Meeting

It’s time to make serious plans for next year, especially with respect to business. The What’s up in Kyoto crowd is slowly (very slowly) growing, and I want to take the page to the next level. First of all, I’m planning a slight upgrade and redesign by New Year’s Day, including a few new pages.

What's up in Kyoto LogoAlso, I will need new highlights each month – and I have decided to feature 12 of the most important shrines throughout next year, or at least: those shrines with the most exciting or fun events. It would probably be fine just to write the articles on my own like I did this year, but since I don’t have photos of all shrines or all their events, I will approach them and ask for information, photos, and help in general. To be honest, I am rather worried about this because, essentially, I’m nobody. And a foreigner to boot!

This afternoon was my first meeting with a representative of the January Highlight shrine (yes, I’ll keep it a secret until then). And I’m proud to say, it went very well! After making a phone call and sending a fax with further details, a friend – working as my translator – and I were received today by a rather young man representing the shrine. He was very forthcoming and friendly, and we could already clarify a few things I got wrong in the preliminary article that I had brought along. I am allowed to use any of the photos available for download from the shrine, and I have a few of my own as well, so it should be fine. The whole meeting was over in 10 minutes or so.

Now we’ll have to finalise the article, including photos and everything, and send it to the shrine for their final okay, since they are keen to have the information correct. Again, this is supposed to happen by fax… We also have to provide a translation into Japanese, even though the young man seemed to have understood me perfectly well (he didn’t let on, of course). Either he feels more comfortable to read and check in Japanese, or he needs it for the records of the shrine.

Either way, the first hurdle has been taken, it was a relatively low one, thank goodness. My friend will be busy the rest of the month, but we have already sent a fax to the February Highlight shrine – no reply from them yet. We think we’ll have a better selling point if we can prove that we’re already working with another famous shrine of Kyoto. Wish us luck!

Countdown

Last week before Christmas, and I’m counting down my to-do list. All Christmas cards sent out, Christmas emails to the rest of the world to follow. All oseibo Year-End presents bought, sent, and return “thank you” emails received. One Christmas present left to buy, but I have ordered a small Christmas cake already. Two bonenkai Year-End parties successfully survived.

One more nengajo New Year card to write, and that only because I had to ask my Japanese teacher for his address again. The others I finished over the last weekend, I’m so proud. I even set up a mass-mail form for all my future business nengajo. That alone took me half a day because when I print them, the post code must fit into the preprinted boxes. I’m greatly looking forward to all the time I’ll save next year though!

And, finally, as of today: 1 more deadline, and 4, maybe 5 more meetings and 2 soroban classes. Year’s End. It’s good things are winding down.

Preparations

Christmas is coming! Even though most Japanese are not Christians, they embrace the Christmas spirit – in its cleanest form: that of shopping! Christmas decorations are everywhere by now (even in the really traditional Japanese shops) and of course, in the big shopping arcades on Shijo and Teramachi dori, Christmas songs are played up and down. I even heard the obligatory “Last Christmas” last week already (thankfully only once so far, I hate that song).

So, I am doing my own Christmas and New Year preparations: Not that I’m buying any gifts for myself (although I’m considering a very small Christmas cake), but I have almost finished writing my Christmas cards already (I’m so proud). Yesterday I was out shopping for an oseibo, a year-end gift, for my accountant, and the nengajo New Year’s cards are ready and wait for me to pick up pen and Kanji dictionary…

Umeda Christmas MarketI’ve already made plans for the Christmas holidays – visiting a friend in Kobe for a Christmas cookout – and tomorrow, always the highlight of the Christmas season, I will go down to Osaka to visit the German Christmas Market underneath the Umeda Sky Building with some friends.

I don’t know what it is, but at the moment, I’m feeling very energised. Two weeks ago, all I wanted to do was sleep, but now it’s almost the opposite. Maybe the promise of an “end to all this” that will come at the end of this month is pushing me forward?

