Finished!

Finally, I finished the revamp of the What’s Up in Kyoto website! There is now a new landing page instead of directly hitting the calendar, I have created two new pages on souvenirs and hotels, and I have fixed a few errors in the coding that I hadn’t noticed until now. Most obvious: the banner is new also, I showed it to you a few days ago already. I will use the logo with the phoenix on my business cards and letters as well, I’m glad I asked a professional for his input on this one. Your input on the new homepage is welcome too, of course!

what's up in Kyoto new logoStill, much left to do on the homepage itself: I need a privacy page (not that I really collect any of your data, but still), the archives need a new layout with pictures to make them more attractive for mobiles, and the calendar page needs space for advertisements (yes, the idea is to get some money out of this eventually). But essentially, these are minor things I can add piecemeal.

But for now, I’ll take today off. It’s the daimonji tonight after all (although it is raining again, just like last year…)

Revamp

Sorry for not writing in the weekend – I’m quite busy these days… I am planning a revamp for my What’s up in Kyoto page, but I’m running into more issues than I had thought possible, unfortunately. Part of it is also my hang towards perfectionism, I want it all and I want it now – even though I know deep down that that’s not possible… Hopefully, I can still roll out the new design (including a few new pages 😉 ) some time this week. For now, here’s the new logo a friend of mine made for me. What do you think?

what's up in Kyoto new logo

 

Passing On

One of mz elderly friends is still full of energy, but she says she wants to prepare for old age, and tries to make things more easy for her. For example, she moved her bedroom to the ground floor of her house and had a very small kitchen installed there. She says, in case she’s sick, bed, bath, and kitchen are now all within 20 steps of each other, so she can stay at home. Another way to prepare for her is to get rid of stuff. She is not quite as sentimental as I am, but still, she prefers to give her things away to people who would use them further, rather than just throwing them away.

Poster for MitsukoshiAnd this is how I came into the possession of 12 of her old kimono. Not expensive, formal silk kimono, of course, but rather casual ones from cotton and similar light fabrics, mostly intended for summer. I have made it clear that I cannot wear them –  besides having the wrong body shape, she is much smaller than me – but she says it’s fine if I cut them up and use the fabrics to make something else. So, I have made rough plans for one jinbei, one pair of summer pants, three dresses, and two jackets. And one lovely summer yukata I will keep for myself, even though it is a bit on the small side. The rest I am not sure about, there is one with a really strong pattern that should be kept intact if possible.

So far my plans. I have talked about my unexpected gifts to my English students, and they were quite excited about it. So, I invited one of them over last week to have a look at the kimono and maybe give advice on what to do with them. And when I was unpacking them one by one and put them in front of here, there was one she went all crazy about: “Oh, how beautiful!” She was so excited about it, that I asked her to try it on – and when it fit, I gave it to her. That’s the nice thing about kimono: As long as the fabric is holding up, age does not matter at all. In fact, many expensive kimono are passed on through generations of women! Size does not matter much either, so it really boils down to whether you like the pattern and color or not.

And with one simple act, I have made two of my friends happy: By taking from the one, and by giving to the other. If life were so simple all the time!

New Project!

Finally, it’s May! Atrocious April is over, and from that low point, the only way is up, surely. And, as a sign that things are really going to change, I have started a new project! Well, actually, it’s not a really new project, I have started it several years ago already, but now it’s time to finally wrap it up and get it out there. Here’s the story:

A few years ago, I came across the book “Die 8 Gesichter am Biwasee”, written by German author/painter Max Dauthendey in 1911. The title is reminiscent of the “8 Views of Omi”, a series of woodblock prints depicting scenes from around Lake Biwa (Omi was the old name of the province where Lake Biwa lies). Dauthendey had visited Japan on his first voyage around the world in 1906, and he immediately felt drawn to Japan. He must have come across Lake Biwa (which is about 30 minutes east of Kyoto) or the woodblock prints, or both, and he was so inspired that he penned eight stories named after the woodblock prints.

