Sorry for not posting last weekend – but I was busy. The weather is slowly getting warmer and is more conducive to going out again. And right now, Kyoto hosts the international photography exhibition Kyotographie. This year is the 5th time, and the motto is LOVE. In 18 venues all over town photos are shown that have some sort of connection to the theme (sometimes it’s a vague one, but still).

Together with a friend, I went last Sunday to see some of the exhibitions that seemed most interesting to both of us. Her favourite was an exhibition of a group called “Toiletpaper”. Their photos are loud, colorful, and a bit weird. I think pop art is the best word to describe it.

exhibition of "Toiletpaper"

Original photo by “Toiletpaper”, photographed again by Miss Uda.

My favourite were some 70 photos of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave, projected onto a huge screen in a dark room, to amplify the cave feeling. At first I thought it was all about the limestone stalactites and such – until I noticed the paintings of lions, buffalos, horses… The cave, situated in Southern France, has paintings and other traces of human habitation dating back 35.000 years. It was discovered only in 1994, and promptly closed to the public for conservation. The paintings are magnificent, and the way these photos are displayed just heightens the feeling.

So, if you are in town these days, have a look – some of the venues are free of charge. Kyotographie will last until May 14th, I am sure there’s something for every taste.


whispering Japanese girlsThe general foreigner’s view on the Japanese is that you cannot have a deep conversation with them, that they are reserved and polite and friendly and very reserved. My experience is a bit different. Of course, if you chat to random people they are friendly and polite, but you won’t get anything of substance out of them – just like in the West. But I have noticed that people here are more willing to disclose very personal things about them very early in a relationship, things that would take a Westerner years of close friendship before spilling them.

Exhibit one:
When I was fresh in Japan, I looked for somebody to have a language exchange with. The idea is that you meet for an hour or so, you talk 30 minutes in one language and 30 minutes in the other. On a notice board I found the advertisement of a Japanese woman my age who was looking for somebody who speaks English. I called her up and we met for coffee.

So far so good, I found her nice but also a bit odd, somehow, and then… During that very first meeting, she told me that she had some sort of mental disorder and she was on heavy medication and in and out of a mental hospital here in town. That was totally unsolicited, and I would never, ever tell that to anyone I just met and wanted to be friends with. We did meet for a couple of months or so, but then she became very pushy, so I am not seeing her any longer.

Exhibit two:
In the beginning of this year I was advertising English classes. I got an email from a man and we met for 30 minutes to get to know each other and to find out whether to move forward with classes. He – a soldier in the Japanese army who doesn’t want to kill anyone – talked for 25 minutes straight about the time when he went to Australia to visit a friend for Christmas and got promptly in the plane already hit on by an Australian MAN. Funny story to look back at for sure… However, I could see that he was still deeply disturbed by it all these years later, and such a story I would not disclose to anyone (and he hadn’t told his family about it he said).

What I found disturbing about the meeting was that we briefly talked about where to do our classes and he said “Oh, just give me your address and I’ll go there…” Nononono, that’s not how this is going! We have not met since; he only contacted me twice afterwards and I was very, very busy indeed… I don’t think seeing him on a regular basis is a good idea, but I don’t really know how to tell him that.

Exhibit three:
I met a lovely elderly woman in a friend’s cafe, and she chatted me up and we decided to meet regularly. The second or third time we met, I asked her to “tell me about you”, which she did – not leaving out any details. She told me that she didn’t have kids because she had had three miscarriages before she and her husband gave up trying. That’s a very sad story and even though I would tell it eventually I guess, I would wait for the relationship to have deepened a little more.

Which it did, actually! We have now been meeting for almost two years, and we always have great fun together. She is very intelligent (studied Chemistry back in the days) and has an amazing amount of energy, and although we mostly meet at her place to sit and chat and drink tea and eat chocolate cake, we sometimes go out together. I’m very glad I have met her, and we have had many very personal moments together since.


What's up in Kyoto LogoIt is always hard to work on something that may or may not provide a benefit in the distant future, when there are other things to do which give instant gratification. But over the weekend, after what feels like an eternity of trial and error and small victories and big failures, I finally pushed the original plans for my business one step forward.

Surely, I mentioned my business website before: is to become a one-stop-shop for everything Kyoto related, and at its heart, there is an event calendar. Things took much, much longer than expected (for various reasons), but today, the event calendar finally went online! At the moment, it is still pretty empty, but I will spend the next days, weeks, months… entering all the events I hear about. Eventually, the idea is that anyone who knows about an event in Kyoto may enter it themselves. Of course, submissions will be reviewed before going live, but I hope that in the long run this will cut down on the research and data entry I have to do myself.

For this week, I have my work cut out for me already: Mostly, it’s entering current and future events into the calendar, but i also want to start basic pages on both twitter and facebook, as an additional means of advertising the service. Also, I’ll have to gather addresses of relevant customers: museums, galleries, theatres, etc. and write them letters and emails. I hope a friend of mine will help me with translating them into decent Japanese.