Early Autumn

raindrops on a windowI’m cold. Yes, I know it is autumn and it’s normal to be getting cool, but it is much colder this year than usual. We now have daily highs of 18 – 20 degrees, which sounds a lot for this time of the year, but it is windy and it has been raining the last two weeks almost continuously. It seems that we are now getting the rainy season that we missed earlier this year.

In fact, the whole summer already was cooler than usual. I know since I don’t have aircondition in my apartment. I am pretty hardy when it comes to heat, but when it is really hot – meaning, more than 35 degrees already at 8 in the morning – I flee to somewhere cool. It’s usually only a few days during early August I have to do this, but this year: not a single time! Summer was also often cloudy, and although the humidity was still unpleasant, it didn’t feel quite as unbearable as usual.

Anyway, I’m worried that we will get an early and really cold winter. Last year, I held out until the end of December before I consolidated and moved both my office and my futon to the livingroom. This year, I think I will spend more than three months in a single room of my apartment. My friends’ opinions on this are split, pretty much evenly. One of them fully agrees with me, another one says the current cold weather will only last for a couple of weeks… I wish I could be as optimistic as she is. In any case, time to get my winter clothes out of storage, I hate having cold feet…

Scheduling

A while ago, I didn’t feel well. I had the impression that What’s Up in Kyoto wasn’t moving forward fast enough, which was true because I was procrastinating a lot. The reason for this was a very odd feeling I had, something that held me back of getting stuff done. The word fear comes to mind, even though it’s not 100% accurate. After watching myself a long time not doing anything – and feeling very bad about it – I finally contacted a friend of mine with a degree in psychology and asked her for help. She came up with two ideas that sounded rather counterintuitive:

  1. Lessen your own pressure to perform.
  2. Make up for personal deficits wrt. social contacts, spare time activities, etc.

The second one was spot on! I was too much focused on work (even though there was not much moving forward), that I didn’t allow myself to have fun, so to speak. I hardly went out any more, only sat on my desk, and got worried that I didn’t succeed in business as much as I had wanted to. And being an introvert, I never had many friends around me, and I find it hard to chat up new people to begin with.

cogwheelsIt took me longer to understand what she meant with the first point, and I am still not sure I got it. Perfectionism is not really an issue, but yes, I do have a certain image in mind for the event calendar, and it is discouraging to see how far distant what I have now is from that. On the other hand, things do take time, and the older I get, the less willing I seem to be to invest all that time.

Anyway, my friend was right, and so I made a few changes to my life. First change: I now take one day off per week. No sitting in front of my computer all day (unless for personal stuff), but I try to do fun things like taking a walk in my neighborhood, meeting friends for lunch or coffee, going to a museum or some other event (it’s not that I don’t know of any of these…) The immediate effect was that I don’t feel guilty anymore when I’m taking time off. And my work days got more productive as well.

And recently, I have also drawn up a more formal work schedule. It’s nice to work when you like and what you like, but a bit more structure is a good idea for me. For example: Mondays I manage the What’s Up In Kyoto facebook and twitter accounts. Tuesdays I scheduled all my external meetings (including lunch or coffee with friends). Wednesday is my day off. Thursdays I meet my language students. Friday is the day where I contact (potential) clients. And in the weekends, where I usually don’t go anywhere, I planned all days for serious, uninterrupted work on the website or for external customers.

The schedule is flexible enough to allow for unexpected coffee meetings or a different day off if work demands it. Still, it is nice to have an overall plan what to do on any given day – and plenty of time for other activities in between. I’m still working on the social aspects though. It’s not that easy finding friends around here, and I’m not certain about taking up a new hobby at this point. We’ll see.

Claim 2 Fame

Finally all the hard work paid off – I’m famous! Of course, I had already garnered international fame when somebody posted a video featuring me on youtube… But this time it’s local fame, which is really more important!