Hiroshige - 8 Views of OmiThose eight love stories are set around Lake Biwa and perfectly convey the feeling of old Japan. Some of the stories are based on true events, but all of them are rather slow-paced (Dauthendey obviously liked to meander about), but once you settle into their mood, they are very beautiful. Interestingly, they have a very Japanese feel in my opinion: their pacing, choice of topic, and the way of leaving the reader guessing just at the right moments is something I have only encountered in Japanese novels. Since at that time, hardly any Japanese books had been translated into Western languages, this must be a reflection of Dauthendey’s own style (he wrote mainly poetry) rather than an emulation of the Japanese one.

Anyway, back to the project: Since those stories touched me so deeply, I have decided to translate them into English, and to publish the result.

In case you are wondering: Yes, that’s perfectly legal; the book is public domain pretty much worldwide – definitely in Japan and Europe – so that’s not an obstacle. The problem is rather my own inertia; I have started the translation a very long time ago, but never finished it. But now I have decided to do exactly that: Finish the translation, approach publishers who might be interested, and, if there is no interest, self-publish. As a deadline for finding a publisher, I have picked the end of this year; to get things published on my own will probably take another 6 months (I have no idea, I might be too optimistic here).

Being self-employed for the last few years has taught me one valuable thing: I am better at keeping promises that I made to other people than those to myself. Hence, to keep things on track and to really finish this project when I intend to, I have set up a Patreon page where people can sponsor my progress. It’s not so much about the money (although it will help replacing the losses from last month), but more about having a way to stay on focus. As a bonus, I will not spam you people here with progress reports all the time, you probably are already pretty tired hearing about my What’s Up In Kyoto page over and over again (yeah, I am bad at marketing).

So, if you like to keep updated on this new project of mine, head over to my new Patreon page, and maybe, you’d even like to become a patron. Thanks!

Become a Patron Button

Shocked!

The Kyotogram situation is worse than I thought. Today, we were to meet the boss to sign the termination of our contract by the end of May. It turned out that not only the Kyotogram project will be shut down, but that the whole Kyoto office will close!

All of the projects initiated in Kyoto will be terminated, and the department will move back to Osaka headquarters by mid June. Everybody heard only this morning, so people in the office were in shock. At least nobody of them will lose their job, and it seems that they will remain one department and keep working together, on whatever new projects.

Japanese currencyWhile this hurts, from a business perspective it does make sense. Apparently the Kyoto branch office was opened two years ago, and after this time you should start seeing some sort of (minimal) profit. According to the head of Kyoto office “the numbers were good, but the profit was not”. Nowadays it seems that companies are (or must be?) much less patient when waiting for a profit, so I am not surprised that they do that. I did not know that the whole branch – which had initiated a number of new projects – had not made enough profit to keep itself going, but I am relieved to see that the failure with the Kyozutsumi was not the main reason for the shutdown.

Anyway, back to square one: I need to find something to make up the loss of that income, the faster, the better…

Bad Day

Ever since I started my own company which essentially provides me with an excuse to do what I like, I have greatly enjoyed my working life. Of course, there are always things I don’t like doing as much as others, but in general, I am quite content with the way things are going. So, I think this is the first day in a very long time where I can say with utter conviction:

Today was not my day!

It started out in the morning when I had received an invitation to provide a voice sample for a deeply religious text. Not just spiritual, but religious in the sense of “look deep down into yourself to find out god’s plans for you”. I’m an atheist, always been. Besides, how deep down am I supposed to look – wouldn’t that require a microscope and a very sharp knife? I’m not sure if I should price myself out of this one. As you’ll see in a moment, I do need the money, and it would be quite a large project…

Things went downhill further when halfway to the bus stop I found out that I had forgotten my umbrella. The whole idea of taking the bus in the first place was because by the time I was to go home, it was supposed to rain; and I didn’t want to get soaking wet on the bike. Not taking the umbrella would have been counterproductive, so I had to return to fetch it… In the end, I was late for my Japanese class, but because I’m usually on time, my teacher takes the few days when I’m not in his stride.