That’s for now. Later I want to extend the page to include popular sights, things like walking tours, shops, restaurants,… Let’s hope this will take less time to build than the event calendar. I will add a link or button to the right of this page so you can check in with “what’s up in Kyoto” more regularly.


schematic of a toothIt happened again, and sooner than I wanted it to happen: I had to go to the dentist… About a month ago, a tooth started aching, and in a truly heroic act I made an appointment after a mere 10 days of mild to moderate suffering. After another week of unheroic taking of painkillers, I finally had my appointment, where I was told that the culprit was the lower left molar #7. And that it needed a root canal treatment. You should have seen the gleam in the eyes of the dentist when he told me that…

So, we started the procedure two weeks ago – yes, I wanted ALL the anesthetics he could give me, and an extra pack of painkillers to take away, I do have experience with root canals done on a Friday afternoon… And last Monday, after the pain had finally subsided, the root canals and the rest of the tooth was filled in properly again; well, that was the plan at least. Because my dentist told me that due to the enormous cavity that was there with not much tooth left (really?), it would be much, much better to do a full crown, after all, that tooth is really heavily used when chewing, so…

Of course, if we have to do it at all, we do it properly. And since this is a lower tooth, I want a white ceramic crown. You should have seen the gleam in the eyes of the dentist when I told him that, because: ceramic crowns are really, really expensive. This particular one will amount to some 80.000 YEN. And my insurance will pay exactly: none of it, since it is an “invisible” molar and they are not concerned with my personal vanity. When I left on Monday, I received the bill for Monday’s work, plus an estimate of what I will have to bring next time when the crown will be placed. I seriously wonder why I am expected to pay that cash – dentists don’t write invoices in this country?

One fact to ease the pain of spending all this money is that a (ceramic) crown lasts some 10 – 15 years at least. If I assume 10 years only, that’s a rather feasible 22 YEN per day. And the other thing a friend of mine just told me: Apparently, any medical costs that go beyond 100.000 YEN in a year are tax deductible. I am sure with all the other pains and ills that seem to start creeping up on me in my age, the other 20.001 YEN will be no problem at all. I just hope I won’t forget filing a tax return next year…


Last night, I went out with the girls for what is called yozakura, night-time cherry blossom viewing. My friend had booked a terrace seat at an Italian restaurant, right next to the little Takase stream that runs through town parallel to Kamogamo river. There we ate Italian delicacies: a number of starters, among them the bruscetta shown below, two types of pasta, a small pizza, and of course, tiramisu for dessert. We also shared a bottle of wine – alcohol is an important main ingredient of any hanami party – and all the while we admired the sakura that grow on the other side of the Takase stream and have their branches hang over the water. We had a lovely dinner and lots of fun!

yozakura 2017Unfortunately, it seems as if this was the last day of this year’s hanami season, which, as a whole, was not very exciting. Except for the days just before the cherries burst into bloom, the weather was cool, overcast, and rainy all through last week. And after I had come home yesterday, a storm set in with heavy wind and rain, badly bruising the delicate cherry blossoms over night.

However, there are types of cherry trees that bloom only towards the end of April – with a bit of luck, the weather will be warmer then and I can go and sit underneath another cherry tree somewhere in town…

Kyo Chaffle

Green tea is a wonderful discovery/invention. In Japan, some 90.000 tons of tea leaves are harvested each year. Most of this tea is consumed either as “raw” green tea or fermented or roasted (as black tea or hojicha, respectively). An interesting Japanese invention is matcha, green tea leaves that are finely ground to a powder and which can be used to make the famously bitter tea for tea ceremony, or as an ingredient for cooking.

Additionally, in Japan you can buy matcha flavoured anything: From candy to kitkat and chocolates, to ice-cream (with and without anko) for example. And all sorts of cakes and cookies.

Kyochaffle with packageA personal favourite of mine from the latter department are cookies called Kyo Chaffle. Those are thin, round cookies with an intensely green color and an even more intense taste. Their “mouthfeel” if you want so is like that of brownies: On the inside they have a slightly sticky consistency, while they are dry on the outside. They are very delicious indeed and are nice as a snack in between – provided you can manage to stop after a single one…

Fast Cars

The other day, I went to my favourite pizzeria for dinner. It’s a bit off the beaten tracks, but the food is excellent, and there is even a real Italian wood-fired pizza oven… Usually, the place is rather quiet, but that day there were already people sitting at the bar, having an animated conversation.

Gerhard Berger in 1991I have no idea how I got involved into it, probably because one of the guys wanted to show off his English. Our conversation went down a different road than usual though: Instead of double-checking whether I really didn’t come from down under, his first remark was: “Oh, then you know Gerhard Berger!” In general I answer these kind of questions in the negative: “There are 8 million Austrians, I have not been introduced to all of them, yet”, but of course, I know our famous Formula 1 racer! We went on to talk about Berger – retired now for 20 years – and how Ferrari is great and how much greater it would be to drive one instead just a Mercedes…

Funny how people start talking, isn’t it?