So, last Saturday I went to the Nishijin Traditional Cultural Festival with a friend of mine. Nishijin is Kyoto’s silk producers and merchants district, and there are still a number of fantastic old houses in which craftsmen live and do their work after ancient traditions. I have been there three times now, but there are still new things to discover. This time, my friend and I found a maker of exquisite – and very expensive – silver tea pots. And a bit off the beaten track there was the maker of samurai armor, who explained that one single suit of armor would take him one year to complete…

Anyway, the festival started at 10, and my friend and I were early so we could scour the stalls for cheap silken goods. In a corner behind the very first one, there was this guy who constantly took pictures, something I found rather creepy because I don’t like pictures of myself. At some point he approached us, explained that he was a reporter for the Kyoto Shimbun and if he could do an interview. I would have said no, but my friend was faster than me… So we answered a few questions and exchanged name cards. And on Sunday, the oevre below was found in the local newspaper, fully equipped with my name, age, occupation, and photo. (I edited the article a little to cut out my last name and half of the photo).

my mention in the local newspaper.Kyoto Shimbun has a print run of 500.000 morning papers each day. My friend says there will be lots of people reading it, and it may be good for business. Well, people are indeed reading it (I got emails and calls from friends who did), but as for increasing business, I doubt that, since the information about me is too vague for anyone to find me. However, I will contact the reporter again and see if he would like to write about What’s Up In Kyoto. This might definitely drive some business… We’ll see.

Weekend Plans

The following few days will be very busy for me, and not all of the stress is work related, so I’m not sure I should be complaining at all.

Tomorrow morning I want to go to Nijo Castle. Besides Nijo Castle being one of my favourite places in Kyoto, this weekend there is a special exhibition of Bonsai trees commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Meiji restoration. Apparently, some of the trees exhibited there are 150 years or older – certainly something I cannot miss!

Saturday will be my day off (instead of the usual Wednesday). Together with a friend of mine, we will go to the Nishijin Traditional Cultural Festival. Nishijin is the name for both an area of Kyoto where, in the old times, the silk weavers and merchants had their (work-) shops, as well as the name of a weaving technique for cloth, that was used to make kimono in particular. My friend and I have been to the Hina Doll Festival there in March, but we are expecting even more exciting events this time around.

old soroban school, miniature version as toySunday morning I will go and try – again – to pass the soroban first dan test. I don’t think I will be passing this time either; in fact, I didn’t want to go at all, but when I told sensei, he had already registered me and it was too late to bow out. So, despite being very, very busy, I was training soroban for about an hour each day. Sensei said that I should focus on the “additional” exercises – dempyo, anzan, word problems, and roots – this time because those were relatively easy to pass. And if I could pass all of them now, I could focus on the “basic” exercises – multiplication, division, addition – for two times in a row. I am not convinced this will work, but I trust sensei’s judgement, so that’s what I’m doing now.

Between all this I will have to work, of course. And, as a bonus, I will have to choose whom to give my vote in the upcoming Austrian governmental elections. I received my absentee ballot letter today – probably the earliest I ever got it – and have about a week maximum to decide. Of course, some parties are out of the question, but other than this I never felt so unsure as to how to cast my vote. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Business Update #3

logoWhew, I’ve been busy last week updating the What’s up in Kyoto homepage. I have added an archive for the monthly highlights I have done so far, and I am about to change the getting around page about Kyoto transport in a day or two. A page about shopping in Kyoto and Japan is in the works, and I am planning pages about Kyoto sights. The biggest change is that I made the main menu more friendly – meaning: smaller – for mobile phone users, it shouldn’t take up all screen anymore. I have never been a good programmer – I’m much better at designing algorithms on a somewhat higher level – so this took me a while. The sense of accomplishment I am feeling now was worth it though!

