studies a part of my daily work routine. I am now setting aside one hour each workday to study Japanese. At the moment, work has slowed down a little, so this is easy; clearly I cannot keep it up if I ever get another month of 13-hour workdays, but that’s not for now to worry about. I am not sure if I should set myself a goal, like taking the JLPT Japanese test in December. For now, I just need to get back onto that horse again and get my studies going properly again. We can discuss testing later.

Raise

A new fiscal year has just started and: I’m getting a raise! YAY.

Japanese currencyNo, that’s not a joyful yay, actually, because once you’re self-employed, giving yourself a raise is a bit more complicated than just being happy about more money. That’s because I’ll have to earn the money before I can spend it – have I ever mentioned that I am financially conservative? – and it is quite a large amount, as you will see in a moment.

So, why on earth am I giving myself a raise if I’d rather not? Excellent question! Answer: Because I have to.

Recently, the Japanese government has decided that everybody who is living in Japan must pay into the national pension fund. So far, it was optional (even for Japanese as far as I know) and especially if you were self-employed, you didn’t really need to. But now, since April 1st, paying for your pension is mandatory, and because I have been living on the financial edge already for the last few years, I need that raise to pay my pension.

Even worse, it turned out that I cannot pay pension privately (as I had done with health insurance), but I need to run this through the company, which makes everything significantly more expensive. I have now enrolled in the national social security which means I will pay health and pension insurance in one lump sum – of about 60.000 yen per month. Like in many other countries, this is split into 50% for the employee and 50% for the employer, so 30.000 yen is my salary raise, and 30.000 yen is additional company expenses.

In the end, what I get onto my account by the end of the month is the same as before, but since I now pay health insurance through the company, I am saving 20.000 yen of my personal money, which will give me a bit of breathing room every month. Still, it does hurt: for 20.000 yen more in my pocket I’ll need to earn 60.000 yen more each month.

As I said above: yay.

Doing Without

Sorry for not posting on Tuesday, I was extremely busy. I worked until 3 in the morning, had 3 hours of sleep and went back to work again… Rinse and repeat today, but I have to admit that I slept a bit longer tonight. I had two of my regular writing deadlines yesterday evening plus an added one that was moved forward by two days… and two more deadlines tomorrow and a full day of going places too. How come that every time I think I’m having work under control, something unexpected crops up? So much for my “work/life balance”…

chocolate cakesAnd the worst thing about this is: I’m doing it without my fuel – chocolate. I eat quite an amount of chocolate each and every day, plus chocolate cookies and cocoa and Nutella, of course. And especially when I’m working, I have some chocolate to munch on. But now I stopped. For the time being.

A friend of mine has, well not challenged, but inspired me: Every year during Lent, he completely abstains from all kinds of sweets, except for a half spoonful of sugar for his morning coffee. He says it’s not so much a thing of losing weight (he is fit enough to run marathons), but more a proof of concept: “I control the sweets, the sweets don’t control me.”

I found that inspiring enough to go and try myself this year. It could be anything, really, but it should be a challenge. Since I have no problems with meat or alcohol (that’s what many people abstain from during Lent), or even sweet things like candy, I decided I’d try not to eat chocolate in any form until Easter (on April 21st). I do allow myself other sweets, mainly because I hardly eat any candy, but also because sugar is my fuel. I am certain that I cannot function without a sweet breakfast, and given my workload right now (which will remain the same for another month), I don’t want to try doing without sugar altogether right now.

So, I started skipping the chocolate last Friday, and so far, it is pretty easy. I do have some cravings, but it’s not like I’m dying for the chocolate. It’s probably more like a habit rather than a serious addiction. Interestingly, shopping became slightly more complicated. I have my favourite types of sweet bread and cookies, and – you guessed it – they are all with chocolate! That means I stood in front of a full shelf in my supermarket and thought “but… what do I eat??”

That was kind of funny. If that’s the only setback I’m experiencing, I’ll be doing fine. Besides, right now is the strawberry season, and there is always sweets with matcha. I love Japan!

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What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been procrastinating for quite a while now on something that’s rather important for my What’s up in Kyoto website. Yes, I have been very busy with other ventures that actually are paying my bills, but ultimately, that’s an excuse.

What I need to do to drive my business forward is to get word about What’s up in Kyoto out there, to people who matter. Users, i.e., tourists, first and foremost, but also to local museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, hotels… you name it.

So, I need to write advertisement letters, preferably different ones depending on the recipient. And I’m so not good at writing those… By now I have learnt to talk about my accomplishments without feeling impostor syndrome. Some of the things I have done I’m actually really proud of. But these advertisements are different, they are more on a level: Look, I’m so great and you definitely need to work with me. That verges on bragging, and I’m so not good at doing that.

The fun thing is that with all the writing I have done lately, about smartphones and hotels and other stuff; if I have to write copy about other people or businesses, it’s actually not that difficult. But doing the same for me, it feels quite wrong, somehow. However, I’ll have to try to push through this obstacle. Wouldn’t be the first one where everything is much easier once you’re on the other side…

Experiences

What's up in Kyoto square logoIt’s finally live! I’ve been working on an experiences page for What’s up in Kyoto and just added it to the website. It’s about things to do in Kyoto beyond sightseeing, and I started a few basic things I could think of. There are more things I’d like to try myself first, like the river boat ride or the special train ride that you can take only in summer, both over in Arashiyama. It will be nice to make new experiences and share them on the website.

Actually, that’s already what I’m doing this year: making new experiences. Fun fact: When I was around 16, I wanted to become a journalist. Interviewing pop stars and such. Well, obviously my life turned out differently, but this year, I am learning how to do interviews! Every new museum highlight on What’s up in Kyoto has a section “Questions to the Curator” and I’m actually going there and having a chat with them (with my trusted friend Naoko, who is translating) instead of just doing it by email.

They do get the questions beforehand and they do get a say in the final version that is published on the website, so, strictly speaking, it’s not a classic, free form interview. Still, I am very proud of myself that I’m pulling this off and I’m learning a lot of how to let people talk and taking back my own view point for a while at least. I’m very curious about the other people I will meet through this – I cannot wait making more new experiences.

Artistic

Neon Sign Spelling ARTIt’s a bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m not sure February Resolutions are a thing, but I guess I found an overarching theme for the coming year:

Learn about art.

Yes I know, I have barely time for anything right now, but it does tie in with my What’s up in Kyoto highlight theme this year, which is all about museums in Kyoto. Every month I will highlight another little museum in Kyoto, so I have to go there and look at their (current) exhibition and learn about what that is and who the artist is etc.

This is a part of my education where I am sorely lacking. I had art and music classes only in elementary and middle school, there was nothing at all in high school, and although I could not say for sure any more, I think we didn’t even talk about art history. My history teacher wasn’t interested in that, and my German language teacher never even forced us to read full books, he was more of a short story guy that we got to emulate during our tests.

So, I think this is a nice opportunity to learn something new. I have visited several museums already, and I am definitely interested in the exhibitions. I always liked sculptures and applied arts but still don’t know how to approach ceramics or Japanese calligraphy. Interestingly, I seem to like modern (abstract) paintings, something that comes quite as a surprise to me.

I always thought abstract paintings have no … value or no point to them (hard to express what I mean here). But now that I’m actively seeking out new experiences I find abstract art very interesting. They are beyond form and beyond an understanding that relies on depicting the obvious. Some of them completely bypass the brain and hit you in the guts. I have had very strong feelings to a few I have seen lately, and it does surprise me, as I said.

Anyway, learning about art will be my big thing to learn this year. I’ll keep you posted how it’s going.