Opportunities

What's up in Kyoto square logoI have been very busy with moving What’s up in Kyoto to the next level. So far, I did all of that work on that website for free, a very time-consuming hobby indeed. But now I am gearing up to allow advertising on the site, and a friend of mine has helped me draft some letters for various businesses that I’ll get translated into Japanese and then start sending off in the hope of getting some income.

Also, I have devised a cunning plan to drive more visitors to the website, but I’ll need to do a little bit more research on this one. Essentially it is involving all the international conferences that are organised locally by universities; scientists are curious and would appreciate a list of things to do in Kyoto, I’m sure.

On top of that, to bridge the money chasm while I’m waiting for all those advertisements to come in, I have applied for a writer’s position at a local English magazine geared towards foreign visitors. That was some two months ago, and: I received a no.

However, I still went there today for an interview. The people in charge were impressed with the What’s up in Kyoto website and all the other experience I have concerning social media and online publishing, so they are considering me as their new, actually: their very first webmistress!

Their current website and online presence has been quite neglected, and we were talkingĀ  how to put it on better feet for now. I left with a good feeling and quite some excitement about me getting to learn all sorts of new things. And I kinda sorta got invited to their next staff meeting. Does that mean that I’m hired already?

Giving Up

A Man presses a "reject" buttionEven though I kept trying many times, I had to realise this morning that I’m not a fashion expert. Not even a fashion person. And definitely not a fashion writer.

You may know that I regularly write articles for various online businesses. To name a few, I have written about smartphones, doctors, hotels… This is all managed by another company for whom I work freelance, and they keep sending me invitations for new projects.

The way this works is that you need to sign up, you get invitations for a project. If you like the project, you send a writing sample (usually according to a given brief), and if you are chosen to work on the project, you will get all the further details. And payment further down the line.

Several times now, I have tried to get work writing for fashion brands or retailers online. I do not know anything about fashion, but I did write very successfully about smartphones without owning one, so I thought this would be in the same category. Well, I never got picked, and this morning I finally understood why.

As the test, I had to write a 300-word article about a well-known fashion brand. And, being me, I took the nerdy approach: a bit of history, a bit of innovations, a bit of types of clothes and a bit about the big-name designers they currently work with. I wrote it last night and let it sit, which is always a good idea when it comes to this type of writing, at least in the beginning.

This morning, I went online to a link I was given, and all the way down, there was an introduction to the brand. (Before you ask why I need to write this when it’s already there, I guess they are regularly updating the writing on the pages to make it seem more dynamic?) And that intro took the fashionista approach, talking about shoes and hoodies and leggings and sportswear and bras and socks and caps and backpacks and accessories and of course that it will feel wonderful when you wear it.

Note that this was on the bottom of a page already showing photos of all these things (minus the wonderful feelings of course) plus: the writing brief stated explicitly not do get sales-y. There were two sentences unique about the brand (one of them talking about their latest designer), but everything else was completely interchangeable with any other brand out there.

I didn’t even bother sending in my sample. Obviously this type of writing is so far out of my natural habitat, that it is a complete waste of time to even consider learning the how-to. So: I am calling a strategic retreat and cut my losses. Best to stick to stuff that I know something about. Serious nerdy stuff. Like smartphones. šŸ˜‰

Week Off

Yesterday morning, when checking my schedule for this week, I noticed that I don’t have a single work-related appointment this week. Even my Japanese teacher has called a holiday. This hasn’t happened since New Year! So, I decided to take the week off. I’m not going anywhere, and there are still a few things I need to do (because it’s the end of the month), but I have decided to take it extremely slowly this week.

It helps that it’s very hot as well right now. Summer has arrived with about 36 degrees for the rest of the week, so it’s not as if this is a good time to work anyway. I have a few personal projects I’d like to push forward and I’d like to go out with friends. Today I already visited one of my favourite cafes where I did some serious flirting with the cute waiter (who casully asked me to show him on google maps where in Austria I was from, and even more casually mentioned that he was married to the owner of the cafe. Talk about sending mixed signals?) And on Thursday I will be visiting the Tamayuran again to see off Kyoichiro. I’m curious how much he’s grown.

I’m not sure if I’ll be posting the rest of the week (it’s nice to have a break from posting too every now and then), but you can definitely expect a new post next Tuesday. Have a great week too!

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.Ā 

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 šŸ˜‰

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!