The big blow came in my afternoon Kyotogram meeting. I had barely entered the office and sat down on the table when the big boss jumped up from his own desk to come over and talk to my colleague and me. He brought bad news: After the complete disaster with the kyozutsumi project (only 2 – in words: two – sets sold), the headquarters in Osaka (who were greatly responsible for the failure) decided to shut down Kyotogram completely. Right now, it is unclear when this will happen and what we’ll do until then, but the boss said that the earliest we can close up shop will be by the end of May. Which means that I will have to find a new, steady job, which is not easy, most freelancing jobs are one-time only or at least far and in between.

And to top things off, my Tuesday evening German student informed me today that he would like to suspend his German classes for the time being, meaning: for the next 6 months or so. He needs to take an English test in September or October this year, and since he is very busy with little free time, and he absolutely must pass that test, he would like to focus on his English until then. At least he has decided to employ me as his English teacher, which is nice (I’ve never taught anyone the TOEIC before), but at the same time it will decrease my income since I charge less for English than for German classes (because there are so much more people teaching English in Kyoto). He did offer to pay my German rates, but I didn’t think that was fair to him.

And finally, when I went home, it was raining just as predicted.

chocolate cakesSo, that was my day. Or rather: it wasn’t. The only part that was enjoyable was my Japanese class. The grammar basics of how to turn verbs and adjectives into nouns are relatively simple, so for once I didn’t make a complete fool out of myself. I think my Japanese teacher appreciated it.

And I will now turn my back on this day and appreciate a piece of chocolate. Thank goodness today’s over…

Square One

In the last few days, I’ve suffered a couple of setbacks, unfortunately. One private, one business; they are not seriously serious, but still things I’ll need to take care of and find a workaround for.

A Man presses a "reject" buttionPersonal first: As you know, most of the people who rent an apartment (or even a company office) need a guarantor to do so. The guarantor is required to pay for costs the tenant may not be able (or willing) to pay. This can be missed rents, damages to the property on moving out, etc. When I moved in here, a friend of mine was so kind to be the guarantor for my apartment. He made clear that this is the only one apartment he would ever be guaranteeing for, but since I wasn’t planning on moving anywhere else for the time being, I thought I was settled.

Well, about a month ago, I received an email from him where he told me that he had suffered some hardships, and that he cannot be a guarantor for anybody at this point. So, he asked me to release him from the contract. Obviously, I’m not happy about that, but then again, he’s a friend doing me a favour, so I agreed. I did ask him to talk to my landlord though, and I was hoping the landlord would agree not to have a guarantor for the rest of my lease.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen: I received an email today that he insists on my getting a new guarantor. Dang it. So, I’m back to square one: how to find a guarantor. Of course, after some three years more in Japan, I have a number of friends I might be able to ask for this favour. Still, a good guarantor is a person of “good standing” to which the landlord must agree, and somebody like this may be a bit more difficult to find. There are also companies who act as guarantors (chiefly for foreigners), but of course, they come with a fee attached. I have not yet spoken to anyone, but it’s something I need to start doing relatively quickly.

And then there is a business issue: I have tried to get a Japanese credit card associated with my business account. Usually, I don’t shop online, but there are always things you cannot pay for otherwise, for example web hosting for my What’s Up in Kyoto homepage. My accountant helped me filling out the application form, and last Friday I spent an hour at my bank to get the final kinks sorted out and my hanko at all the right places. I was promised a decision within a month.

They were much, much faster than that: Already yesterday I received a phone call (two, actually, the second girl did speak English) telling me that there’s no way I’m getting a credit card from them. Why? Because Japanese credit cards are reserved for Japanese and foreigners with permanent residency in Japan. Well, I’m not going to magically turn into the former, and the latter will take at least another 6 years, so it seems I’m out of luck for this one as well.

