Party!

Yesterday was National Holiday in Austria, which means that tomorrow there will be a party at the Austrian Embassy in Tokyo. And, since apparently there is a new embassador, I am invited too this year.

My plan is to go up to Tokyo tomorrow afternoon, then attend the party in the evening. I will stay overnight in a Toyoko Inn (since I am a member there and get a discount) and on Saturday I will visit the Science Museum near Tokyo station. Afterwards I’ll go to a nearby culture festival with a friend of mine, and in the evening I will go home again.

I was thinking of trying out the night bus for my return to Kyoto, but the last few days of each month are always very busy with work, so I cannot really afford to be sleepy and tired all Sunday. So, Shinkansen it is again. There is a discount ticket shop in my shopping mall nearby, and I finally dared to go there and buy the tickets instead of doing so at the station. The tickets were marginally cheaper than the original price, and they are valid for a return trip to Tokyo on any day before January 24th next year. I did not know you can buy tickets three months in advance, but now I finally understand why there are Shinkansen that are totally packed despite many seats coming with a reservation only.

It’s a pity that I have to leave Tokyo rather early – at 20:30 at the latest so I can catch the last bus to my place – but it’s okay. I have never been one to go to bars alone anyway, and my friend is not one of those girls either. Oh well, in any case I am expecting a nice weekend trip to Tokyo with lots of excellent (Austrian) food and I will report next week!

Celebrations

Today I have reason to celebrate: I have a new job! I mean, my company has signed a contract for work that – hopefully – will be long term. The whole thing went very fast: after I had received a request on Friday 14th, we had a meeting on Tuesday 18th, and today, at the first meeting with the whole group, I already signed the contract.

This is my first official Japanese contract, all other work I have done so far was either from clients abroad, or with a simple verbal agreement. My contract is a standard, straightforward one for this type of work, but since my Japanese is still lacking, especially in legalese, I asked my lawyer about it – just to be safe I won’t sign away either my soul or my firstborn. A quick online translation revealed a rather peculiar point – something that is very specific Japanese and totally normal here, according to my lawyer:

A whole paragraph of the contract – and not one of the shorter ones – deals with organised crime. My company is not allowed any kind of relationship whatsoever to whichever kind of organised crime – or the contract is void. Bugger. And here I was, dreaming of living a glorious life as gangster bride… But: no dating a yakuza! Well, it’s hard enough to find interested men around here anyway, I don’t think any local gangster would want to be involved with a foreigner who does not quite fit the Japanese beauty ideal, to put it politely.

Anyway, let’s talk about the job: Writing short articles (including photos) for foreigners about living in Kyoto. Well, since this is essentially what I have been doing here for free for the last three years, I guess I can just as well do it for money! Honestly, I am slightly worried that I will be repeating myself with respect to the blog here, but I hope this will not be too big of an issue. In any case, the articles will be much shorter than here, so if there’s a duplicate post, there will be much more detail here in the blog. And posts about shrines, temples, and matsuri will keep appearing here exclusively because work has a different focus.

logo of kyotogramThis is describing daily life in Kyoto (especially the typical Japanese things) for a crowd of American Millennials (18 – 34 years old) in more or less short sound (text?) bites of 50 to 100 words each. I will write 5 articles per week, and they will be published on the brand new facebook page Kyotogram. Yes, I know: facebook… For all of you who know my views on facebook: Feel free to laugh! For all of you who don’t know my views on facebook: Well, they are at least as strong as my views on mobile/smartphones…

Anyway, I am very much looking forward to doing this! The page is brand new and in the beginning the writers (we are three people) are pretty much free to do what we like. The page will be constantly evaluated to see how it is going, and to find a good direction where to take it. The first big review is planned for mid December and the goal is to have 10.000 followers until then. So, if you do care how I pay for my chocolate in the future and want to keep me employed beyond December, please visit the link above, and like and follow away!

More House Guests…

Tuesday was a very hot day – beyond 25 degrees, lots of sun and blue sky – in short, it was wonderful! Unfortunately, it did have some effect on those house guests of mine as well…

It seems that at least one of the three cockroaches I killed a few weeks ago has laid at least one egg somewhere in my office, and it seems that even though I had cleaned the room thoroughly (or I thought I had), I did not find and remove the egg(s) after all. The hot weather on Tuesday apparently brought the egg(s) to hatch, and I have since killed just under 10 baby cockroaches.

They are maybe 5 mm long, and from a distance they resemble ants. Only when you come closer will you notice that there’s a light stripe across their black back, and then you see that it’s indeed a bug and not an ant. At this point, they are still small enough so you can simply squish them with a kleenex or so, but since they mostly move at night when I am not around, I decided to try something else.

cockroach houseI am still not a big fan of dusting my apartment with poison, but I did buy a box of “cockroach houses”. (I always wanted to be a landlady…) Those are little cardboard boxes with a very sticky “floor” (even for humans the glue is very strong); you put some very stinky bait in the middle of that floor, and then you put the box together and place it wherever you suspect a cockroach nest to be. I have put one underneath the fridge where it is warm, and one into that corner of my office where I have seen and killed most of the cockroaches in the last two days.

