I am doing a lot of writing right now. There is this blog, there is the What’s up in Kyoto website, there is a writing job I have taken about hotels, there are still the smartphones I talked about before, I want to redo my main business website, and then there are a few personal things I’d like to get written.

And then, it’s the end of the year, where three of my friends have their birthdays in December and of course we’re talking about Christmas cards and nengajo New Year’s cards as well. The birthday cards are no problem, and I have already bought Christmas cards for selected friends – the unselected ones get Christmas emails – and I need to make one Christmas card for a special friend of mine who likes handmade Christmas cards because she decorates her house with them. I think I sent her handmade Christmas cards for about 15 years already, and I see no reason to discontinue the tradition.

The nengajo are a bit more complicated though. They are always a pain to write for me because it’s customary to write addresses by hand, which goes very slowly. This year, since my grandmother has died, I thought I would get out of that because you’re not supposed to send nengajo in such cases according to Japanese customs. I was planning to send cards to business partners though, since they don’t know about my grandmother anyway.

Yellow Bird and Chrysanthemum on the rock by KakuteiHowever, Japanese customs are Japanese customs, and I have to adhere to them – instead of nengajo New Year’s cards, I have to send mochuu hagaki Mourning cards. They tell details about the deceased family member and also inform the recipients that “I am in mourning, so I will not send any New Year’s cards this year”. They are sent very early in December and are essentially meant to let the recipient know that they should not send a nengajo either.

Of course, Japanese customs are not my forte, so I asked a friend of mine how to go about writing those mochuu hagaki. First thing she did was to get her book about Japanese correspondence (yes, she IS Japanese!) where these things are detailed, and she picked out a very very short version of a mourning card. Since I am a foreigner and sending these to my friends only, she said I will get away with three simple lines: “My grandmother died on May 25th, she was 99 years old. I am sorry for not sending a New Year’s greeting this time.”

This last line is a standard formula, but this is not the only thing that’s standard here. For example, most Japanese post cards have preprinted fields for the post code and a field indicating the spot for the stamp, which are usually red – a sign of joy. In this case, these fields have to be black, obviously. Also, I should send the cards on an “unlucky” day to give the right impression, which this year means I must send them on Sunday, December 2nd. Sharp! Imagery is supposed to lean towards flowers like lotus, chrysanthemums etc. At least she said it’s okay if I just print them out, no handwriting necessary.

Yes, Japanese customs… If even Japanese need written instructions to get them right, how am I ever supposed to understand even a fraction of them?


It finally happened, it’s getting cold again, and I broke down… The Japanese have a fantastic array of special clothing for winter: From special high-tech underwear called “heat tech” to thin down jackets for indoors to fluffy and very kawaii onesies for kids and adults, all of this is designed to keep you warm when you must leave the one and only heated area of the house. And yes, after five years in Japan, I finally bought myself one of these things to keep me warm.

Fluffy boots in pinkIn case you were hoping for a picture of me in one of those pink onesies with bunny-eared hoodie, I have to disappoint you: I didn’t go quite that far. I did go pink though and bought a pair of … let’s call them boots, to keep my feet warm which is really important because I am feeling very uncomfortable – to the point of getting cranky – when I have cold feet (or a cold back, by the way). I agree, these things are not quite as cute as I had hoped for, but as they are made of glorified plastic, aka polyester, they do what I expected of them – keeping my tootsies warm.

I am feeling very Japanese now! Not like a particularly elegant one, mind you, but it is a start!

Writer in Kyoto!

All the way back in July, when I had fun selling chimaki at the Ofunehoko, I met two other foreigners working there. One of them suggested – upon hearing that I’m writing a blog – that I should become a member of the group Writers in Kyoto. This is nothing less (or more) than a group of (mostly) foreigners living and writing in Kyoto, often about Japanese topics.

Everything needs to be pondered thoroughly, but finally, last week, I did the deed (meaning: I paid the fees) and became a member of Writers in Kyoto. It’s about 45 people right now, and they are serious writers, with a large number of books, poems, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. published among them. To be very honest, I’m slightly intimidated, me with my little personal blog here complaining about the weather, compared to all them big shots… It’ll be fine I think, once I get to know some of them in person – so far I have only communicated with the head of the group per email.

logo of writers in KyotoAnd wouldn’t you believe it, I already got homework! Well, it’s a group of writers, so I should have guessed that sooner or later they would want me to write some thing or other. And, as makes for proper beginning in Japan, it’s supposed to be a self-introduction. I have promised it “by the end of this week”, and it will be published on their site that I have linked above. For all my fans of old here, don’t expect big news. I guess a heavily condensed version of my blog posts of the last 6 years will do nicely. For now.