Spring is almost here; the sakura are not yet in full bloom, but it can only take one or two days more. I will post pictures as soon as it happens, I want to visit the Botanical Gardens for hanami this year.

Last weekend, I have done my spring cleaning; and I have moved my laptop back to my office and my futon back to my bedroom. It was nice to consolidate the apartment at the beginning of winter, but it is equally nice to spread out again. So far, it is still too cool to keep the windows open for a longer period of time, but in two or three weeks, the temperature will rise again.

Today, after my final meeting I had to go to Kyoto station because my external keyboard broke in the morning. There are not that many Ns in English language, but it is nice to have a full alphabet… Anyway, I did not know that there was a museum on the seventh floor in the big Isetan department store at the station. A friend of mine said I absolutely have to go and see the exhibition of Yoshitoshi, a very popular woodblock artist from the Edo and Meiji periods. Yes, it was worth it! The amount of detail in the prints is fascinating, and the colors are still stunning! If you are in Kyoto right now, the exhibition is until 23rd of April. Yoshitoshi woodblock print

Under Wraps

In Japan, giving gifts is a very important part of culture. Not only what is inside can make or break a relationship, also the way it is presented is crucial. That’s why gift wrapping has evolved to almost an art form in this country.

Very often, if you buy food items as gifts in a department store, there’s already a wrapped version available. Sometimes, the wrapping is done in front of you though, and there is a small but important difference to Europe in the way it is done: When wrapping a box in Europe, we place it in the middle of the paper such that the sides of the paper and of the box are parallel. Unless one uses a really large piece of paper, three strips of tape will be necessary.

In Japan, the box is placed on the paper at an angle near a corner. With a bit of experience, only a single strip of tape is needed to close the package. it’s quite fascinating! Of course, there are many youtube videos for that – check out the one below from some large Japanese department store. (He needs three strips of tape though 😉 )


Compared to Tuesday, I had a more relaxed day today, so I can make good on my promise and tell you about the final meeting I had that day.

It has to do with my writing job over at facebook. I have talked about Kyotogram before: Since last November, I am writing very short articles about Kyoto and Japan, the important thing is the photo attached and not the text. In one week I have to produce 5 posts and attend one meeting, all that for a fixed salary. Besides the big boss and the team leader, there is a graphics designer on the team and another freelance writer like me, and we both get the same salary since we have the same contract.

Japanese currencyTwo weeks ago I initiated a meeting with the big boss and told him pretty much straightforward that I wanted a raise. The reason for this was that every time there’s a special or urgent job to be done, I am asked to do it – because my writer colleague is, let’s say, not quite as reliable as I am. She has now taken part in about half the meetings only, and ever since Christmas, her performance has gone downhill. And in February, out of 4 meetings and 20 posts, she did 1 meeting and 2 articles, an all time low. It’s not that her lack of productivity is directly affecting me, thank goodness, but since the big boss has talked about “fairness” when I signed the contract, I thought I’d ask him whether he still believes in that one.

Of course, I tried to avoid dissing my colleague (her work ethic is none of my business, and in fact she is a very nice girl), and we had a very constructive talk of about an hour in which the big boss assured me that everybody is very happy with my performance, and that the rest of the team relies on me, and that he was “aware of the situation” as he put it. And that he couldn’t say anything right now, but he would get back to me by the end of the month.

Fast forward two weeks: Since the end of the month is now, we had another one hour talk on Tuesday, after our regular meeting. Actually, both of us writers had what the big boss called a “six months review meeting”, and the outcome was as follows: The contracts for both of us will be renewed, but there will now be a new penalty for underachievement: Every meeting not attended will – literally – cost 3000 YEN, every unwritten post 1500 YEN.

Having a penalty like this is extremely unusual in a freelance contract; normally, you are paid for the specific work you do, and only for that; and the more you work, the more you earn. I am not sure why the contract wasn’t changed to this model altogether, probably because the big boss is on a limited budget, but I am not complaining. Because, no matter what the new contract says: I got my raise! Of course, “fairness” is still an important word in the whole thing, and the big boss has amended my contract by giving me additional responsibilities (which I have partly already fulfilled) so he can also officially justify that I earn more than my colleague.

I had a very pleasant talk with the big boss on Tuesday where I assured him that in normal circumstances I would not have dreamed of asking for more money, that this was simply prompted by the lack of performance on my colleagues’ side and his “fairness” argument. In return, he stressed several times that it is very, very rare in Japan indeed that a raise is given without any further discussion like it was in my case. And he also insinuated that there’s no room for further improvement for the time being, which is perfectly fine with me.

In conclusion, as I never had a “decent” job, so to speak (academia has fixed payment schemes), this was my very first salary negotiation! And I have learned the following:
If you go to your boss after a mere 5 months of employment and demand a 15% raise, and he just hands it over without any further negotiation or even comment,
a) he is really, really extremely happy with your performance and
b) you probably should have asked for more…