Also, I’m getting more active on social media: I started tweeting! For now, there’s only one tweet per week (please follow!), mostly because there are not enough events each day to not duplicate what I put on facebook. Or maybe I shouldn’t worry about that? Also, posting on social media takes up a big amount of time! I am slowly beginning to understand why bigger companies have their own social media manager. The facebook page is also doing well. Even though it doesn’t have many likes yet (please like!), there are about 20 times more people than that who see my posts each day. That’s a good start – now I have to lure them over to my website…

Unfortunately, at this point I am still spending money on What’s up in Kyoto, instead of earning anything with it. At this point, I am approaching mainly local galleries and museums, but there is not much coming back in return. Of course, I am in this for the long haul, but it would be nice to see the fruits growing, at least. Until that happens, I will have to do other, less fun jobs, to keep the company going, my accountant happy – and to secure my visa for the next year.

Affiliation

I have been very busy here. One problem with doing too many things at the same time is that there is the nagging feeling that you don’t really accomplish anything…

One thing I did accomplish is to finish a new “books” page for the blog here, see the new link in the menu on top. It simply lists all the books I have reviewed on here so far, and repeats the synopsis and my review. Every book includes a link to amazon in case you’d want to read it yourself, but: caveat emptor! The links are now running through my brand new amazon affiliate account, which means I’ll get a little percentage of every purchase you make through any of the links.

This is something I thought of doing for a while already, but I always held back. Mostly because amazon’s affiliate program is…. let’s say, not very friendly to anyone outside of the US. It must be a US thing, somehow, because quite clearly they have never heard of something called “international bank transfer” or, worse yet, “paypal”. If I ever manage to make enough money so they’ll pay me out, you know what’s going to happen? They’ll send me a check.

Yes. A piece of paper. Through the mail. Surface, for all I know. Which will cost me a fortune to cash on this continent, I’m sure. At least they are waiving the 15 $ fee they would charge, because without an American bank account, this is the only way to get paid. Except for an amazon gift card, which is not  optimal either. The main reason I signed up for the affiliate program after all is that many of my readers are from the EU, and there I can transfer the money to my account in Austria. That’s the reason why – if you click on a link – you should be redirected to whereever the “closest” amazon store is to your computer’s location.

Not that there will be any of that anytime soon. A book sale earns a commission of 4%. With a standard price of a paperback of say, 10 $ or EUR, one book sale will earn me 40 cents. And with the minimum payout per check of 100 $ or EUR, that makes a sales volume of 250 books. I guess I can expect that first check from the US by the time I’m retiring. Maybe I shouldn’t make big plans for the money just yet.

However, the main reason I thought so long about monetizing the blog in any way is that it is more of a private endeavour, and most of you who are reading this I know personally. And it’s just not fair to make money off your friends… So, don’t worry about it, this is not going to turn into one of those sites where you need an ad blocker to get rid of all the bouncy stuff running left and right. And there will be no google Adsense that will put a link under every second word I write and bring you to somewhere I cannot control. And no, I will not start writing posts about random stuff to buy – I’m sure if you need something, you can find amazon on your own.

However, I will keep posting my book reviews. I love books, and I have a long reading list for Japanese literature. And I guess if you’re here reading this blog you might be interested in that as well. From the beginning of writing here I wanted to post one book review per month; I didn’t quite get there (so many other exciting things going on in Kyoto), but with work keeping me behind my desk more than I like, I might just (have to) do that.

Half Dan!

I haven’t written about it for a while, but I am still pursuing the goal of getting a first dan grade in soroban. So far, I have made two attempts, one back in May, and the other last month, in July. In May I failed pretty clearly (you need at least 100 points in 6 of the 7 categories, and I passed only a single one), and I wasn’t very hopeful for the July test either.

Results of my last soroban testHowever, last Sunday, at our monthly soroban meeting, my Sensei presented me with a certificate for a “jun-shodan”, half a first dan grade. This you get for at least 80 points in 6 categories, and I was very surprised to receive this at all. But then I remembered that for the dan grades, not only the latest test results count, but also the results of the two previous tests. And since I had more than 80 points in 4 categories in May, and more than 80 points in 4 different ones in July, I passed this test in only two trials.

So, one more level to go. It won’t be easy of course, but with those new rules it might not be quite as tough as I had thought. Wish me luck!