Not even the mention that the card was meant for the company and not for me did help because “the company is you, really”, which is true in a sense, but also bullshit in another sense. The infuriating part of the call was her tone of voice when she said “I’m so sorry” – if you are indeed that sorry, sweetheart, then try to find a way to make it happen after all. But it seems that the girl was too low in the hierarchy to make decisions like that, and unfortunately, my go-to guy in the bank who seemed to be a bit more flexible, must have a new job in another branch.

As you can see, I’m back to the starting point with two things. As I said above, neither of them is extremely bad (what would my landlord do if I cannot find a new guarantor – kick me out?) but both of them require efforts and possibly money that I wouldn’t have needed to spend. I hope life in general will go more smoothly again soon

Exciting!

In the beginning of this month, I have asked a friend of mine – a shin hanga woodblock printer – to help me design a new banner and logo for the What’s Up In Kyoto website. We spent about an hour chatting about my ideas, what ideas he has, what would look good and what wouldn’t, how many and what colors I’d like…

snippet of new whatsupinkyoto logoAnd just the other day I received a first draft, and: I love it! It’s quite different from what we thought we would try, but hey, he’s the artist here! There is one cute little detail which I didn’t even notice in the beginning, but it fits perfectly, and once you see it, it’s quite obvious why it is there.

I don’t want to reveal too much at this point, especially since it is not finished yet, but the above is a little snippet from the new logo. I’ll let you know once it is done and ready for the world at large.

Business Update #6

What's up in Kyoto LogoIn order to avoid a rush job like last month, this time I have started way ahead of the game for the March highlight. I got a first draft of the text ready last week already, my friend translated it, and yesterday we had an appointment with the PR representative of the shrine, so we went there early in the morning.

This was the best experience with any of the shrines we had so far. We were invited inside into a wonderfully furnished (though slightly cool) meeting room. A miko shrine maiden served us green tea and senbei crackers. A few minutes later Mr. PR entered and it turned out to be one of the priests of the shrine! The meeting was great. First we talked about our mission in general and what we wanted from the shrine. And then, the conversation turned towards the shrine and towards shinto. I had so many questions, and he seemed very eager to answer them. My poor friend, she had to translate it all – and that’s not easy terminology…

I’ll just share one thing that the priest told us: He said that shinto wasn’t really hierarchical. Although Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is often seen at the top of all the other gods, she is more at the center of them all. And if you think about it, that makes sense: Nothing on earth would work without the sun… That means, that there is not really rivalry between the gods – which is why in many shinto shrines there is a main kami, but many lesser shrines as well, where you can pray to other gods. He also said that many people believed that you shouldn’t have too many omamori charms from different shrines, because the gods would fight with each other. He said that was not true – you can buy as many omamori as you like, he is obviously a great salesman too.

I could have spent all day there having my questions answered, but after some 90 minutes, my friend looked drained, so we left, not without leaving another pack of our Mannerschnitten, of course. This morning already we have received a thorough correction of our draft (in red, like in school. Very much red, actually…), and our request for photos was also granted: We got 18 lovely photos, taken by a professional photographer. One of them especially encapsulates the spirit of shinto, and I would love to post it here, were it not a bit unethical to assume permission when I don’t have any to do this. You’ll have to wait until March I’m afraid.

Hibernation

Last week, I received the results of my last attempt at the soroban shodan level. And: I failed. Just like the four times before. I have put a lot of time and effort into this test, I even went to class again twice a week, so I am quite disappointed.

During the practice of the last few weeks it looked quite good that I could pass, but the added stress of the test was too much apparently. It seems as if I have reached a plateau now, not necessarily concerning raw ability, but concerning speed. It is probably best to get to the next level before I attempt the test again.

old style soroban at a fleamarketThat doesn’t mean I’ll give up – far from it! I still want that shodan level to crown my soroban career. But I will take a bit of a break now – maybe a month or two – before starting to practice again. So, it will probably take another year at least before I have levelled up enough to pass the test. But hey, I have the time – I’m not going anywhere (else). 😉