The idea is that the insects smell the bait, literally walk up to it, and then stick to the floor where they die. I am now cleaning my kitchen even more thoroughly, so that the cockroaches will find the bait more enticing. So far, no catch, but who knows how many of those insects are still around in my apartment. To be honest, I am now carefully scanning my office floor every now and then, and I shudder whenever I detect something that looks like a black speck anywhere. I still like to think they don’t make it into my bedroom (which is not true of course); remember that I am sleeping on the floor…

The bad news is that it is getting colder now, and the cockroaches will start to hibernate. It is very likely that I won’t catch any more now, but that they will simply wake up again when it gets warmer again in spring. Well, as long as they don’t grow while sleeping…

Autumn Guests

It is turning autumn here in Japan. During my two-week holiday in Europe, the temperature has fallen considerably by almost 10 degrees. We now have highs of not more than 25 – 30 degrees during the day and around 20 in the night, and it is also raining quite a bit. This means that the humidity is down (unless it is raining), and it is quite nice to sit at the open window and work. Unfortunately, it also means something else: house guests.

Now that it is cooling down, all sorts of insects are trying to find their way inside. In the two weeks since my return, I have already found and dispatched of three cockroaches… I still find them extremely disgusting, and although I now know how to kill them quickly, I would prefer if I would not have to deal with them ever again…

So, I searched on the internet for tips on how to prevent those bugs. I have now thoroughly cleaned my kitchen (especially under the sink), and I have vowed to wash my dishes every day in order not to leave any food for them around (let’s see how this is working). I also bought smaller trash bags so I can use the lid of my trash can – another way of preventing access to food. Thankfully, I don’t have that much waste anyway, and even so, I can take the garbage out every day, which is a good thing.

Today, one of my friends showed me the top brands of insecticide to deal with roaches; the best thing is apparently boric acid. To be honest, I am a bit reluctant to use it around the house because it is toxic, but if I see another cockroach soon, I’ll get it anyway, they don’t deserve any better.

However, the cutest thing I have found on my search for cockroach prevention was this little “cockroach forecast” for Japan, telling you how likely an encounter is with them: cockroach forecast JapanThe map is interactive, just go there and click away: http://gokiten.varsan.jp/Maybe I should consider moving to Hokkaido? It is much cooler there in general, and they also get decent snow there in the winter…

Time Off

It has cooled down considerably this week, the cicadas are all but quiet now, so I guess autumn is coming. Which means that it is the perfect time for a holiday of my own! This time I will go back to Europe for a couple of weeks to visit family and friends in both Austria and Germany.

I have been very busy this week to buy presents, even though I finally saw the light and purchased only Japanese sweets this time, which makes things much easier. However, in compensation, one of my close friends sent me on a shopping spree to buy him a decent, real yukata summer kimono after he had seen mine (which is very real, but not really decent for a woman my age). After spending a lot of time looking for something according to his specifications, I finally declared them unobservable and bought him a yukata I liked…

Anyway, I will be gone for two weeks and I will leave you without any posts for this time (not that anything interesting will happen in Kyoto while I’m gone anyway). Have a nice time, and tune in for my next post on September 20th.

Storm

I have read that the weather is very bad on the Atlantic coast of Europe. 19.000 Brits without electricity, waves that are phenomenal (up to 14 metres) and higher (no meteorological name for this apparently), and cancelled carnival parades in Germany… Hopefully it’s over soon. We also had a very cold and stormy day today here, but even so, it was not raining and the sky was bright blue, so I took a walk along the river.

People did not seem to bother, and even the construction work on our apartment block commenced without problems. Right now, they are building the scaffolding for the first house, and although I noticed that they were going quite slowly, they did not cease working all day.

Inside my apartment, again, the curtains were moving and even the sliding fusuma doors rattled. I guess I will never get used to that. On the positive side, this also means that I can paint in my living room without suffocating. I bought some cheap book shelves that need a coat of paint to fit the little bit… well, okay, to fit the one single piece of furniture that I currently have in my livingroom. I am planning to get this room finished and fully furnished, preferably before my anniversary of living here.

Renovations

Last week I received a large, thick booklet informing me about the pending renovations in our block of apartments that will be carried out this spring. As far as I understand, this concerns only the buildings’ outside: the balconies will be renovated (how exactly, I am not sure), and the whole building will receive a new coat of paint. The booklet describes other types of work, but I am not sure whether they really will replace any of the wires and pipes. I would not mind getting new water pipes though – the old ones are very rusty and would really need to be replaced.

constructionAnyway, since the work is scheduled from February to June, and from 8:00 until 18:00 on weekdays, I hope it will not be too noisy for too long. Work on my building will start only in Mid March, when the scaffolding will be erected, and I’ll have to remove all personal belongings from the balconies by then.