Finally, I broke down. It’s time to admit it: I need glasses. New glasses, that is, I always had serious problems (astigmatism) with my left eye, in fact, I could not read what I’m writing right now with my left eye only. It’s so bad, that my doctor once told me that essentially my right eye would do all the work and that I would get my driver’s license only as a one-eyed person. That didn’t happen, but it’s a long story… And because my right eye would do double duty, I never really wore glasses for long periods of time; the last ones I bought 10 years ago.

Anyway, since I have lots of writing jobs at the moment, I spend many long hours in front of the screen, and I notice how my eyes are really strained in the evenings, they even feel a bit sore. So, I have decided to look at glasses again, especially for computer work. I did not know, but apparently the blue light emitted by computer screens may cause extra eye strain. There are special glasses for computers with slightly yellow tinged lenses that are supposed to take out most of the blue parts of the spectrum. They are widely available and quite cheap, only 3000 yen a pair.

However, I need correction on top of that, so I was looking for different options. While standard correction, i.e., reading glasses are very cheap, there are also bifocals that can be used for computer work and reading, which cost about 10 times as much. Even though they seem very practical, health insurance doesn’t pay anything for those at all. I mentioned that I needed glasses to a friend of mine who told me that her eye doctor recommended her to use reading glasses that are older or weaker than what she would need now for work on a computer screen. This works because the computer screen should be much further away than a book or mobile phone (at best, about an arm’s length away).

Optical RefractorSo, for now, I have decided to use my 10 year old glasses while working on the computer. I’ll give it a month or two and then I’ll see if this is enough to reduce the eye strain. If not, I will look into new glasses, possibly even the expensive ones for desk work, even though that will set me back 80.000 yen… Let’s hope that won’t be necessary.


a hamster running in a wheelSorry for not writing in the weekend, I’ve been pretty busy with the business… There are a lot of things to do at the moment: I need new web hosting for the What’s up in Kyoto site. While I have no technical issues with my current host, they do expect me to pay for every little thing extra, which I find annoying. In particular, SSL access (does the httpS thing in a web address) I would have to pay for – even though there are free programs out there. So, I have decided to change web hosting, and I have to do it now because I would have to renew by the end of the month. At least, transferring the website is not very difficult (since it’s only simple files and no database), and I have very few emails in the associated mailbox. I don’t expect major problems, but it is a hassle.

I am also trying to find out how to place ads on the website. I don’t want to go with things like Google Adsense, but rather sell ad space to individual, local companies. This is rather tricky: I have no idea as to the proper pricing, and I am not entirely sure how to place an ad that would be recognised by an Adblocker (yes, I do want to be nice to people using them). And that’s on top of my “let’s talk to people” issues… Oh well, I’ll figure it out. Sooner than later, I hope.

In the meanwhile, I visited the highlight shrine for next month. It’s much, much smaller than I had expected – it will end up being the smallest shrine featured as a highlight. I can only guess that they have a proper shrine office somewhere off the premises, there were also no priests or miko shrine maidens to be seen. I will present it to you this or maybe next weekend.


I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but I am still interested in buying a house, eventually. A house with a garden, that is, because that’s how I grew up and that’s how I think people should live.

So, I am checking all the advertisements for housing that are put into my mailbox very carefully. And this is what I got last week or so:

2 million apartmentNot a house, an apartment with not even 90 square meters. (And they may be counting the balcony with that.) It has only two independent rooms, but the living room and dining room (the LD in the picture) is a whooping 40 square metres or thereabouts. I looked up the area in which this apartment is, and yes, it is a very nice and quiet one – opposite of the building is a row of temples with lush green gardens in summer (and many tourists as well I guess).

All in all not too bad, except for the price: 2 million. Not Japanese Yen – we’re talking about 2 million EUR, more or less, including all the fees and taxes and whatnot. And I’m wondering: WHO ON EARTH does have so much money? For an apartment that is 10 years old and shows the typical Japanese “long and thin” layout. Well, at least, here, all the rooms have a window, even though the second one could have been made larger by moving the toilet further down… It seems that Japanese apartments are all the same – not suitable for (western style) habitation.


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…)


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!

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