The whole renovation appears to be planned down to the smallest detail. The document I received has 28 pages in total, and besides a detailed schedule for each of the four buildings in the block, it is also stated for example who is in charge of the work (photo included), what types of clothes and badges the workers will wear, which parking lots cannot be used in that time, and which type of further information will be sent in leaflets of which colour. Since the building will be painted, there will also be days when we are not allowed to hang out laundry to dry, and these days will be announced one day in advance, at 3 pm.

And if there are still questions unaddressed, there is a meeting this Saturday to clarify all the details. Since the meeting will be in Japanese, it is probably a bit pointless for me to show up, but still, I am deeply impressed about the care that is being taken here! We’ll see how impressed I will remain once the work has started. I am sure you will hear about this more often in the future.

Cheap

My accountant visited my office today and finished taxes for last year. Japan seems to have a rather complicated system as to when you have to pay what and to whom:

Japanese currencyThere are corporate taxes to be paid to three different tax offices: the national, the prefectural, and the city tax office. The paperwork has to be filed one month after the end of the company’s fiscal year, and the money must be paid within 3 months of the end of the fiscal year, which in my case makes the latter date some time in May.

Then there is social security – health insurance and pension – for which you have to file the paperwork on 31st of July. Labour insurance is separate from this and has to be filed by the 10th of July. As I don’t have employees, I can choose whether I pay this myself or via the company; paying it myself means that this is cheaper for the time being, so I’ll keep doing this as long as possible.

And then there is personal or employee income tax which we have just finished to calculate. Just like everywhere else, there is an employer’s share and an employee’s share. Usually, the employer withholds both parts each month and the employee only gets the net amount and does not have to worry about anything. And usually, the employer pays those taxes to the tax office each month.

But, Japan is different! What is happening is that my company withholds the employer’s tax contribution each month from the salary of my employee – myself. The company now collects all those taxes and is only required to pay it to the tax office twice a year – on January 20th and July 10th. And the employee has to pay their share individually once a year, and again, there is the national tax due in February and the prefectural and city tax due in June.

Are you confused now? Me too! I’m very happy my accountant has it all under control. And I am even more happy about the results concerning the employer’s contribution for last year, since I only have to pay some 2000 YEN employer’s contribution, and some 4000 YEN employee’s contribution. Now, talk about cheap!

Warmth

window frost Slowly but surely, it is getting cold here. Both last winter and last summer were relatively mild with not too extreme temperatures, but somehow I am worried that I will not be that lucky this winter. Right now, it has 9 degrees outside – and 10 degrees in my bedroom. And for next weekend, the weather forecast promises around 0 degrees during the night…

My new apartment is in parts better, in parts equally bad as the old house I lived in before. My office – the room where I spend most of my days in – has only 9 square metres as opposed to the 12 of the old room. There are also no cracks in the walls and all the windows are closing tight here. Unfortunately, the windows still only have single glazing, and there is no insulation whatsoever either on the inside or the outside of my walls, which are not even 20 cm of concrete, with wallpaper on one side. And even new houses are still built like this – I don’t get it…

The Japanese solution to the issue is either air-conditioning (if you reverse the airflow, it is getting warm inside) or, mostly, space heaters. For larger rooms they use liquid gas, but in a normal apartment many people use electric heaters. Obviously, this increases people’s energy consumption, which, with most of the nuclear plants still down, is not encouraged. The solution to that came with my last electricity bill: a nice flyer suggesting: “Oh, just heat your room to 20 degrees only!” So, either the Japanese are a very active people who never sit down during winter time, or they are actively trying to kill me…

For now, I heat my office only, to about 22 degrees, and I am just wearing a bit thicker sweaters and a bit warmer socks. I have also closed all the doors in my apartment to prevent draughts, and I have added sticky foam padding to strategic places where the fusuma sliding doors are not closing properly (they never do). And today I went out to buy a second space heater, mostly so that the friend who’s visiting next week will have her own. We’ll see how it goes – and for how long…

Finished!

I have to admit that I’m rather proud of myself: I just made my self-imposed deadline with respect to paperwork:

  • Yesterday I finished preparing my tax return and I sent a very heavy letter with all sorts of documents off to Germany. I hope the effort was worth it and that I’ll get lots and lots of money back.
  • Today I completed my part of an international project with the other participants sitting in Europe and the US. There remain some smaller things to take care of, but the ball is in the US right now.
  • I also managed to send a Christmas parcel to a French friend of mine, which probably will just make it before the holidays. If not, well, it’s more of a New Year’s present anyway.
  • And, also today, I sent my final Christmas card to an Austrian friend of mine who for years already gets very special, and very handmade cards for this occasion. Since I now have all my craft supplies back, I can pick up this tradition of ours again.

So, there’s not much more to do until the New Year; the handful of Nengajo that I’m planning to write can wait. And even though it is not Sunday anymore, this is my plan for the rest of the day: sleeping kitten